Many of us are concerned and confused as to how the Steaming Bean call-up process has gone and where it is headed. The continuance is only to complete the deliberation with no applicant presentation or public comment. However, in light of circumstances of the call-up session, it would seem the deliberation should take a completely different course.
The session was inconsistent with established procedures. Because very few pertinent and educated questions were asked regarding the most critical guidelines, it was apparent several committee members had neither reviewed the packet nor become minimally familiar with the most general aspects, and seemed unprepared to effectively and fairly evaluate the proposed design. They were not better informed than the Historic and Architectural Review Commission members and were not qualified to act or overrule in their behalf. Simply defaulting to the HARC decision because they know what they are doing is not the purpose of the call-up.
At that session, direction was given to focus only on previously presented material. No new subjects, evidence or materials were to be introduced. However, the applicant was granted unlimited time to present new evidence and irrelevant and inaccurate perceptions about neighboring projects and owners including new comparisons to other historic structures.
Surprisingly, there weren't any requests by council to stay on topic, which contributed to a lengthy presentation. In stark contrast, public comments were restricted to three minutes per person, hardly enough to fully convey any pertinent concerns or to make a meaningful presentation. Granted, this was more about facts, compliance with HARC Design Guidelines and knowledge of past hearings than assumptions and general opinions. However, three former HARC chairs consistently and emphatically have stated the proposed project did and does not meet a multitude of guidelines and they have been ignored for over two and a half years.
One photograph, a cornerstone of the applicant’s rationale, has continually been referenced as a basis for approval, was identified by an astute council member that the referenced building was not the Steaming Bean but in fact was the adjacent, no longer existing Hose House, formerly on the site of the New Sheridan Hotel, as evidenced by comparing several historic photographs and Sanborn Maps. How could there have been no follow up to understand the significance of this error?
The applicant claimed three years was more than enough time for HARC to have granted approval. This is true. Perhaps the question asked should be "Why did it take that long?" Instead of modifying the design to preserve the structure, the effort often focused on, what turned out to be false evidence and reasons why the historic structure did not need to be preserved in its entirety.
Additionally, the planning staff's participation in preparing graphics and making presentations on behalf of the applicant seems inconsistent with standard procedure. Could this be setting precedence for future applicants to ask for town assistance in preparing presentation materials and having staff present them? It was pointed out by a HARC member during one presentation, some of the graphics were inaccurate and should not have been admissible. I agree. This was not questioned by other members.
The Town Council Agenda Memorandum cited roughly 95 unprioritized guidelines in addition to references to the Land Use Code. Many referred to insignificant tertiary items such as trash, planters, setbacks, building orientation and lighting to mention just a few, which had no bearing on the issues being presented. While some of the Guidelines were deemed compliant, they are subjective and can be interpreted in many ways. However, there was no debate regarding some of the most critical and how they could be interpreted.
Three significant guidelines which relate specifically to New Alterations and Additions, previously submitted in letter to Council by a HARC member cited as non-compliant, were absent from the Town Memorandum and the call-up discussion. It was also publicly noted by three former HARC chairs that the proposed addition did not comply with any of these guidelines.
The Town’s Memorandum also referenced to the Land Use Code Section 7-105.C and indicated staff found the proposed project in compliance. Again, one HARC member and three former HARC chairs vehemently disagreed. Who determines whose opinion carries more weight or is more correct?
Inaccurate references should be dismissed by council and should not be considered as a basis for decisions. Council procedures should be adjusted to more fairly and thoroughly evaluate and debate the most significant and applicable HARC Guidelines and Land Use Code Sections and come to an educated conclusion. The community has the right to know what the council will be basing its decisions on. If they approve the application as currently presented without dismissing the applicant's incorrect references, it will be clear they knowingly will have based their decisions on incorrect information.