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Proposed Addition to Wildwood's 'Historic Chicken Coop' Draws Debate

Once it was a real chicken coop. Over the decades, this structure was renovated into offices when a Wildwood-based, wooden toy-making company existed on the property. Now adding to—or around—the coop is being contemplated, but not without issues.

Chickens flew the coop a long time ago at the property at 18750 Highway 100. But now that WHS members believe the time is right to build a multipurpose addition, exactly what and where a new building can be done in relation to the existing structure there known as "the chicken coop" prompted several groups into a bit of a chicken-and-egg issue.

What comes first? The need to have a spot to host groups to learn about history, or the need to keep all the buildings intact that were theoretically preserved when the property was placed on the city's historic registery? Just which ones of the WHS structures were "placed" on the registry was debated last week. Also in question is the true age of the coop, which some believe was built in the 1930s, making it not as old as other historic structures on the property.

WHS members think both goals can be done, but they took the unusual measure of appealing to Wildwood city council members at last Monday night's meeting when the city's five-member Architectural Review Board (ARB) members recently declined their plans for a new structure.

WHS is a non-partisan, volunteer organization. ARB members are appointed by the Wildwood mayor and approved by city council members.

Citing National Parks Service guidelines about historic registry requirements, ARB members declined two or three WHS proposed plans for an addition since February. Whether a new building should be, or can be, separate or adjoined to the chicken coop seems to be at the heart of the architectural debate. ARB members suggested their own architectural renderings for the addition, which some of the WHS leaders believe do not match the historic nature of the existing Hencken home and its surroundings.

Kelley Woerther, a WHS trustee, stated at Monday's council meeting that she and another trustee disagreed about appealing to council members. "The city has a set of rules for a reason. The ARB voted 5-0 to deny the petition from the society. I believe in the process," she stated during the public participation portion of the meeting.

Judy Sahm, another WHS member, said she, too, thought the society leaders should not have come to council, and that everyone "should work together" to come up with a plan for the addition.

Wildwood resident and WHS member Tom Kelp, however, also spoke at the meeting. He and his wife, Lisa, also own land across from the WHS location. Stemming from his family's 160-year legacy in the area, he appealed to the council member's practicality. He said society members merely wanted more room to show movies and to host groups there. He said the ARB's suggested building design of separateness would make his volunteer job of mowing and maintaining the society's property harder.

"The society's recommended simple (gable) roof design on the new addition also would fit into the historic reclamation work of the last three years, as opposed to the style recommended by ARB," he said.

Lisa Kelp said she was speaking also on behalf of a neighbor, Martha Bunch, who could not attend the meeting. Bunch is the volunteer WHS museum director, who declared the addition is needed to meet the society's mission of active outreach. She read a statement sent by Bunch, which informed council members that part of their concern in delays or lengthy processes now occurring via the ARB came from the fact that a financial gift from the Fossett Foundation was being made available to pay for the addition (see historic roots section at end of this article).

"It's vital that we get an acceptable building method settled," wrote Bunch. "The coop is not historic, and the amended building would give the space needed for education."

Bunch cited a recent example during which students had to come in two different bus loads to WHS because one larger group could not be accommodated in the existing coop space. She stated that the way WHS had planned out the addition would be very functional, and in cases such as this school example, be saving taxpayers' money.

Kelp said she felt the original, simple design of white siding and gray roof for the addition fit into the countryside much better than what the ARB had suggested.

Fred Bunch, another WHS member, said two objectives should be kept in mind: what is cost-effective for the addition because the society was on a limited budget; and what design would compliment the other buildings on the property. "ARB's design to change to a hip roof wouldn't be appropriate, and would add unnecessary cost increases," he said.

(A hipped roof is a type where all sides slope downward to the walls.)

and resident of the Wildwood area for 33 years, stated at the same meeting that WHS leaders had presented sketches or plans for the addition three times to the ARB. "We've put forth an alternative plan, but Mr. Gunther (an ARB member) declined that one as well. We're just asking that common sense prevail, because we also need to move quickly on this addition," she said. "The majority of the society trustees are asking for city council approval of a workable plan. We also want an addition that compliments, rather than competes with, the existing structures there."

