Post #250: Oh, you never said that it had to be the same building.

Posted on April 24, 2019

InsideNova reported on Maro Polo yesterday. And while they got the details right, I really think that they are missing the big picture.  Among the responses I have seen is a sentiment of “good for the Board of Architectural Review”.  And that sentiment — while nice –is definitely missing the forest for the trees in this case.

In some sense, valuing the role of the BAR here is like valuing the services of a trauma surgeon after you’ve had a car wreck.  It would be a much smarter policy to avoid the car wreck in the first place.

In this post, I’m going to try to point out just one big-picture issue.  The Town did not review one building.  The Town reviewed two very different buildings, at different times.  And despite that, the claim is that this meets the letter of the law.

To be clear, the original design — and the only design seen by the BAR — was for an ornate, turn-of-the-century Georgetown-style stone/red brick/wrought iron building.  But the final design appears to be a plain-vanilla brown-brick building with more-or-less blank walls facing both Maple and (particularly) Church.

Let me explain why that’s crazy, from the standpoint of logic.  For a building to be approved under MAC, it has to pass review by:

  1.  The Board of Architectural Review (BAR), primarily focused on how the building looks, and whether it will fit in with the Town
  2. Planning Commission (PC), which asks whether the building fits into the Town’s master plan and appears to conform to all the zoning rules.
  3. Town Council (TC), which … does what it does.  Near as I can tell, the Town Council can approve or disapprove things without a whole lot of justification.

Here’s the crazy part:  Up to now, we had been assuming that the same building had to pass all three stages.  But now — if this flies — that no longer appears to be true.  You can present materially different buildings, to different parts of Town government, and still claim to have satisfied the letter of the law. The BAR only saw the Georgetown-style building.  They saw nothing of the building that the developer is getting ready to build.  The Planning Commission saw only the Georgetown building at their first meeting, and then were given a mix of renderings of the old (Georgetown) and new (Chicago alley) buildings at their second meeting.  Town Council was given renderings of both buildings, but seemed fully aware that the new (Chicago alley) building is what was going to be built.  Only in passing was it mentioned that the BAR reviewed the Georgetown building.  It was never made explicit that the BAR had never even seen the building that the Town Council was getting ready to approve.

But the Town Council approved it, with a fairly cavalier acknowledgement that this would have to be re-reviewed by the BAR before it was built.

And now, here we are.  This building — that the BAR has never before seen — gets tossed to it for “re”-review.

The upshot is that instead of asking the BAR to guide the architecture, we’re asking them to clean up end results.   For example, Town Council repeatedly pointed out the blank end walls facing Maple, on the revised version of the building.  And noted that something needed to be done about them.

These are ugly blank walls that didn’t exist in the version the BAR approved.  They are part of a building that the BAR had never seen before.  And yet, it’s now the BAR’s problem to deal with them.  If they can.  Almost a year after the Town Council approved the building on 5/7/2018.

But here’s the kicker:  The BAR may not have the final say-so in how the building will look.  As I read MAC statute, the Director of Planning and Zoning is the sole arbiter of whether a variation of a building is “in substantial conformity” with the proposed plans.  The BAR can do anything they want to, and Planning and Zoning can overrule that at any time, just by declaring there to be “substantial conformity” with the original (October 2, 2017) submitted plans.

Just in case you haven’t gotten it by now, I’ll say it plainly.  This is NOT how this system is supposed to work.