Champion House

The Champion House in the North College District after the siding was removed in October. The Historic Preservation Commission denied a demolition request on Tuesday

At its meeting Tuesday, the Auburn Historic Preservation Commission denied a request to demolish the historic Champion House, a 1922 one-story, wood frame Craftsman bungalow in the city's North College Historic District. 

The commission unanimously denied the request from owner David Pearson for a Certificate of Appropriateness to allow demolition of the contributing structure located at 422 N. College St. after the removal of the structure's siding in October prompted backlash from other owners in the district and a Stop Work Order from the city's Inspection Services Department.  

Some of those owners spoke at Tuesday's meeting, arguing strongly against approving the demolition for the precedent it would set and the possible implications it could have for how other historic homes are treated in the district. 

"I can't stand to make people unhappy, but I do agree that if demolition of this house is approved then the commission and the district are finished," said Sherri Griswold, owner of a historic district house and wife of City Councilman Kelley Griswold. "We think the demolition to date exceeds the Certificate of Appropriateness that they have brought to you guys."

In June, the commission issued Certificates of Appropriateness to remove a mid-20th century rear addition, replace the existing roof and install a new wooden front entry door, according to meeting documents.

Pearson and architect Dan Bennett told the commission that the siding fell apart after they began working on the house in October, when they also discovered that the house had no sheathing and extensive termite and water damage, as well as other issues that prompted concerns about structural stability. Bennett also said that he was not aware the removal of the siding, which is considered Major Work, would require review and approval by the commission.

"When we took the siding off ... that's when we saw the amount of termite damage that you couldn't see that was covered up," said Bennett, who added that foundation and footing issues were also discovered and that he couldn't in good conscience recommend renovation of a structure that was not stable, up to code or presenting safety concerns. "I just wanted to say that there was no intention whatsoever when we started on this to do anything but restore it."

Bennett and building contractor Michael Shumacher both submitted letters saying the house must be demolished because the "structural deficiencies ... are so severe and so pervasive that the structure cannot be saved."

According to meeting documents, the "removal of the siding and window trim had not been reviewed and approved by the HPC as required by Section 101 of the Design Review Guidelines  for the North College Historic District; however, ... the applicant and other professionals associated with the project were concerned with the urgency of stabilizing the structure."

Multiple owners argued that doing painstaking and difficult renovations were part and parcel of owning a house in the historic district and that if the bar was bringing everything perfectly in line with code then every house in the district could arguably be categorized as needing demolition.

Planning Commission member Steve Jenkins, who also owns houses in the historic district, relayed his own experiences renovating homes and noted that the city will work with district homeowners on city code and that there is "a lot of leniency" when working with historic homes.

"When you're dealing with a historic structure you can't start peeling the onion and just keep peeling, keep peeling. At some point you've got to peel a piece and fix it," he said.

Per the district's Design Guidelines, the commission may only grant the demolition of a historic district structure when it finds one of four things, including that "failure to do so would result in an unreasonable economic hardship for the property's owner," a condition that the applicant claimed was met.

The owner also proposed creating an exact replica of the original structure, which drew opposition from district homeowners who did not want "Disneyland" replicas replacing historic homes. 

After denying the request for demolition, the commission approved a COA for work on landscaping, the front door, windows and other elements, while providing some guidance on what the property owner should do next. 

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