Ulrika Gerth did two terrific articles on “design review” for the Newburyport Current. I think I’ve finally calmed down enough after reading those articles to actually be able to write about the subject.
On a personal note, our neighborhood had an experience where “design review” became really important. (This was in the good old days of the once Planning Director, Nick Cracknell.)
We had a developer who wanted to redo a garage into a one family home.
The neighborhood was unanimous in feeling that the first design did not work. We were also unanimous in the feeling that the second design did not work as well.
Luckily, Nick Cracknell was still around and I got in touch with him ASAP. It turned out that the project was not within the zoning codes, so we as a neighborhood had the luxury of having a whole lot of say in what could actually go there. (Because, we had the luxury of killing the project if the developer didn’t work with us.)
(I did talk to a number of people about what would happen if we actually did kill the project, and the overwhelming advice was, “don’t,” because the developer would come back with something else, and he’d come back angry. Very good advice. I’m definitely passing that one on.)
As neighbors we were very specific about what we wanted, it was down to earth, common sense stuff. And yes it was Nick Cracknell who took an hour or so and drove around Newburyport looking at houses with the developer. And he and the developer came back to the neighbors with a “tweak” for the second design, which made the all the difference. And as a result (I have no idea if the developer was happy) the final house looks very nice. Something I believe the neighborhood is proud of.
(Nick Cracknell also made sure that a brick sidewalk got thrown into the deal as well as a very nice looking driveway.)
So this turned out to be an impromptu neighborhood “design review.” But thank goodness we had the opportunity, otherwise, no offense to the developer, but good grief, it wouldn’t have looked so good. And it wouldn’t have been as easy, btw, (that’s just my opinion…I think it would be the rest of the neighborhood’s opinion as well) for the house to sell.
As a result of an experience in my own backyard, so to speak, I’ve become an extra big fan of “design review” for the city of Newburyport, Massachusetts.
Am I for a balanced design review for projects in the city? You bettcha. One that includes a member of the planning board, the historical commission, and the Planning Director – oh, yes.
Do I like the idea of having a design review board made up of developers and architects, and the developer gets to pick which architect and developer he or she would like? Not on your life.
No offense (and I think this has been said before,) but what a recipe for complete disaster.
And do I think that the fight over a design review board, should it exist and who will be on it, is really, really important? Yup. And do I trust the present Newburyport Planning Board to do the right thing? Yes, I most certainly do.
And I would really, really like (what wishful thinking this is) is for developers and architects and the mayor just to stay out of the Newburyport Planning Board’s way, thank you very, very much. Wouldn’t that be a nice one. Wow.
Mary Eaton, Newburyport