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Life in limbo

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Louis Cherry's $500,000 modernist home is 80 percent done, its bones and skin waiting for the final touches.

But the City of Raleigh is expected to issue a stop-work order on the construction of the house within the next several days. On Monday, Raleigh's Board of Adjustment upheld its February decision to reverse Cherry's historical certificate for the home at 516 Euclid St. in the historic Oakwood neighborhood.

Nick Fountain, Cherry's attorney, said Cherry and his wife, Marsha Gordon, now have three options: appeal the decision in Wake County Superior Court, file another application for a Certificate of Appropriateness with the Raleigh Historic Development Commission, or both.

Fountain—who served on the RHDC for six years—said that this type of Board of Adjustment ruling is rare. While the RHDC "has probably handled 100 cases in the last five years," the Board of Adjustments has never handled an appeal from the RHDC.

"(The board) simply does not have the expertise that the RHDC does," Fountain said. "For them to substitute their opinion in the face of the skill level those folks have is, in my view, a legal error and it's unfortunate. The board should have shown more deference to what the RHDC did quite apart from Louis Cherry and Marsha Gordon."

Cherry, an architect, received a Certificate of Appropriateness for his design from the RHDC on Sept. 16, 2013. He obtained a building permit in October and began construction the same month.

The day after the RHDC signed and filed Cherry's certificate, Gail Wiesner, a Realtor and neighbor of Cherry, notified the RHDC that she intended to appeal to the city's Board of Adjustment. The board is a quasi-judicial body that deals with city zoning regulations.

Tania Tully, a city planner, said she informed Cherry of the notice of intent to appeal on Sept. 18; the notice was also on the COA committee agenda for its Oct. 7 meeting, where the continuation of the case was being heard.

"We thought the worst thing that could happen was it would be remanded back to the RHDC and they may have had to have some review of those proceedings," Cherry said. "And if it had to go back to the RHDC any errors would be corrected. We were encouraged to begin construction and told we didn't have to go to the appeal meeting and that we were being notified as a courtesy."

Cherry said city staff was his only source of information as the situation unfolded. "In retrospect, I believe that (city staff) did not know that reversing the COA was one of the options," he said. "Now the city should figure out how to make this right. They need to honor their permit not to protect us but to protect the integrity of their approval process."

Cherry hopes the city will appeal the decision on his behalf in Wake County Superior Court. But Raleigh City Council member Russ Stephenson said legal action is a last resort. "The folks who say we need to take decisive action are saying it because they want to get out of this legal limbo because it will be expensive and time-consuming and drawn-out," he continued. "These are both strong-willed people. I'm always hopeful of people understanding that finding common ground is going to be ultimately in their best interest."

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