It was a few days before Easter and businessman Steve Corbin decided to color more than Easter eggs.
He sorted through his collection of various gallons of paint and had a contractor create a random checkerboard design on one of his properties on the corner of E. Piedmont Street and N. Commerce St.
Since then Corbin’s ‘happy house’ as he refers to it has folks stopping, taking pictures and asking questions, what’s with this house?
The story behind Corbin’s decision goes back to an April 11 town council meeting where council agreed to uphold a decision by the Architectural Review Board to deny an application that Corbin submitted. Toward the end of last year, someone notified the town that Corbin was in the process of installing windows at his property located at 314 S. East Street. He was told that he needed ARB approval to do that and quickly complied with an application for the 17 Amherst Plus brand vinyl windows.
Ultimately the ARB found those windows not in compliance with town ordinance, town council agreed and Corbin was left with windows paid for and already installed.
Sitting in his office, Corbin showed a photograph of the deteriorating previous windows and how he went to lengths to have the new windows match as closely as possible. “I didn’t get these at Lowes,” he said, “I had them custom ordered.”
Corbin asserts that the town’s Architectural Review Board has gotten out of control and is mismanaged.
When their decision was made to deny his application, he was out of town and not able to speak. While they had a quorum the final vote to disapprove was done by three members: Chris Hamilton, Michael Lysczek and Kimberly Trickett.
“Why should three people hold so much power over property owners,” asks Corbin, “particularly when there are others in the historic district that have been allowed to have vinyl windows.”
Their decision to deny his application flies in his face. Since the town’s decision to uphold the ARB decision, Corbin has walked a good portion of the town’s historic district noting more than 60 homes that have vinyl windows including, according to Corbin, the chairman of the ARB Chris Hamilton and a town councilman Bobby Ryan as well as local churches, law offices and other businessmen.
‘What is fair for one should be fair for all,” said Corbin who believes that he has been singled out.
“I believe that I get along with all of the town staff,” said Corbin who had particular praise for Director of Planning Charles Rapp. “He’s good to work with.”
The ‘happy house’ is occupied by a tenant that Corbin says doesn’t mind the colorful exterior. Corbin laughed.
“He tells me that he hasn’t had so much attention.”
Others might disagree.
“Speaking only for myself, I think while the property owner has every right to paint his house like this, it does create what an average person would probably consider an eyesore. That’s unfortunate, because the only people likely to be hurt by this are the residents of the neighborhood who not only have to look at this unsightly house every day, but might even worry that if it stays like this it could impact their property values,” said town councilman Keith Price who is saddened at the situation and is optimistic for an eventual positive solution.
While the ARB has design jurisdiction over the town’s historic district, Corbin’s property on E. Piedmont Street is outside of that area.
“The Town does not have any regulation over paint colors on structures outside of the historic district,” said Rapp.
Seen by many on council as a retaliatory move on Corbin’s part because of their decision, Corbin is adamant that he is making a point, one which according to Corbin, has the support of a number of local businesses that have sent him words of encouragement and support.
In the meantime, the colorful house stands.
“This has put a financial hardship on me,” says Corbin estimating that it will probably cost him upwards of $30,000 to have the vinyl windows taken out and replaced with approved windows, a list that has been supplied to him by the ARB.
Disappointed and shocked by council’s action, in correspondence dated April 27 sent to Salem Bush with copies to town council members, Corbin writes. “While I am not happy with their decision [ARB] and Town Council decision on removing the new vinyl windows, I will replace them.”
As part of that correspondence, Corbin urged council to notify all of the property owners that he identified that they need to replace their windows as well. “The sad part about this is that most of the homeowners can’t afford $600-$1200 per window, and these businesses and some of the LLCs that own these properties, are a large source of income for the town and large contributors to charity organizations and civic groups.”
“I’ve made my statement so I’m hoping we can just let it be for the moment,” said Corbin adding that the ‘happy house’ could be a lot happier since his original plans were to have new siding, a new roof and new shutters but, right now, he’s not so incentivized.
Anita Sherman is the editor and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org