Like dueling sopranos, the dispute between two merchants and a city historical commission will shatter glass before their songs are over.
The wrong-sized windows on Portway Tavern will have to be replaced following a Historic Landmarks Commission ruling Tuesday. But owners Bob Heilman and Phyllis Ham said they plan to appeal to the Astoria City Council, on which Heilman serves.
"People think that we intentionally put in the wrong-sized windows and that is ridiculous," Ham said. "It cost us more money."
Heilman and Ham appealed for the reprieve because they've already paid about $7,000 to replace the old drafty windows and said they couldn't afford to pay it again.
In February and March, Heilman said a contractor replaced the windows with ones of the wrong dimension but didn't consult him. Heilman said he didn't notice the changes until the windows were almost fully installed and the Community Development Office called to investigate complaints.
Commissioner Dan Harriman said Heilman and Ham should go to the contractor to be compensated for replacing the windows.
"The contractor, if he's licensed and bonded, has to share some of this burden," Harriman said. "It seems he's the one at error here."
The commission voted to deny Heilman and Ham's appeal to keep one-pane-wide and three-pane-wide windows in the upper story of their tavern at 422 W. Marine Drive.
"It's a simple building and a very elegant building that is defined by its windows," commission President Dave Pearson said. "That defining feature is gone by these changes."
Throughout the last three years, Heilman and Ham have been remodeling the building, and they've asked the commission for several permits, which are required for the historic building.
"We put our heart and our soul into remodeling that building," Ham said. "Yes, we made a mistake, but to be crucified for that is uncalled for."
In June 2001, the commission agreed Heilman and Ham could replace the building's wood-framed windows with vinyl-framed windows, provided that the size of the window remained the same. But a contractor replaced the old one-pane-wide windows with new ones that were 8 inches shorter and a few inches wider than the originals in February and March. There was also some confusion whether the commission actually approved or denied a request to replace the old three-pane-wide windows.
Citizen complaints prompted an investigation by the Community Development Office, which the commission oversees, Director Paul Benoit said.
"One of the key criteria is that the dimensions had not changed, which he acknowledges that it did," Benoit said. "We can't ignore something like that. We have to follow through."
But Heilman said replacing the windows will put off other projects and increase their operating costs.
"You can't drive up costs," he said. "Eventually people will get tired of it."
The community members who spoke for Heilman and Ham said before and after photos show an undetectable change.
"The basic concept of this thing is lost on me," civil engineer Robert Kuske said. "I look at the first and last pictures of the windows and I pay hell trying to find any difference."
Community members who spoke and wrote letters for the commission said the rules ought to be upheld despite Heilman's position on the City Council.
"Your job here tonight is not necessarily to be political, but to look at the criteria," Astoria resident Linda Oldenkamp said to the commission.
Commissioner Don Wright said the commission ought to adhere to city ordinances and not try to break them, even if the windows are only slightly altered.
Commissioners Pearson, Dave Fitch, Dave Pollard, Don Wright and Steve Nurding voted to deny Heilman and Ham's appeal regarding the one-pane-wide windows. Commissioner Dan Harriman abstained from the vote because he said the decision should be referred to legal counsel. Dave Crabtree was absent.
Commissioners voted unanimously to deny Heilman and Ham's appeal regarding the three-pane-wide windows.