by Joshua Maloni
Seeing is believing for the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees, which voted Thursday in favor of a new plan for 700 Center St., after meeting at the location and viewing exterior alterations made in contrast to a pre-approved remodel proposal.
"After looking at the building firsthand, we noticed there was a lot of changes," Mayor Terry Collesano said.
Historic Preservation Commission/Planning Board Chairman David Giusiana joined trustees on site, and showed them new windows, doors and a back staircase all installed in contrast to a proposal submitted in February by property owners Jack Lyon and Kelly Wiepert (and approved by both boards).
"We think it should go back to (the Planning Board), because they know what is going on," Collesano said.
His board agreed, and opted to send Lyon back to the drawing board.
Trustees want Lyon, an Oregon architect, to present a new submittal to the Planning Board. They are requesting full drawings and samples, and want wood or wood alternative siding, double-hung wood windows and wooden shutters on the building.
In other words, the Village Board wants something "more in keeping with what was originally presented," Collesano said. "It's completely changed in the back. I never knew it was going to look like that in the back. I saw the plans and I never saw all that."
The Village Board objected to changes made in contrast to the approved proposal, and would not consent to Lyon's request to re-side with vinyl instead of wood.
Lyon was in Oregon when the board reached its decision. When contacted by phone, he wasn't fully aware of what trustees concluded. He said, "It's always been our intent to do a historically sensitive project," and noted his hope is that both sides could find some sort of compromise.
"We don't want to be a project that they decide we need to be (made) an example (for future projects)," he said. "We want to be treated fairly and with the same standards that past projects have been treated with. Hopefully that's the direction that everything's going to go."
When Lyon first presented the idea to renovate 700 Center St., the former Amy K's Mystick Korner on Center and North Seventh streets, he said his plan was to restore the building and convert it into a first floor wine bar and second floor apartments. He was given the OK and, soon after, he added dormers to the building and began expanding the back and east side of the structure.
Since then, Lyon's contractor quit, he learned a bar couldn't operate less than 200 feet from a church (St. Peter's) in Lewiston, and he discovered his building's walls lack sheathing and a secondary moisture barrier.
On Aug. 29, he told the Planning Board that, while his original aim was to restore the 1800s-era building, he didn't budget for new siding. Lyon sought permission to use a Dutch-lap vinyl (at an estimated cost of about $34,000) instead of wood ($50,000 to $70,000 range). He also said his wine bar would be a wine store, instead.
The Planning Board was not in favor of allowing a historically designated building to be sided with vinyl instead of wood. However, they also said they didn't want Lyon and Wiepert forced into a position where they'd have to abandon the project or leave the building vacant and half complete for a prolonged period of time.
After more than one hour of debate, the Planning Board voted in favor of removing the building's historic designation, and agreed to modify Lyon's plan. In a recommendation to the Village Board, members said Lyon could use silver/gray Dutch lap vinyl siding with white, non-vinyl trim. Also, the Planning Board requested a retrimmed front door.
When the Village Board met Tuesday, Lyon told trustees 700 Center St.'s walls are in terrible shape - "Boards are literally falling off the building," he said - and he once again asked for permission to use vinyl to cover the outside wood.
Trustees acknowledged the building's condition, but could not find consensus on a solution. Bruce Sutherland and Nick Conde were in favor of holding Lyon accountable to his original plan: wood for wood.
"When the Planning Board initially approved the project, it was for wood siding and wood windows," Sutherland said. "It was the buyer that said he wanted to keep the significance of the building and restore it."
"I think we should hold his feet to the fire on that," he added. "I mean, we can go along with so much of this for so long. Even though we maybe have made errors in the past and allowed things to happen, that doesn't mean that we should continue to do that. I think we should stop it and do things the right way."
Sutherland said Lyon, "has a responsibility that he agreed to the plan of it and, it's unfortunate, but maybe he should've done some more homework on it."
Trustee Dennis Brochey said it would be difficult to approve lower-cost siding for Lyon when other building owners on Center Street have paid for more expensive restorations.
"If we start letting this go by, the next person to come by might want the same leeway," he said. "We can't pick and choose."
His colleague, Trustee Vic Eydt, suggested using wood on the front of the building, and vinyl on the back and on the new additions. He also asked Lyon to look into grant money to repair the historic building.
Trustees were insistent that the building retain its historic designation, and voted 5-0 to reverse the Planning Board's ruling that the historic certification be revoked.
Collesano said 700 Center St., was the village's first drugstore, and, over time, its owners included prominent Lewistonians Peter Porter, Benjamin Barton and Bates Cooke.
"History is there," Collesano said.
"I'm not in favor of taking the designation off that building," he added.
Collesano said he didn't want the project held up. He was initially in favor of approving Lyon's request for vinyl siding.
"Everyone, I'm sure, that likes to restore old buildings, they want to keep it as close as possible. And if you could use wood siding, they use wood siding. However, in preservation, it's not necessarily a fact that you have to keep the same materials," Collesano said. "There's many buildings that have been done where vinyl siding can be used, and they will allow vinyl siding provided the same character of design and the structure - the looks of it - would be similar to wood."
"That's where the Historical Preservation Committee is supposed to be working with you, and evidently they failed on this by taking the designation away," Collesano told Lyon. "That was wrong."
Lyon said he didn't expect the wood to be in such disrepair. He budgeted for paint, but not for new siding.
"Sure, we'd love to look at putting new wood back to match the existing, but it's so cost-prohibitive," he said. "We were planning on, when we bought the building, 'It's going to need paint.' That's now turned into, 'Oh my gosh, we've got to re-side the building with something.'
"Just the economic viability of the project. We've stalled. We're talking about a difference of $70,000-$80,000 between wood versus vinyl."
Lyon said the average person could not tell the difference between wood and the Dutch-lap vinyl he wants to use.
"I guess I don't see the big difference ... if we match the profile and we're matching all the trim, what the big deal is about putting a different finished material on it - vinyl versus wood," he said. "It's going to look exactly the same."
After more than a half hour of discussions in the conference room, trustees stepped out into the hallway and then into the mayor's office to meet in private and seek a resolution. Unable to do that after almost another half hour, they returned to the conference room and tabled a motion to approve the modified proposal the Planning Board OK'd for Lyon. They opted to meet Thursday at 700 Center St., and render a decision at that point.
On Tuesday, Lyon said he and Wiepert had planned to put between $375,000 and $400,000 into the project, and couldn't afford to spend extra money on siding.
When asked Thursday if he could continue construction at 700 Center St., with wood as his only siding option, Lyon said, "It may leave us at a point where we've got to look at how else we can finance the project. Obviously, we don't have unlimited resources. ... Some people in the village seem to think all developers have unlimited resources. We certainly don't."
Village of Lewiston Historian Pam Hauth suggested trustees, moving forward, require developers to show they have the economic means to finish a project and overcome any potential roadblocks before granting them permission to build or remodel.
She agreed with the Village Board that removing the historic designation was not the best idea.
"There's always a surprise in an old building; you're lucky if there's just one surprise in an old building," she said Tuesday.
The Planning Board next meets on Monday, Sept. 10, at 6:30 p.m. at the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St. The Village Board will assemble at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17.