The boarded-up front of a home at 505 Walnut Street that was gutted by fire in January 2018. Madison’s Historic Board of Review approved partial demolition of the structure Tuesday — the most heavily damaged rear addition on the home — as part of a grant project to rebuild and renovate dangerous structures in the historic district. (Madison Courier staff photo by Mark Campbell)
The boarded-up front of a home at 505 Walnut Street that was gutted by fire in January 2018. Madison’s Historic Board of Review approved partial demolition of the structure Tuesday — the most heavily damaged rear addition on the home — as part of a grant project to rebuild and renovate dangerous structures in the historic district. (Madison Courier staff photo by Mark Campbell)
Madison’s Historic District Board of Review gave approval Tuesday for a rare partial demolition and rebuild of a fire-gutted, two-story structure in the 500 block of Walnut Street that the board, the developers and many others think will serve as a catalyst for redevelopment of the entire Walnut Street neighborhood.

Trevor and Van Crafton, a family operation know as Crafton Brothers Properties that buys and renovates homes for either rental or sale, has been pursuing the project for some time and has already been approved for one of the city’s new PACE redevelopment grants aimed at turning around dilapidated or dangerous structures.

The home, gutted by fire in January 2018 with the entire back side reduced to rubble in a blaze that also extended into 507 Walnut Street, will need a partial demolition in order to be rebuilt.

The two homes have sat there since the fire, boarded up as best as possible, as scattered other buildings on Walnut have been improved and the city launched a grant proposal to develop a new Underground Railroad-themed park in the neighborhood.

With Tuesday’s HDBR demolition approval, work should begin soon on the two damaged buildings and since the grant program requires work to be finished within a calendar year, major improvements should come sooner rather than later.

The plan is to demolish what is left of the rear portion of the 505 building and construct a new 17-by-7, two-story addition there to replace the damaged addition while retaining as much of the front of the building as possible. The damaged addition was not part of the original building but is needed to make the home large enough for family occupancy.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic that you guys are taking this project on and doing everything you can to keep the main part of this building intact,” said HDBR Chairman Josh Wilber. “It’s going to be a challenge but I want to see this project have a domino effect all down Walnut Street.”

“These two properties, 505 and 507 Walnut Street, symbolize all of the key initiatives for neighborhood revitalizing we are proposing — blight elimination, historic preservation, community safety, quality of life and public/private partnerships,” Mayor Bob Courtney said Wednesday. “We know that investing in this area will attract additional investment, raise property values and accomplish a comprehensive set of goals.”

The developers have a rough outline for their plan but said until demolition is complete and they can fully evaluate the extent of the fire damage and what else must be done, they won’t have all of the specifics other than they are committed to putting the building back to city codes and historic design standards whether that ends up being a good thing or a bad thing financially as an investor.

“I’ve walked back there. There is hardly anything left of the addition — it’s in a hazardous state,” said board member Thomas Stark.

Although the permit allows the project to rebuild with existing materials, board member Ken Board member Ken McWilliams said he hoped the Craftons would consider removing the vinyl siding that is now on the front facade of the structure and investigate whether the original 1840 Federal-style brick exterior can be restored rather than the non-original vinyl siding that was added just decades ago.

“I wish you would see if the brick under there is OK,” McWilliams said. “Then it would really fit into the neighborhood.”

The board ended up approving that application and four of the five applications under review overall with the lone exception a request by new home owner Ryan Walker to remove and cap a chimney at 411 East Third Street.

The board voted 4-2 to deny the application while asking Walker to investigate costs for repairing the chimney — possibly with assistance by PACE funding — since the chimney contributes to the appearance and authenticity of the two story, 1880 Italianate-style home.

In old business, the board voted 5-1 to approve new guidelines allowing more HDBR decisions to be made by staff rather than coming before the full board for discussion and a vote in order to fast track applications so that work can start and be completed sooner and at potentially less expense to property owners through work delays while awaiting board approval.

The board had discussed and made amendments to the proposal numerous times over the past few weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote.

Board member Betsy Lyman was the lone opposing vote, asking that the decision be delayed until the board’s next meeting when the group will no longer gather via Zoom teleconferencing but in public where other members of the public would have a better opportunity to attend and ask questions. Noting that the written comment period had come and gone with little interest from the public, the other board members voted in favor of passage.

Board members McWilliams and Mike Pittman noted that approving the measure was part of a commitment the board had made to the mayor to turn more routine decisions over to the city’s qualified staff members and expedite the application process so that more work to renovate the city’s historic structures can be done more quickly.