Webb Looks At ‘Softening’ Appearance Of New Building

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Development

Dr. John Pautienis, whose orthodontal office is on Nell’s Way, raised objections to his proposed new neighbor, a F. W. Webb sales facility on the site of the former Underground Mall. He spoke at the March 5 Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Committee meeting while project architect Scott Richardson listened.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS — F. W. Webb is working on adding some touches to its proposed 38,000-square-foot, 30-feet-high sales and storage facility at 17 Nells Way after hearing from members of the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Committee.

“This to me is a perfect building for an industrial park,” the OKH’s Stefan Galazzi said March 5 of the structure planned for the former site of the Underground Mall on Route 6A. He was bothered by its juxtaposition to nearby existing buildings that have elements that reflect design standards for the district. “There’s such an inconsistency in architecture,” he said. “You’d have to hide a heck of a lot of it for me to say yeah, OK.”

That point was made also by Dr. John Pautienis, who recalled the hoops a previous OKH board put him through years ago when he rebuilt offices at 6 Nells Way. “They pretty much told me to make sure that whatever was done with that building maintained the character, the Cape Cod look,” he said. “Are we gonna maintain the same historic flavor we have? It’s a question of how much we are going to change that whole neighborhood and make it more industrial.”

OKH Chairman Ron Mgrdichian said it was unlikely that such a project would be approved anywhere else in the district in Orleans, but noted that the area adjacent to Brewster is different. That town excluded certain sections of Route 6A from the district, which is why as one drives through Brewster, Mgrdichian said, “there’s a restaurant, a church, and all of a sudden I’m looking at a cement factory heading into Orleans, then a storage for boat trailers. Then I cross into Orleans and it’s really commercial.”

Noting that the empty Underground Mall building “certainly doesn’t stand 30 feet high,” member Richard Weeks observed that it “also incorporates a roof pitch on its facade to soften its impact from the ground level to the top of the building. Yet this one somehow doesn’t do that. It’s a 30-foot-high mass.”

Attorney Ben Zehnder of Orleans, representing the proponents, was frank. “The nature of this building is that it probably can’t meet the guidelines set forth by the Old King’s Highway,” he said. “There are really two options the board has. You could find it appropriate, or that… the project itself is not appropriate but there is a hardship for the applicant… This use is permitted in this district, but to build a building that meets their needs can’t meet the guidelines. The other buildings on Nells Way lend themselves to compliance in a way this use doesn’t.”

Continuing his argument for approval based on hardship, Zehnder said that “to build a building that looks like other buildings on Nells Way just doesn’t work for this particular use. This is a 3.67-acre parcel. The amount of land in the town of Orleans for this type of development is almost restricted to this lot. This is on a traffic light with access to the highway. To find a good, economically viable user of this lot… you all know how long that lot sat with a for sale sign. The Old King’s Highway wasn’t designed with an eye to regulating a plumbing supply showroom.”

Pautienis protested that there should be a single standard “irregardless of what the business is, what size it is. To say this is a hardship, well, maybe this isn’t the place for it. To say the bigger the project the less they have to conform to the standards everyone else does, that doesn’t make sense.”

Admitting he was “struggling” with the project, member John Smith asked to see drawings of how the building would look to people driving by on Route 6A.

“We’re here for guidance,” said Jami Anderson of Green Leaf Construction, the company retained by F. W. Webb to build the new structure. Project architect Scott Richardson of Gorman Richardson Lewis Architects suggested incorporating “some softening, some roof lines more in keeping with sloped roofs” along the Route 6A elevation. After more discussion, he said that change could continue around to a portion of the front section of the building facing Nells Way.

Later, Zehnder asked the board to consider “what you want to see in that location. It’s not going to be a large single-family residence. It’s not going to be a barn, it’s not going to be a farm. I’m very frustrated with people who attempt to recreate historical structures. If you get one thing wrong, it looks like Disneyland. Your job is very difficult. It doesn’t help you manage this type of development.”

“It’s all about maximizing the best values for the building that make it look as if it’s part of the environment and belongs here,” Smith said, “but masks anything that’s going to detract from that.”

The committee, which unanimously approved a certificate of demolition for the existing buildings on the site, continued the hearing on the certificate of appropriateness for the new structure to April 2. Before that date, the project will be back before the zoning board of appeals, on March 18.

F. W. Webb is looking for three special permits from the ZBA to exceed allowed building size for a retail use, to provide less than the required parking, and to develop on a lot that extends into two zoning districts. The board got its first crack at the application March 4, the same day the project obtained formal site plan approval from the site plan review committee. That OK included conditions such as an improved landscaping plan and identification of hazardous materials to be store on the site, among others.

At their March 4 meeting, some ZBA members expressed concerns about the appearance of the building that echoed those of the OKH board. When Zehnder noted it was the mandate of the other board “to look very seriously at whether the visual impact is in keeping with the OKH” standards, ZBA chairman Michael Marnik said the purpose of his board was to find “consistency of the project with the neighborhood and the intent of the zoning bylaw.”

The ZBA hearing was continued to March 18 to allow the proponent to provide further information about percentage of lot coverage and plans to improve the turning radius at Nells Way and Bakers Pond Road.