Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, December 11, 2013
HARC: Design is appropriate

The city's Historic Architectural Review Commission on Tuesday approved designer Debra Yates' plans for a contemporary home at the corner of White and Newton streets, after months of wrangling over specifics.

In October, the city's historic preservation planner, Enid Torregrosa-Silva, had deemed Yates' design out of character with the "prominent corner" of Key West.

But Tuesday, after Yates had conceded to several changes, staff and HARC members found the new construction appropriate for the historic district.

The vote was 6-0 and included several compliments from members who before took issue with the design for a new two-story house with solar panels, a wrought-iron serpentine fence and a pool area dividing one wing from the second.

"It's a very creative plan," said Rudy Molinet, HARC chairman and a local real estate broker. "Contemporary architecture has a place. This is now our current history, 100 years from now."

Yates, who has already won approval from the Planning Board, also received HARC's approval Tuesday for the demolition of the 1948 one-story house at 717 White St. she bought for $275,000 in July 2012.

A second vote is needed on the demolition, though, before she can proceed.

Yates has two years to build the home and couldn't give a timeline Tuesday night.

"I compliment you on taking this on," said Molinet, adding that the house that still stands has been an eyesore for some time.

"And that is being kind," he added.

At the city's request, Yates agreed to change the exterior color from gray to white, replace steel with wrought iron and switch a corrugated metal type of fence to whitewashed wood.

"I'm happy with the concessions; I like it better," Yates said after the meeting, as she carried out a new scale model of the two-story design that she had brought for the commission to view.

Yates has already done wonders to the corner property, HARC members have said. Before she took it over, the house was home to a number of renters and was surrounded by a concrete wall and debris.

Two Dumpsters' worth of garbage that had been left at the house was removed within months of Yates' purchase.

Pat Cummings told HARC she found Yates' home suitable for her neighborhood.

"Ms. Yates has imagined a charming site-specific design that suits both current-day living and the character of our neighborhood, now known as the 'Meadows.'"

Yates has several local detractors, including a couple that owns a home at 719 White St. who said the new design will lower surrounding property values.

"This proposed new home does not look like ANYTHING around it," wrote Deanne Frew. "It appears to be anything but a home, and looks more like commercial property or an office building!"

Another neighbor showed up Tuesday night to say the design just isn't for the Meadows but would work at a beach, perhaps.

"It's quite attractive, actually," said Kelly Friend, who lives nearby. "This building does not conform into the neighborhood."

HARC member Michael Miller, an architect, told Yates her worst enemy was her renderings, which he said didn't do the project justice. Most of the drawings don't show the proper scale, making the home appear larger than it is.

The two-story buildings are each 24 feet, 6 inches tall. The maximum height allowed there is 30 feet.

Adding people or landscaping to the renderings would eliminate half of the critics, said Miller.

"The neighborhood is already quite diverse," said architect Richard Logan, who added that Yates is not building in the heart of the neighborhood. "This is the edge of the Meadows, and the edge of the Meadows is diverse."

Logan was among the HARC members who pointed out that Yates' renderings and models don't include the huge mahogany tree that is a landmark of the corner.

"In many ways this house will be invisible," Logan said. "Because it's white it will appear like any other white house in the neighborhood, so it won't stand out."


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