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Homeowners sue the city of Astoria over historic repairs

ASTORIA — The owners of a historic house have sued the city of Astoria to force the approval of window replacements over the objections of the Lower Columbia Preservation Society.

Thomas and Priscilla Levy retired, bought the house in August and moved to the small city on the Columbia River and near the Pacific Ocean from Portland, The Astorian reported.

The couple applied in September to replace 19 white pine window frames with Fibrex, a composite of reclaimed wood fiber and thermoplastic polymer. Thomas Levy argued the old windows were beyond repair, with black mold and deterioration.

“You can’t get clear white pine anymore, and if you could get clear white pine, it would be ridiculously expensive,” he said.

State law requires cities to decide within 120 days. City staff initially recommended denial, calling on the Levys to repair the windows or use historically accurate materials.

The Historic Landmarks Commission approved the window materials in December, finding the old windows beyond repair and Fibrex a suitable replacement.

However, the preservation society, a nonprofit promoting historical architecture, appealed the approval to the City Council. Doug Thompson, the chairman of the preservation society board, said they believe the Historic Landmarks Commission erred in not following a city ordinance that prioritizes repair of the windows first.

“People move to Astoria from other areas, and they buy historic homes, and they do so because they want to live in and own a historic home,” said Thompson. “Astoria doesn’t look the way it does by accident.”

The city scheduled an appeals hearing for Jan. 19, one business day beyond the 120-day deadline. Missing the deadline allowed the Levys to ask the Circuit Court to compel the city to finalize the Historic Landmarks Commission’s approval of replacing the windows, and to pay their attorney fees.

City Manager Brett Estes said there has been no decision yet on what to do.

“The appellants in this case, the Lower Columbia Preservation Society, will have the opportunity to come in and participate and defend the suit if they want,” he said. “That’s kind of where it sits.”

Priscilla Levy said there should be disclosures by real estate companies about the ramifications of buying a historic home and financial support for people being forced to make historically accurate repairs.

Thompson argued that such resources exist, such as special assessments to freeze the value of historic properties while they undergo repairs.

“There are resources available locally, but it does require an effort on the part of the homeowner to kind of sweat the details,” Thompson said.

— The Associated Press