March 29, 2013

Finally, some hope for Mount Varna?

Well, that was unusual. I went to a Town meeting and came back with some hope that the perpetual eyesore at the intersection of Route 366 and Freese Road in Varna might finally be improving. Perhaps its going up for sale was the best thing that could have happened to it.

The Planning Board had a sketch plan meeting with Todd Fox, who wants to develop the property, and Noah Demarest, landscape architect, of STREAM collaborative. While I worry about the usual distance between an architect's rendering and the resulting construction reality, the sketch plan and the meeting finally gave me hope that someone is showing some care to that corner.

Sketch of a possible future at the corner of 366 and Freese Road.
Sketch of a possible future at the corner of 366 and Freese Road, with possible commercial development on the left (western) edge.

It is only a concept sketch, and it's the sketch that came to the meeting, not out of the meeting. However, it is a vast improvement on prior proposals for a tow pound and even on the mostly flat prefab apartment housing earlier proposed to the Town.

(You can also see the Planning Department's questions going into the meeting, which I think were all addressed adequately in the meeting.)

The builder, Todd Fox, is aiming for a basic LEED-ND certification. That fit neatly with the Town's design guidelines, but combined with the strange topography of the site and a covenant blocking development of its eastern edge to create some puzzles for parking. This plan in the sketch would create 20 residential units, plus 3500 square feet of commercial space, 1750 of it on the ground floor. (Another 1750 square feet could be created in a third floor.) The recurring question was whether there was enough parking to sustain the commercial space at that location, and the Planning Board concluded that commercial space there would be nice but was optional.

(I would love to see some new commercial space in that area to replace the sadly neglected buildings in the area, but agree that it will be much much easier to do on the other side of Route 366, which is already an enormous parking lot.)

Much of the discussion was about on-street parking and a bus pull-off, and what could work at that intersection with its restricted sight lines. It seems like a few spaces might be possible, but it's less clear if its a good idea. The next phase, site plan review, will explore that more deeply with an engineering study, contour map and more.

One thing I liked was their plans to modify the contours of the current plateau, making it so that the driveway in went down. That allowed parking underneath the buildings, and I suspect will both make it feel more like a home to its residents and ease the looming feeling of the strange fill structure.

A few Planning Board members asked about car and pedestrian access from Freese Road or sidewalks there. That will likely depend on how the contours of the site work out, and they also discussed shifting some sidewalk construction to Freese Road instead of going to nowhere on the eastern edge. There was also some discussion of bike racks, especially if the commercial development is built.

Stormwater, which has been a recurring problem for the plateau, would be addressed with a bio-retention and filtration system, more commonly known as a rain garden. The edges of the fill would be planted with more permanent vegetation to hold it in place.

Overall, I was a lot happier than I expected to be. After the abuse this site has suffered from previous owners, it's good to see someone demonstrate some care. This isn't close to done, and there is a long distance between plans and the final product, but this seems to be heading the right direction for once!

Update: A comment from Facebook: "You forget to mention that the barn-inspired architecture sets a harmonious note with the transect to a rural visual impression. While simultaneously providing the kind of affordable building construction options that, combined with basic energy-saving development planning, will make it possible to support commercial entities locating in such a relatively low-traffic location. Good design, nice to hear about it, thanks."

Posted by simon at March 29, 2013 6:59 AM in
Note on photos