Saturday, February 25, 2006
Museum Row Fireworks
A friend asked me today what I thought about the antics at last Tuesday's Historic District Commission's 3-2 vote in favor of the Museum Row Project. I don't know about antics, but it was not a quiet meeting that I attended on February 21.
See the Gwendolyn Glenn's excellent coverage of the meeting and her previous 12/22 , 12/29 stories in the Laurel Leader.
The key point for me to remember is that the HDC is not the final arbitrator of the project. They are only an advisor to the council on revitalization overlay cases. So all of the passionate and reasoned debate at the meeting could not impact a final decision, but only influence the HDC's recommendation to the council. Even an HDC vote against the project could have still gone forward to the council for consideration in their final decision.
I like the current design. It is going to be big, and the lot is small, but I don't believe that it will detract from the neighborhood. Here is an overhead view of the property. And here is a bird's eye view looking south. Here is the plan view of the project. The west end of Main Street will benefit from high-quality, single family homes. The current design is very interesting and it seems to be a good engineering compromise for the site. (But I'm only an engineer and not an historical preservation architect, your actual mileage may vary.)
I'm also torn between the property owner's right to develop their property within the law, and the community's desire to preserve a sense of our history. Jim McCeney said it best when he suggested that the current design is significantly better now than as originally proposed by the developer. The HDC process is the reason it's better.
Jim still felt that the mass of the project was too large for the site and voted against the project as it is currently designed. Most of the speakers at the meeting agreed with Jim.
I also enjoyed the exceptionally well-said comments at the meeting that the "English Village" design of the project was too suburban for Laurel. I'm not sure about that line of reasoning. Laurel doesn't have the urban density of Alexandria or Annapolis. We are a small town with an eclectic mix of architectural styles and neighborhood types. Most of old town Laurel looks suburban...at least to my admittedly untrained eyes.
I guess at the end of the day, I'm willing to trust the process of the planning commission informing the HDC, who informs the council. Call me Pollyanna, but I believe that everyone wants the best for Laurel. There are no enemies, just well-meaning people with different perspectives.
Mike Collins wants to build a high-quality product that he can sell for a reasonable return. He has a track record of projects for which to be justifiably proud. The HDC wants to encourage historical sensitivity to a previous time and place. The community wants to make sure that the HDC hears and considers their views.
The City Council has a responsibility to improve the tax base and obey the law. They must weigh all of these needs and find a way forward within the specifics of the situation.
I'm not sitting up there anymore. But if I was, I believe that I would vote for the project as currently designed.