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Window debate riles another owner in historic district

By Chris Paschenko 340-2442

A Decatur homeowner, who spent $1,900 at The Home Depot before securing a building permit, blasted a city commission Thursday after it denied a request to replace her wood windows with vinyl alternatives.

Olga Merino bought her windows before she realized she needed the Historic Preservation Commission's approval for a building permit to replace three windows on her Canal Street Northeast home.

"I'm on a fixed income and can't afford to buy more windows," Merino said after the meeting. "I refuse to accept modern-type windows aren't allowed. I've never heard of this happening. What am I going to do? I spent $1,900, and you tell me I can't fix my own house?"

Merino, who said she had trouble locating the meeting place at the Decatur Annex, arrived after the meeting adjourned.

A representative of The Home Depot, who displayed vinyl and partial wood windows to the seven commission members, was surprised to learn only wood exterior windows were allowed, saying their vinyl version couldn't be discerned from a wooden window.

"I could look at it from a galloping horse and tell it is an aluminum or vinyl window," commission member Bill Stone said.

After the commission unanimously rejected Merino's certificate of approval in her absence, Dan Price, chairman pro tem, adjourned the meeting.

Merino and her husband arrived as commission liaison Melinda Dunn and Price prepared to close the building. Merino had some harsh words for them.

Dunn and Price calmly and politely explained the commission's position, which is based on national preservation guidelines.

"Modern metal (or vinyl) is not appropriate for primary elevation windows and not recommended on secondary elevation windows," Price said. "The guidelines are clear, and we've had a very public window dispute going on for some time."

Price referred to Andy Scharein's dilemma, when the commission rejected his bid last year to replace 28 defective wood windows on his Line Street Northeast home with vinyl alternatives.

Scharein appealed the commission's decision to the City Council, saying, among other things, that mostly vinyl windows would look the same and cost about $25,000 less to replace.

The council rejected his appeal, and Scharein took his case to Morgan County Circuit Court. Scharein's lawyer filed a motion for summary judgement in October, but his case is still pending.

Merino said she believes she isn't alone in her frustrations and told The Daily to, "Take a poll and give it to the City Council about these restrictions."

Dunn said the commission is only protecting the wishes of residents living in the Old Decatur and Albany districts, so that future generations will have the privilege of living in historically accurate structures.

"They were sold," Price said. "If the onus is on anyone, it has to be on Home Depot."

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