Friday, September 12, 2008
Controversy clouds Historical Commission meeting
Center pathway, Ferns design questioned
Hearings before the Historical Commission are generally uneventful, collegial and predictable. Not so the meeting of August 26, when one of the commissioners abruptly resigned and walked out and Ferns’ expansion plans nearly derailed.
The two hearings were attended by about ten residents of the town center (the Historic District, which the Historical Commission oversees) and two Selectmen, Doug Stevenson and Alan Carpenito. The first hearing concerned the application by the Board of Selectmen and the Pathways Committee for the installation of a four-foot-wide pathway from the catch basin at 49 Concord Street to the cross-walk at the top of Church Street. Selectman Stevenson cited “the importance of completing the last leg of the Pathways Project” and referred to the “resounding success of the [installed] pathways.”
Deb Belanger, chair of the Pathways Committee, distributed a letter from Town Counsel to the commission, warning that there could be exemptions from some of the Historical Commission requirements if safety issues are involved, stressing that safety supersedes aesthetic considerations.
Belanger then described a meeting with abutters on August 19 when concerns over the proposed pathway section were discussed in detail. Among the details, which were later itemized in a motion, are:
• The width of the driveway shared by Sylvia Sillers of 49 Concord Street and her neighbors, Jack O’Connor and Jen Bush, of 68 Church Street will be maintained;
• Roots of a cedar and maple tree will be severed using the same precautions as those used at 65 Lowell Street;
• No additional drainage problems will affect the shared driveway;
• Sloping of the area behind 68 Church Street will be limited to the town’s right of way; the Pathways Committee has permission to extend the grading;
• Fence posts behind the catch basin at 49 Concord Street will be aligned with four posts on either side;
• Curbing along Concord Street will be extended, consistent with the Certificate of Approval previously granted by the commission.
The section of pathway at 50 School Street, owned by Jonathan Hensleigh, prompted a discussion on alternate siting of the pathway outside the stone wall on Church Street rather than inside, as proposed by the Pathways Committee. At this point the town road is on private property and, according to Belanger, Hensleigh will provide an easement.
Pathway placement optimum?
A heated discussion ensued between Commissioner Larry Sorli and Belanger about the siting of the pathway on the south side of Church Street, inconveniencing homeowners, rather than on the Town Common side which would present fewer problems. The reason, explained Belanger, is that children walking to school will have to navigate only one cross walk on School Street. Sorli, his anger rising, questioned whether the pathway project was for the benefit of school children or the general population. He expressed his ongoing frustration with the Pathways Committee which, he claims, has consistently ignored the Historical Commission’s suggestions and comments. He referred to a series of “lies and misrepresentations” by the Pathways Committee during the multi-year process. Sorli then abruptly left the meeting, stating that he was resigning from the Commission.
Under Peggy Hilton’s chairmanship, the hearing continued. Commissioner Geoffrey Freeman voiced his concern with the quality of work already performed on the pathways, referring to width and grading issues that required correction after the work was done. Stevenson agreed that someone should be found to supervise the new section; he will work on finding volunteer supervision or perhaps someone from the engineering firm Stamski and McNary “The design aspects are not provided for,” Freeman charged. “They are left to the contractor.” Belanger replied that she responds to problems as the work progresses. Asked when the entire project will be completed, she predicted, “A week or two after school starts.” Excavation of the new section will be done at the same time the layer of chip-seal is applied to all pathways surfaces.
O’Connor, one of the homeowners directly affected by installation of the new section, recommended that a landscape architect be added to the project to ensure high quality and design elements. The commission agreed that this is necessary.
Paths okayed after two hours
After a two-hour discussion, the Historical Commission approved the pathway plan of August 13, 2008, including the bulleted items listed on page 1 and a further stipulation that the new section conforms with existing pathway specifications for the Historical District.
Abutter liaison requested
The commission added the “strong recommendation that someone be the liaison with the abutters to ensure the project meets design specifications.” It also stated its preference for siting the new pathway at 50 School Street outside the stone wall. Engineer Joe March of Stamski and McNary, who attended the meeting and addressed engineering details, added that a 4:1 slope would extend to O’Connor’s property.
Ferns expansion examined -addition roofline questioned
Following a brief intermission, Larry Bearfield, co-proprietor of Ferns, presented his site plan for the store’s expansion. (Details of the plan can be found on page 1 of the August 29, 2008 Mosquito.) Bearfield had incorporated into the site plan several suggestions made by the commission at their meeting of June 6.
Discussion centered on the proposed new middle section of the building that would link the present store with the adjacent garage. Commissioner Duncan Grant, an architect, criticized the large size of the link, the disparate roof lines of the three elements, and especially disliked the design of the knee wall atop the link section. Bearfield explained that the height of the knee wall is limited by the adjacent windows of the apartment above the existing store – the windows cannot be blocked by a new structure. Grant encouraged Bearfield to ask his (Bearfield’s) architect to come up with an alternate treatment of the knee wall.
Bearfield, in some frustration over criticism of a site plan that had already made progress before the Planning Board and the Selectmen, asked rhetorically, “When does the [review] process end?”
Conditional approval given
Bearfield requested that the commission grant conditional approvals that would enable him to begin construction this fall. Once it was established that the Historical Commission had previously granted preliminary approvals to other applicants to clear the way for work to begin, members agreed to approve the roofing materials, porch details, paint colors, signage, doors, windows, privacy fencing, cupola and front and back lighting, as proposed.
Still to come are details on the HVAC (heating, ventilation and air-conditioning) system, currently proposed for the roof of the link building, and alternatives for the knee wall. The hearing was continued to September 30, when Bearfield will return with details. (See also “Planning Board reviews Ferns addition,” page 5.) ∆
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