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Architect may have to tear down his new home because it's too modern

May 5, 2014

Modern monstrosity or historic homage? A controversial new home going up in a historic district in Raleigh, N.C., faces an uncertain fate: Complaints that it doesn't fit in with the neighborhood have led to a halt in construction, even though the home is mostly built.

The unlikely set of circumstances began last year, when the couple, Louis Cherry, a local architect, and his wife, Marsha Gordon, applied for building permits and received the go-ahead to construct a house on an empty Euclid Street lot in the historic Oakwood district.

(Click here or on a photo to see a slideshow with pictures of the home and its surroundings.)

The process included approval from the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, and construction began in October.

But a neighbor appealed the decision, saying the house did not follow the historic guidelines. Cherry says he was aware of the complaint but was told by the city that the appeal was procedural and not a threat to the project.

Last month, the Board of Adjustment agreed with the neighbor and overturned the approval. By that time, the house was 80 percent built, according to the homeowners, who had already sunk $100,000 worth of building materials into the new home.

"It's absolutely tragic," George Smart, executive director of North Carolina Modernist Houses, told Yahoo Homes. "Because the couple followed all the rules, they submitted all the paperwork, they followed the instructions, and then one neighbor intervened in a way that could put their house in jeopardy."

The organization has started a legal defense fund for the couple, now bringing a case against the Board of Adjustment to court. The city of Raleigh is also appealing the Board of Adjustment's decision with Wake County Superior Court.

The neighbor who filed the appeal to the Board of Adjustment, Gail Wiesner, lives across the street from the new home, according to local news station WNCN. (Our slideshow has a picture of the house across the street.)

In a statement to the station, she said in part, "My main concern and the reason for my appeal has been that the RHDC did not properly approve the application or correctly apply the city's historic guidelines."

The neighborhood itself, according to the website for the historic Oakwood district, is filled with dwellings from multiple time periods and architecture from the 19th and 20th centuries — and now, the 21st.

"Every home is modern when it is built," homeowner Louis Cherry told Yahoo Homes. His 2,100-square-foot two-story design -- which includes a low-slope roof of varying heights and natural wood siding -- is in the Craftsman tradition, he says. The style, which is common in the area, began in the early 20th century and emphasizes handcrafted work.

"This neighborhood is an historic district, and that protects the historic homes," Cherry said. "But it does not freeze the neighborhood in time and does not prohibit a new home from being of a contemporary design, the way all of the houses in the neighborhood [were] at the time they were built. "

He added, "In 50 to 100 years, our house on Euclid Street will be historic too."

Meanwhile, the controversial construction has become a local attraction, with Segway tours adding the home as a regular stop. The house seems to already have made its mark.

Click here or on a photo to see a slideshow with pictures of the home as it stands now, renderings of it, the lot as it stood before Cherry built on it, Wiesner's and other homes on the same block of Euclid Street, and homes in the surrounding Oakwood district.

Follow Claudine Zap on Twitter (@zapkidd).