A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Old house fix-up OK’d, barely

Written October 6th, 2016 by Hasso Hering
640 Third Ave. SW have new old look under a plan narrowly approved Wednesday.

The stairs and railings won’t be the only things repaired or replaced under a renovation plan narrowly approved Wednesday.

The owners of a rattletrap old house in Albany’s Monteith Historic District have won approval to renovate the place, but it was a close call that threatened to get hung up on the material in new windows.

The city’s Landmarks Advisory Commission voted 4-3 Wednesday to go along with the city staff’s recommendation to approve the renovation of 640 Third Ave. S.W. as proposed by its owners, Pam and Kevin Ostby. It took Bill Ryals, the chairman, to break a 3-3 tie on the board, which held a lengthy and apparently contentious discussion on the issue of wood versus vinyl windows. (I had to leave the meeting for a while for another obligation, and when I got back, the vote had been taken and one of those favoring wood, Larry Preston, was gone.)

“It was an emotional decision for some of the commissioners, and Commissioner Preston left without explanation,” Planning Manager Bob Richardson told me later. “I assume he left because he was frustrated with the decision and possibly the format of a public hearing that limits collaborative discussions and negotiations with the applicant.”

The Ostbys, who over the years have renovated several other old houses in the vicinity, now live in Needles, Calif. In order to protect their investment on the rest of the block, they bought this place five years ago after it had been trashed inside and out. Kevin testified at Wednesday’s hearing.

The house dates from 1890, according to the city, and over the decades previous owners replaced the original windows with vinyl ones, most of them the wrong size and installed in odd places. The owners plan to install 10 vinyl windows of the historically correct size in the proper places to restore the house to its original appearance. They obtained bids and showed that wood windows would cost two or three times as much, and the planning staff recommended approval because of the difference in price.

Preston had argued that wood windows might not cost much more when all the related installation work was taken into account. When it came to approving the request, he voted against it  along with members Jolene Thomson and Kerry McQuillin. The three members voting yes were Cathy LeSuer, David Abarr and Keith Kolkow.

Ryals, an Albany architect, at first abstained but then sided with the yes votes. He said later it was a difficult discussion for the commission but with this renovation, the Third Avenue house will be restored and last “another 100 years.”

Even though no public money is involved, Albany requires review and approval by the Landmarks Commission of exterior changes on historic buildings in the city’s historic districts. Ryals suggested the board should talk some more, at another meeting, about its philosophy and approach. (hh)








6 responses to “Old house fix-up OK’d, barely”

  1. Gordon L. Shadle says:

    Wood vs. Vinyl? Such pettiness.

    It appears Albany’s hardcore preservationists are still trying to block progress by using the power of government to impose their will on other people’s private property rights.

    Given the large population of neo-luddites in the downtown area, this isn’t shocking.

  2. Kevin Ostby says:

    Pam and I always enjoyed your quick wit even handed and fair treatment of all opinions when you were editor and we lived in Oregon.
    It was nice to see you again after 15 or so years I’m guessing because my old brain memory isn’t as sharp as it once was.
    We enjoyed and appreciated your blog.

  3. Jackson Cauter says:

    In these types of situations, would it ever happen that the Commission would swan dive into the real nitty-gritty of home repair/improvement to the point where they would either suggest or require a specific species of wood for the Windows that would be acceptable to the Commission?

  4. David Abarr says:

    Those unfamiliar with the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation within a federal historic district are quick to criticize. To fully understand what was put forth you’d need to read the 30 plus page staff report. This was by far the toughest decision that the LAC was put forth to decide in my being involved. This decision has never been faced before. I’m very happy Kevin is able to put the effort required to make this a house the district can be proud of. Huge kudos to staff for the many many hours invested in this project as well. People willing to spend the money and effort to keep the fabric of Albany alive are few and far between. Much more profitable and easier to slap up tract houses.

  5. Bill Kapaun says:

    It seems the “purists” would rather see an old house rot to the ground because an owner can’t afford to pay for “historically correct” repairs.
    That is simply stupid!

  6. hj.anony1 says:

    Tall hurdle. There are so many roots here. Passionate, yet cemented roots in an age of no compromise. Thank goodness. There are people ready to give the house a fresh start! We need more of you.


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