“One of these things is not like the other” is not a game you can play in Columbia’s historic Granby Mill Village neighborhood, where cookie-cutter “saltbox” houses in hues of blue, green, red and yellow line the streets.
A first-time homebuilder recently requested to stray from the neighborhood’s strictly uniform design standards – wanting to put just one front door on his single-family house rather than the district’s traditional duplex-style two front entries. His plans, though, were rejected by the city due to the stringent requirements of the architectural conservation district.
In other neighborhoods, it can be appropriate for houses to have complementary shapes and styles with varying details. But not so in Granby, where the character of the neighborhood is not that houses look similar to one another, but that most are practically identical, city planning administrator John Fellows said.
“Anything that would be a variation would actually draw attention to itself,” Fellows said. “The goal wasn’t to have something that would stand out.”
Philip Mouradjian’s house at 204 Huger St. will be the first new construction in the historic mill village since the district’s design guidelines were put into place in 2010.
“The idea of having the opportunity to build a new home in downtown Columbia, especially on Huger Street, was something I found to be an exciting opportunity,” Mouradjian said.
The Granby historic district, between Heyward and Catawba streets on either side of Huger near the USC baseball stadium, was built as a village for mill workers and their families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most of the houses were built as duplexes to maximize residential density for workers close to the mill. They were designed to be simple but adequate, resulting in a uniquely uniform neighborhood.
With little variation, most of the Granby homes were built in the New England “saltbox” style – usually two stories in the front, one in the back, with a sloping roof toward the back and full-width shed roof over the front porch.
Now, even stylistic variations such as one rather than two front doors would have a significant impact on the aesthetics of this neighborhood, said Kristen Puckett, a preservation planner for the city.
“There’s not another historic neighborhood in Columbia that has that kind of repetition,” Puckett said. “To have a new construction within a mill village – if it wasn’t aesthetically a duplicate of what’s existing – it would stick out like a sore thumb. ... To have that sort of cohesiveness in this particular area is very important.”
Nearby Olympia, also once a mill village, has a similar architectural landscape to Granby. But since it’s not inside Columbia’s city limits, there are no similar design guidelines in Olympia.
Mouradjian purchased his Huger Street lot early this year and had initial site plans approved by the city in July.
City planning staff and the Design/Development Review Commission last month rejected Mouradjian’s request to make changes to the house’s original design plan, including having one rather than two front doors, four rather than five front porch posts and vinyl rather than cement fiberboard siding.
In his application to the city to make the design changes, Mouradjian wrote that a second front door on the house would interfere with the size of the planned master bedroom and would add no functional value to the house.
In response, the planning staff suggested adding a second nonfunctional, faux front door to match the appearance of the duplex houses without being a detriment to the single-family floor plan.
“Obviously, in an ideal world, it would be nice to have a single door on the house,” Mouradjian said. “But we respect the process.”
One of the appeals of living in a historic conservation district such as Granby, or others in the city that include Earlewood, Old Shandon and University Hill, is that residents know exactly what they’re getting into when they move in, Puckett said.
“None of these neighborhoods would have design guidelines if they had not asked for them,” Puckett said. “We now have people in the community that are purchasing homes in the historic districts because they’re in the historic districts, knowing that not just anything can be thrown up beside them.”
Mouradjian said he hopes to break ground early next year on his house – which will have two functional front doors.