Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Proposed Hampton Road Fire Station


There is an important vote this Friday, October 9th, 2009 regarding the proposed new fire-station on Hampton Road. Village residents can vote at the Southampton Cultural Center between 12 noon and 9pm. A nice sketch of the proposed building has been distributed throughout the village on a flyer (see rendering above) urging everyone to vote, there have been numerous articles in the Southampton Press about the project, and there was a public answer & question event on Sept. 23rd at the fire-station (one can see the video of that event via the village’s website here: http://www.southamptonvillage.org/boardVideo.asp?flv=FireHouse_A.flv). I think it’s great that the Fire Department held a public event and think that the engagement of village residents into the process is crucial to garnering support for the project.
I am very much in favor of this project, but – of course – would love to suggest a few aesthetic tweaks. I have been fortunate to see all of the elevations (I think handouts of them will be available at the library and village hall prior to the election) and can honestly say – with a bit of slight modification, nothing major – it will be a welcome improvement and much needed asset to the village. Slight design modifications are likely to occur during the next phase (design development) of an architectural project anyway. Prior to seeing all of the elevations I was concerned because all we had seen so far was the hand-drawn sketch of the building’s side elevation facing Narrow Lane. But that sketch generated other questions: What about the front, the prominent Hampton Road elevation? And is the southern portion all glass? And why is the limestone (concrete?) band on the northern wing at a strange height? Overall however, I like the materials (brick and stucco I assume), I like the roof brackets (some have called ‘outriggers’), I like the effort of including vernacular elements and the overall traditional intention of the design. I am told that the vote on Friday is only to approve the public funding of the project and that the design is only schematically developed and will still be open to public review, perhaps (fingers crossed) even to local board review.
Municipal projects are not required to be reviewed by our local Planning Board or Board of Architectural Review & Historic Preservation. While most readers of this blog understand that I have issues with the qualifications of these board members, ideally, assuming we had boards filled with qualified members, I can see no negative aspect of routing these projects through those boards. To be completely transparent with the public and allow them to participate in every step of the design, and to have the ‘experts’ that the village takes the trouble to appoint to these boards for these anyway just makes sense, right? I mean, what does it say that the Village must review all building projects, except when they’re for themselves? Why do they get a free pass? I’ll bet it would make for better architecture also. I personally think the addition to the elementary school is lovely, but don’t like the design of the connection between the new addition and the existing structure. I’ll save that critique for a future post. I have also heard comments about how the site plan could have been developed more successfully. Maybe if it had been required to go through the local review boards, it could have been an even better design overall.
I will not be sharing with you whether or not I will vote yes or no on Friday because I think you should all make your own decisions. I will share that I have no problem with the proposed cost (even though, if the fire station serves areas outside of the village, I don’t understand why town residents – or some of them – don’t also have to pitch-in), and am okay with approving the design understanding that it is still in schematic form and will be open to additional public scrutiny. I completely support the updating of the fire department’s facilities and recognize that as an important community need, but for the record, I disagree with the provision that municipal structures be exempt from local review practices.

Monday, October 5, 2009

A General Segment on the Agenda

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.