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City Proposes Compromise Solution for Protecting Historic Structures 

When does a $20,000 window replacement project become a $70,000 job? As Yves Bradley discovered in May 2008 while renovating a building he owns on the corner of Church and Bank streets, when the city decides the construction materials being used aren't "historic" enough.

Landlord Bill Bissonette ran into a similar problem. Bissonette owns about 200 apartments throughout Burlington, 95 percent of which are in designated historic districts. In 2007, he applied for permission to replace the exterior wood siding on three King Street buildings with a cement-based material called Hardie Board, which is cheaper, more durable than wood and lasts longer.

When the city said no, Bissonette sued, and won. Environmental Judge Thomas Durkin determined that the city's goal of preserving the historic character of old neighborhood would be better served by using a replacement product that's nearly indistinguishable from wood, rather than allowing the old wooden siding to peel, splinter and rot.

Like many municipalities with a high percentage of old structures in its housing stock, the city has long struggled to balance the goals of preserving Burlington's historic character with keeping renovations, rehabs and improvements as energy efficient, sustainable and cost effective as possible. Property owners have long complained that the city's application and review process is unpredictable, arbitrary and unduly burdensome.

But Dave White, director of planning for the city of Burlington, has brought forward a compromise proposal to address such complaints. At last night's planning commission meeting, he laid out a proposal for protecting the integrity of Burlington's historic structures while also making the review process as "predictable as possible."

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About The Author

Ken Picard

Ken Picard

Ken Picard has been a Seven Days staff writer since 2002. He has won numerous awards for his work, including the Vermont Press Association's 2005 Mavis Doyle award, a general excellence prize for reporters.

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