In the ongoing Downtown Historic District saga over appearances, Culpeper Town Council voted 5-4 Tuesday night to force an East Street homeowner to replace seven of 21 vinyl windows that were installed in 2016 by the previous homeowner in apparent violation of government standards.
The circa 1870 home on South East Street has been in the sights of the town since the windows were replaced—by the previous homeowner—without permission from the Architectural Review Board, the entity responsible for monitoring upgrades or changes in the nationally recognized Historic District.
Back in 2016, vinyl windows were altogether prohibited, but the town gradually evolved its policy, basing acceptable materials on appearance rather than type. As long as it “looks” historic, it can stay and so the town was ready to make concessions in this particular case by only requiring that the seven most visible windows be replaced.
Since the issue was last discussed at last month’s meeting, an attorney for the current homeowner, Rachel Nicholson, discussed a potential agreement with Town Attorney Martin Crim whereby only the three front-facing windows would need to be replaced.
“My recommendation is to accept the offer from the applicant,” Crim said at Tuesday’s meeting.
The purpose of Historic District guidelines, he added, is to preserve the appearance of old town Culpeper, primarily on structures facing the street.
Councilman Pranas Rimeikis said that didn’t sound like a legal opinion to him. He added he didn’t understand why the town could consider anything else other than replacing all 21 windows.
Crim said the ARB’s guidelines had changed since the first ruling was made, and that a new application had been made under the current guidelines.
At this point, Councilman Bobby Ryan made a motion to accept the three windows, setting a six-month timeline for replacement. Vice Mayor Billy Yowell offered a second.
Councilman Keith Price, calling the Historic District the jewel of downtown, said he was ready to accept the compromise “as a way to close it out and to meet the basic intent” of Historic District guidelines.
Rimeikis said it would set a bad precedent.
“I don’t see any reason to compromise this far into it,” he said, adding that the original property owner knew at the time vinyl windows were not allowed and he did it anyway.
Councilman Jon Russell repeated his contention that the town unequally enforces violations in the Historic District through a complaint-based system.
“I have a problem with mandating the very type of window someone puts in their home,” he said. “It’s over the top.”
Councilwoman Jamie Clancey said she would not support the three-window option, noting it undermines set standards for properties in the Historic District. Councilwoman Meaghan Taylor concurred, saying the whole conflict could have been avoided if the previous property owner had sought ARB guidance prior to putting in the vinyl windows.
The motion for three windows failed 5-4 before Rimeikis made a second motion requiring that all 21 windows be taken out and replaced. His motion died for lack of a second. Taylor then made the motion that the seven front facing windows be changed, and it passed 5-4 with Price, Russell, Ryan and Yowell voting no.
According to the town manager, the property owner can appeal the decision to the circuit court. Nicholson previously said it will cost about $1,000 to replace each window.
In other news from Tuesday’s meeting, Culpeper Town Council voted unanimously, without any discussion, to spend $240,000 to conduct a comprehensive study of its drinking water system. Town residents demanded the study last summer following prolonged issues with discoloration and odor. The money for the study will come from the water utility fund.