Joe Vujnich, Wildwood's director of planning and parks, attempted to bring clarity to the issue at the meeting. "After reviewing the city's records, I believe this is the first or second appeal in (the city's) 16 years. Another appeal, albeit informal, related to the ARB came to council when was being built," he said.

Vujnich said while WHS leaders had an unusual request, the city's code does set forth an appeal process, with specific elements outlined.

He said the WHS property is governed by a conditional use permit that was issued in 2010, and that one question was how to best implement Wildwood's architectural guidelines outside of the city's Town Center.

"I am not questioning the expertise of ARB members or the city's standards," stated Vujnich at the meeting. "ARB members met and discussed WHS plans on Feb. 9, Feb. 22 and April 17. It's not unusual for their typical process to take six to 10 weeks. It's a very technical process for recommendations. ARB records are captured with meeting minutes, and there has not been time for the last set of meeting minutes to be reviewed and approved."

However, Vujnich said Wildwood's set of regulations did not speak to historic buildings having to be separated from additions. "So, if the basis for ARB's declining the Historic Society's plans was about the addition not being separate, then ARB is acting inconsistent with the guidelines in which they are empowered, and I support the society's appeal."

He said the city's Historic Preservation Commission is the first group that should be weighing in on this type of project.

Also speaking at the meeting was ARB President Caryl Kinsey-Fox, who said she learned about the appeal petition during the day Monday just prior to the evening council meeting. She stated she was there to speak as a Wildwood citizen, not to represent the full ARB. "I believe the (ARB) board fully supports the work of the Historical Society. We especially embrace their goal of preservation. I believe ARB attempted to help them," she said.

She also said ARB members were first under the impression the coop had been built in 1904.

She referenced two National Parks Service standards about "not destroying materials that characterize properties and their environments" of historically registered sites, and said ARB members wanted to comply with those standards.

"We weren't trying to propose a design. We felt the recommended design overshadowed the existing structure, and that by pulling the new building away from the coop, it might also save construction costs," said Kinsey-Fox.

She said they subsequently were informed the chicken coop may not be considered a historic structure because it may not be more than 75 years old.

She also said no new designs were really presented from WHS during the review process, just really two requests to reconsider the original designs. "My opinion is that ARB rejected plans that diminished the historic nature of the property, and we wanted the addition to have less of an impact on the existing meeting building."

ARB member and Wildwood resident John Guenther also spoke to the matter. "We just met, and ARB has not had the chance to complete the written records about why the plan was rejected. We would like the council to allow ARB to have an opportunity to pull together that report, because that is a part of this process, too. I'm asking you to postpone your vote about the appeal, so we can be assured a look at the heighth and color of the proposed addition," he said.

"Given the age and the location of the coop, is it any less historical than the other buildings?"

Guenther said the coop was part of Wildwood's history, and part of the collection of buildings covered under the historic registry of the Hencken place. "I believe they form a unit. Architecture is the historian of people. Let's work together on this, and move on. Let ARB do its job."

Lynne Martin, chair of Wildwood's Historic Preservation Commission, also spoke at the meeting. "The national registry regulations state that structures must be considered historic features. We definitely know the Hencken home fits the description, but we don't know the exact age of the coop. The use of certain kinds of oak wood suggest it was built in the 1930s or 1940s."

Martin said the coop would be considered a non-contributing structure to the property, from a national registry's standpoint. "I do hope you approve this appeal, and not drag this out. ARB wants to design something else, something from other forces."

The Property's Historic Roots

Henry Hencken married Sophia Bohning in 1852 and purchased this property. Begun in the 1970s, the Damhorst family built structures there to house their growing wooden toy business, but Wildwood zoning restrictions forced them to relocate around the year 2000.

In 2009, Wildwood Historical Society members purchased the 5.4-acre Hencken Place property and accompanying buildings to create a new center for the group's meetings and activities.

During December 2010, the society received a donation of $50,000 from the Peggy and Steve Fossett Foundation to maintain and improve the museum property. Peggy Fossett is the granddaughter of Otto and Clara Hencken. Otto was born and raised in the home on the Historical Society’s property in Wildwood. Otto and Clara, along with Peggy’s parents Elvin and Loretta Viehlane, are buried in St. Bridgit Cemetery in Pacific, MO.

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