By Erich Wagner (File photo)
When local developer and architect William Cromley went before the board of architectural review in the spring, neighbors had some choice words for the five proposed townhouses at the 300 block of N. Columbus St.: monolithic, commercial and impersonal.
So, Cromley returned to the drawing board, even though his original proposal received board approval. After a couple of meetings with residents over the summer, he visited the board again last week with a new design as well as the backing of neighbors.
The primary change to the blueprint, which calls for townhomes at the site of a rundown parking lot adjacent to the Kate Waller Barrett Branch Library, was lowering the height from about 39-feet tall down to 34.5 feet. The new design also rearranges the windows on the front of the townhomes into a more traditional layout.
Cromley is no stranger to controversy, being at the center of a debate regarding the former Carver Nursery School for the past couple of years. But the local developer said this time working with opponents was easier than usual, thanks to their thoughtfulness.
“While all developers face opposition — and I face it a lot — the core group of people [with concerns] were pretty intelligent and they had some really good things to say,” Cromley said. “And most importantly, they understood the economic reality of the site … they understood and respected the parameters of the site.”
Although initially opposing the idea, David Lamb, who lives along the block near the project site, said he came around after speaking with Cromley about the proposal.
“I have to give him credit for the new design,” Lamb said. “[This] is a good example of a developer and the community, with the guidance of the BAR and city council, working together. I think we’ve established a blueprint that could really work [for development conflicts elsewhere in the city].”
And Linda Bogaczyk, a resident who filed an appeal of the original board approval for city council review, called the new proposal a vast improvement.
“Its not our job to dictate the design to a developer,” Bogaczyk said. “We made suggestions to him, and he came back in good faith to us with the new design. You can never turn back the clock, and all you can do is look forward. And I’m anxious for the digging to begin.”
While every developer and architect has their vision for a particular property, Cromley said it’s important to stay flexible since there is no one correct design.
“You’d be arrogant and dishonest if you said there’s only one design that should be on a site,” Cromley said. “I like to think that I’m creative enough to satisfy my design objectives but also make sure the design is appropriate for the site and addresses some of the concerns that neighbors had.”
While most of the board said they still approve of the design, member Oscar Fitzgerald believes the changes feel like a missed opportunity.
“To be fair, if I lived across the street, maybe it wouldn’t be what I’d like to see every day,” Fitzgerald said. “I think it’s a tragedy. We had a chance to do something really nice, something that people would come to see and to look at, and it’s a shame to lose that opportunity.”
Cromley understands Fitzgerald’s disappointment but said the board member will be pleasantly surprised with the final product.
“It respects certain principles of traditional architecture, but at close inspection, it will read as a building built in the 21st century,” Cromley said. “I’m hoping and confident that people will see that it’s different enough from the standard that they will use it as a stepping-stone to continue to broaden the architectural envelope of in-fill construction.”