I have been regularly attending the ARB meetings now since October 2008 (okay, I missed one) and in a number of them there have been times when members of the audience – the public – have had questions about procedures or regulations that were prompted by whatever application was being discussed at the moment, but not necessarily about them. In other meetings either the historical consultant, or the legal counsel, or the board members themselves would raise an issue for discussion, but would be quickly interrupted because it wasn’t the appropriate time to bring up the question. When is the appropriate time to discuss general issues or questions related to the Architectural Review Board applications, codes, or procedures? There is presently no opportunity for general questions and answers or brief discussions.
I think there should be a ‘General’ segment at the beginning of each ARB meeting when general non-application-specific questions or issues can be asked or discussed briefly. Take 477 Halsey Neck Lane as an example. The original application wanted to relocate the architecturally significant circa 1900 house, add on to it, and dramatically change its exterior to the point that the original house would hardly be recognizable. At the end of the review process, the house would still be relocated to the center of the property, but most of the original character of the house would be maintained, and the additions would follow the existing style of the house. However, during the review process, initiating procedures to have the house designated an historical landmark were discussed; many board members, the historic consultant, and many residents were also interested in seeing this happen. But after the application was approved, that was the end of the land-marking discussions, and there is no opportunity on the public hearing agenda’s when one could ask about whether that is happening or if the subject has been dropped and if so, why. Here is another example: currently the village is being re-surveyed; it hasn’t been done since 1979 and there are potentially many more structures that would now be considered architecturally significant or contributing. When I asked Zach Studenroth about how this was going, he explained that it was a lengthy process. I asked him via email however, and I would rather ask him during a public hearing as I know many village residents are also curious about this task, what it entails, and even if volunteers are needed.
There is a considerable lack of public involvement with this board; there are hardly any people in the audience at each hearing that don’t have an application in front of the board. Adding a ‘General’ segment could only help to improve that and to relay the message that this board is comprised of volunteers that are there to serve you and the community. Their job is to safeguard the character of the village and if I or anyone else has a comment or question about their endeavors there should be an opportunity to ask. I’m pretty sure the Village and Town Boards have segments similar to what I’m suggesting, but I’m not sure about the other Village Boards.
I can’t think of a single negative about this idea, other than it might make the meetings longer, but I don’t understand why they don’t start earlier anyway. The time each individual gets could be brief. A public segment would be a great step toward public engagement and transparency of board activities.