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ARB chair explains board’s criticisms
At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Architectural Review Board Chair Jamie Scully addressed the council in regard to the ARB issuing a certificate of appropriateness for the new courthouse construction downtown.
Here is how the ARB discussion went at its meeting Monday night. In short, the board granted the certificate, but wasn’t thrilled about it.
Here are Scully’s remarks to the City Council. (Click on the link above to hear the audio.)
“We, the Architectural Review Board of Fredericksburg City, have issued a Certificate of Appropriateness for the scaling, massing, and site planning for the proposed New Court House with a 4-3 vote. Along with that issuance, we would like to attached this Signing Statement, as we had a hard time issuing this Certificate for the following reasons:
Our consideration of this proposal began badly. We were only recently involved in the process and have only had two formal opportunities to understand the project and give input, one of which was a supplemental meeting of our own that we suggested and scheduled last night. As a result, we wrestled with whether or not to issue this Certificate of Appropriateness for the project. Unlike other new construction proposals coming from the private sector, the court house proposal came to the ARB as a “mature” design. For instance, the proposal for the new Marriott Hotel began with an informal meeting to review its initial concept, where we had a chance to give constructive input. The Court House design proposal was not only fully conceived but also constrained by the City Council’s structured competitive process for the design-build contract. Thus, although the ARB was tasked to consider the new building’s scale and massing, it was clear that that issue had been determined and resolved many months earlier by the Council.
The ARB’s charge, based on the Historic District’s Ordinance, is to consider whether proposals within the City’s Historic District are or are not compatible with the historic aspects of the Historic District. That consideration is to be based on the standards set forth in the ordinance. A new building’s scale and massing as well as its compatibility with the overall Historic District are among those factors.
In debating whether the new Court House proposal is compatible based on these factors, we the members of the ARB reached a consensus that the process by which this design was developed was flawed in not affording early consultation with the ARB like the private sector projects built in the City.
Given the site constraints and programming for interior spaces the designers had no choice but to produce a building with the scale and massing we have been presented with. The proposed building fills nearly 100% of the site, without the necessary details that a large building of its character require to conform to our Historic Districts. What we mean by this is there inadequate exterior public spaces and areas for landscaping that would be afforded by appropriate steps or modulations in its façade.
A Court House has an important role in the public life of a community and those exterior meeting places are essential to its form and function. The result was an ARB split regarding whether the court house proposal was compatible with the Historic District or not.
On the one hand, the design is an attractive building that, for the most part, met the compatibility factors.
On the other, the building, nice as it is, would be better suited to be built elsewhere rather than as the next prominent civil building in our Historic District.
Finally, the Board faced the dilemma of the process should it decide the proposal was not compatible with the Historic District. According to the ordinance the applicant whose proposal was denied could appeal to the Council. In this instance, if the ARB denied the proposal, the City would appeal to itself regarding its own proposal. We applaud the City for allowing for this review process but in this instance it should have started formally long before now.
We, the ARB, appeal to the Council by this statement to recognize the larger symbolic and long term value of a large court house and urge that a they issue a task order to the design build consultant to modify the court house design to incorporate the appropriate public exterior spaces associated with the building by incorporating steps or modulations in its façade. We further urge that this modification and contemplation of change occur in consultation with the ARB.”