Above: The back part of the plan for 32 Exchange Street.
By Elizabeth F. McNamara
The Planning Board voted 4-0 Wednesday night (2/5/20) to approve the preliminary plan for 32 Exchange Street, a 12-unit development that calls for the demolition of a historic house that’s fallen into serious disrepair.
The approval is the second step in a three-step process. The development gained master plan approval in February 2019. For final approval (i.e. permission to start work on the site), the developer needs to secure DEM and town approval of engineering plans.
At the meeting Wednesday, Aimee Heru, who lives next door to 32 Exchange, reiterated earlier concerns about the development.
Heru has spoken out repeatedly against the project’s size. Because the Planning Board already approved 12 units on the site, she focused her comments on the appearance of the complex planned for the back of the property, as well questions about the use of gravel in the parking lot and her feelings that the snow removal plans were inadequate.
“This development isn’t being held to the same standards [as we are],” Heru said, asking that the “monstrous buildings” be sided with clapboard and use “appropriate” windows.
Architect Donald Powers said the building planned at the front of the property would mimic the existing house, but said Historic District Commission guidelines say new construction should not to pretend to be old. Instead, Power said the idea for the buildings at the back was to echo mill buildings in the area (for instance, the complex at King and Water streets).
“Where it did matter to use to retain historic details was the building on the street,” he said. “It would not be a benefit to dress this project up in period garb.”
Representatives for the developer also addressed Heru’s concern about the gravel parking lot – she said it would compact over time and water would run off onto her property. The developer’s team said they would construct a proper base and subbase, eliminating that fear.
Neighbor James Gorman also spoke during public comment, but he was thwarted in his desire to again address the historic significance of the house.
“The public comments are supposed to be focused on the issues addressed tonight,” said Town Solicitor Michael Ursillo. The Historic District Commission approved demolition of the house in 2018; the Planning Board has no ability to reverse that decision.
“We have approved many different things … what we are doing … is a review of the engineering of the project,” said board vice chair Nate Ginsburg, who was leading the meeting in the absence of chair Jason Gomez. “As a board, we’re not able to go back and review….”
Gorman accused the board of censoring him, while the developer’s lawyer noted Gorman had been able to speak for 45 minutes at the previous meeting.
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