Webb Withdraws Project After OKH Denial

By: Ed Maroney

An illustration of the building F.W. Webb proposed for the site of the former underground mall in Orleans. The project was rejected by the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Committee last week.

ORLEANS F.W. Webb won’t build a 38,000-square-foot commercial building on the site of the old Underground Mall on Route 6A. Chief Operating Officer Bob Mucciarone confirmed Monday that the project will be withdrawn from review by the zoning board of appeals, and that last week’s denial by the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Committee will not be appealed.

Asked if the company would try to find another location on this end of the Cape, he said, “I don’t know. We’ll probably do something down there, but I don’t know if it will be in Orleans.”

In its unanimous vote Aug. 6, the committee found that the building was not appropriate for the location about 30 feet from Route 6A. Member Richard Weeks complimented architect Scott Richardson, who redesigned the building to break up its mass, for a “fine job, as well as can be done with a structure this size,” but said he had concluded “this structure as proposed is inappropriate for this site.

Member Jamie Demas agreed that the new look “was a big improvement of the first design,” but said, “It’s too close to 6A. It’s not within the character of anything I’ve seen along 6A. What really got me were the loading docks for the warehouse area. If something could be done to eliminate that part of the building, move it back a little, it would probably be acceptable to me.”

“It is big,” member John Smith said, “and we are charged with looking at size, but there are no limitations on size; there’s nothing that says how big is big.” He was very complimentary toward Richardson’s work, noting that the revised building “is not just a big box anymore, which I like a lot... It’s just, is this something we would like along Route 6A? It’s a question of what it’s gonna look like when I come into the community, what I think of Orleans when I do that.”

At that stage of the meeting, Smith said he was “still struggling to accommodate” the project, and looked forward to hearing public testimony. Later, he agreed with his colleagues that the building was not appropriate for the site.

Chairman Ron Mgrdichian said that, “in another location which is not surrounded by decent houses and smaller structures, it probably would not stand out, but there it does stand out.” He said a previous OKH board had approved the existing mall building because “it was going to be built into that hillside so as not to stick out and become such a major view in that area… I’m having a hard time visualizing this structure there.”

Mgrdichian voted to deny the application, as did member Stefan Galazzi, whose unstable Internet connection limited his remarks at the meeting.

“I think the town is not progressive,” Mucciarone said Monday. “I think they are set in their ways. I think they’re archaic. We went to a meeting that was predetermined before we got there. As a result, it wasn’t democratic. We could have said anything in the world and they would have said, ‘No, you can’t come here.’ I happen to think that building we put there was the best use for that property. I think that property will stay empty for a long period of time now.”

Setting the stage at the meeting’s outset, Mgrdichian said the committee “deals with structures, exterior design and color, fences, sheds, poles, lights, solar panels, replacement shingle, with the setting of the location where a structure might be located, visibility, (and) surrounding structures… What we do not deal with are zoning, traffic issues, environmental issues, and financial issues.”

During public testimony, Bob Renn said the “commercial area” where the building was located was hard to describe as a regional historic district, and he didn’t shy away from financial matters. “F. W. Webb was willing to make major investments to build a facility in Orleans,” he said. The business would “attract customers to town, create jobs… I think this is something everyone needs to keep in mind.”

What is the plan, Renn asked, to rejuvenate the existing mall? “It’s an eyesore as we enter the town of Orleans… I think the board needs to seriously consider not only the architectural impacts but the business impacts on the town of Orleans… You don’t have a viable alternative here other than to let this eyesore continue to deteriorate.”

“I think there’s no thought process to the income that it would have brought to the community in the form of taxes,” Mucciarone said Monday. “We would have employed probably between eight and 10 people in that building. I don’t think the historical commission really has jurisdiction in that area. If I look around, I see nothing but other industries similar to ours in that area.”

Painting a different picture of the neighborhood was Dr. John Pautienis, trustee of nearby 6 Nell’s Way, who recalled going before a previous OKH board for a renovation of his building. Members at that time, he said, held it “paramount that the proposed project blend in with the immediate surrounding area, with traditional Cape Cod architecture. The resulting building achieved the desired objectives and did not dominate the surrounding area.”

He showed slides of several fully-gabled buildings in the area with “no flat roofs, no metal.” Even a nearby car wash was “fully sided all the way around, with multiple paned windows, a peaked roof and cupola.”

A 3D model of the proposed Webb building was made for Pautienis, who displayed the results. He said that the gabling added in the architect’s revised drawing represented just 2 percent of the entire roof. “We put a little lipstick on the front,” he said. Pautienis said he’d heard from residents of a housing development on nearby Opa’s Way who did not want to look at “an industrial building for at least half the year” when the trees are bare.

“There is not another massive, 38,000-square-foot industrial-looking building 30 feet from the Cranberry Highway from the Canal to the Orleans rotary,” Pautienis said.

“It’s simply astounding that we are faced with this proposal,” Larry Diaz said. “This case isn’t even close. It violates the Old King’s Highway Historic District act concerning size, scope, general design and features and also violates the act’s requirement that the building be compatible in size, design, and other visible attributes with the immediate surroundings.”