2/21/2019 BAR meeting — notes only, no audio recording, 2/22/2019

I attended the Board of Architectural Review meeting last night, but due to “operator error” (i.e., my stupidity) I did not manage to record it.  What follows are my notes, based on what was going to be the timing guide to the audio recording.

The meeting started promptly at 8 PM.

The first item on the agenda was a sign for Keiko Charcoal Chicken, in the Maple shopping center that has Jammin’ Java.  While this sign was approved, two items stood out to me.

First, the applicant was unfamiliar with Kelvins as a measure of light color (as opposed to lumens (per square foot) as a measure of light intensity).   And it seemed like everyone on the Board was so familiar with that, they didn’t think to offer a plain-language explanation to the applicant.  So several exchanges crossed up Kelvins and lumens.

Kelvins measure the “color temperature” of a light source.  The Town wants outdoor signs to use a relative warm color of light, 3000 Kelvin or lower, and avoid higher color temperatures that would appear blue-ish.

Second, the Town would like the owner of the shopping center to impose some sort of uniformity on the signage, and limit the number of available colors.  That appears to be part of a Town-wide policy, but I could not be sure of that.

Next was a sign for another new restaurant, Zenola, opening in Danor Plaza (shopping center with Fresh Market).  The sign was approved with relatively little discussion.  (Unrelated, I now need to revise my Maple Avenue retail vacancy estimate, as I counted that us un-rented space.)

Third up was signage for Jolie Hair Studio on Maple.  After close to 15 minutes, the signage was approved, with some provisos about color, and about durability of paint for the building itself.

Fourth was some changes to the new drive-through Starbucks (formerly Taco Bell), including some modest changes in the brickwork, and use of a ligher shade of wood.   These were approved after some discussion.

Fifth, about 45 minutes into the meeting, the BAR began discussing the Wawa.  In the end, I think the initial discussion boiled down to maybe two major items:  lighting, and dealing with the lack of a wall to separate this from the adjacent neighborhood.

The BAR made it clear that they do not want these commercial properties to be over-lit.  They made a clear statement that, at some point, excess lighting crosses the line between architectural accent and outdoor advertising.  And they want them to keep well away from that line.  And so, throughout, they called for the lowest light level consistent with illumination guidelines.

After having asked Wawa to remove “rim lighting” all around the rooftop previously, in this meeting they scaled that back further and asked them to remove the lighting around the entrance tower except for the portion directly over the entrance door.  The BAR also questioned the large number of can lights in the canopy (used to produce down-wash lighting on the walls), checked that Wawa might (e.g.) dim the lighting after 8 PM or 10 PM, made sure that the parking lot lights were designed NOT to spill light onto the adjacent properties, and so on.

In terms of the lot line, Wawa offered to plant additional low evergreen shrubbery to screen the view.

At 9:15, the BAR asked for public comment.  The couple owning the house behind the proposed Wawa asked why there was no wall at the back of the property, and apparently no requirement for such a wall, as Town zoning law clearly calls for one.  Town staff answered that, in 1974, there was “a determination”, by the Planning and Zoning administrator at that time, that no wall was required, due at least in part to the presence of “an alley” behind the commercial property.  And so, because of that, I believe I heard that Wawa is not legally burdened to have a wall.  (To which I will add, “despite this vast change in how the property will be used.”)

In all, that description reminded me of the letters of transit in Casablanca.  That determination cannot be rescinded, not even questioned.  That may well have a basis in law, but still strikes me as a bizarre way to go about this.

Other neighbors stood up and supported putting a sound-blocking wall there (including me).  One neighbor also talked about existing problems with light trespass from a commercial property adjacent to her home.

The BAR was clearly sympathetic.  They noted, however, that they could not direct Wawa to build a wall — that was out of their purview.  But landscaping is within their mandate, and, as I heard it, they accepted Wawa’s offer to put in low evergreen shrubs on the lot line.  Further, they urged Wawa to do whatever they could do be good neighbors, praised them for their responsiveness to concerns so far, and urged them “to the highest degree possible” to work out something that addresses the concerns of the adjacent properties.

Wawa, for their part, noted that a) they only recently became aware of this concern, b) they immediately decided to offer shrubbery as an option, and that c) putting in something like the legally-required wall would probably require removing some mature shade trees, which they would like to avoid.  (You can see my proposed solution here.)

Finally, at 9:45 the Sunrise Assisted Living facility at Maple and Center came up.  Some of the architectural details went over my head.  Here’s what stuck with me, from my notes.

First, the BAR suggested green walls and some public artwork for the proposed “pocket park” between the building and the adjacent Vienna Inn.  As it turns out, not only is there going to be a sewer main buried under that land, but the Town has to be able to drive trucks over that to get at that sewer line from time to time.  That severely restricts what can be put in that space.

Second, it appears that the County may want to move the bus shelter currently on that property to a location up the street.  Current plans call for a bench to be built into the front wall of the building, to serve as the bus shelter.

Third, the BAR called for more planters and greenery along Maple, with the proviso that the planters been at least 1.5 feet off the curb, so that people could stand there to watch the Halloween parade.

Finally, the BAR commended the architects on reducing the “massing” of the building and getting “human scale” and pedestrian-oriented architecture.

There were a handful of comments from the public, but the only one that had any significance to me was a question about building materials.  This building will be made of concrete, and will not use wood-frame construction for its upper floors.   (Plausibly, I have been told that this relates to evacuation plans for this building in case of a fire requiring greater fire-resistance than can be obtained with wood-framed construction).

The significance here is that this is not a “stumpie”, as I discussed elsewhere.  And so I was dead wrong about these new buildings all having the same wood-over-concrete least-cost construction method.  This is not wood-frame construction over a one-floor concrete podium.  This building will be concrete on all floors.