Friday, October 21, 2016
Rockville HDC finds revised Chestnut Lodge plan meets Secretary of the Interior standards
Applicant JNP Chestnut Lodge, LLC has proposed constructing 6 townhomes on the spot where the historic Chestnut Lodge psychiatric hospital stood until it was destroyed by fire in 2009. Nancy Pickard, Executive Director of historic preservation organization Peerless Rockville, testified that townhomes were not part of the heritage of Rockville at the time Chestnut Lodge was built.
Pickard told commissioners that, while wealthy estate dwellers did buy townhomes in urban areas in those days, they did not do so in Rockville. She said the first townhome developments in the City weren't constructed until the 1960s, nearly a century after the era of Chestnut Lodge's birth as a hotel. She also criticized the idea that the proposal should be considered only in the context of the SOI Rehabilitation standards. The other 3 sets of SOI standards - Restoration, Reconstruction, and Preservation - should be applied as well, she said. Rehabilitation standards ceased to be relevant after the main lodge burnt down, she added.
HDC chair Rob Achtmeyer asked Pickard if the individual access doors of townhomes vs. the shared entry of a condo building was her central concern. "It is a large factor," Pickard replied. "That housing form (townhouse) was not introduced in this city until the 1960s. That is not the heritage of Rockville," she said.
"Massing, the stronger verticality of the original hotel. There was the relationship of the dominant hotel to the outbuildings. The whole site was larger."
Kate Kuranda of Goodwin and Associates, speaking for the applicant, said what is left of the Chestnut Lodge site would not qualify for listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Once a building has burned, she said, it is removed from the Register. Kuranda said she concurs with City staff that the plan does meet the Secretary's rehabilitation standards, and that it retains the park-like setting of Chestnut Lodge.
Kuranda said the developer, Jim Proakis, has offered to establish a website to archive all of the photographs, oral and written history, and other records available on the historic hotel and hospital. Proakis has already discussed the idea with a firm that has experience in creating this type of website, she said. Achtmeyer said he found the website offer "very intriguing." He also exhorted attendees and the televison audience to bring forward to staff any materials they may have on the lost building. Achtmeyer called sitting on such materials as this plan rapidly moves forward "counterproductive. Please, do us all a favor - share."
In a presentation earlier, staff liaison Sheila Bashiri said that the suggestion by many in the community to rebuild Chestnut Lodge as it was would only make sense if it was then opened as a hotel or psychiatric hospital. The primary goal of a reconstruction, Bashiri said, is education. A building would usually be reconstructed, and then opened to the public, who could learn from visiting or touring it about its history.
Bashiri recommended the commission find the plan does meet the SOI Rehabilitation standards.
During a period of public testimony, Paul Newman, the president of the 30 Oaks Civic Association, asked why the input of the West End Citizens Association was not included in the staff report. "Where is it," he asked.
Newman said it was inaccurate to claim that the new building resembles the footprint of the lost building. He said he walked the grounds of the site, and noticed that some of the markers indicating the footprint of the proposed building are actually on pavement, not the grass, indicating it is larger. Newman called Chestnut Lodge "one of the anchors of the historic district. It's a little disingenuous to say [we can't reconstruct it]."
"Changing an access road to the outbuildings into a back alley with garages and trash cans," Newman said, "that is a major change in character." The applicant previously has promised to hide trash receptacles through both the design of the homes, and via condo association rules about when they can be placed outdoors.
There was very little mention of the Planned Residential Unit agreement that high-profile opponents like current Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, and past mayor Larry Giammo, have argued remains in effect. That PRU demanded that the main building be restored as a prerequisite for its adapted re-use as a condominium development. The PRU agreement was reached between the City and a previous developer who sought to redevelop the site.
After a short break, commissioners returned at 10:45 PM to discuss the matter.
"I find the massing and the roofline very problematic," Commissioner Stefanie Tincher said. "It changes its relationship to the surrounding buildings. I'm having a real problem with it."
No other commissioner commented on the plan. Achtmeyer suggested going forward then with the body's recommendation to the Mayor and Council.
First, a majority of the commission agreed that they should employ the Rehabilitation standards. Then they took straw votes on each of the applicable standards.
For Standard #1 (A property will be used as it was historically or be given a new use that requires minimal
change to its distinctive materials, features, spaces, and spatial relationships), commissioners voted "Yes" by 3-2. Tincher and Commissioner Emily Correll were the dissenters. Tincher argued that #1 didn't apply, because the new structure will change the spatial relationships.
For Standard #2 (The historic character of a property will be retained and preserved. The removal of distinctive materials or alteration of features, spaces, and spatial relationships that characterize a property
will be avoided), commissioners unanimously voted that the project does meet the standard.
For Standard #3 (Each property will be recognized as a physical record of its time, place, and use. Changes that create a false sense of historical development, such as adding conjectural features or elements
from other historic properties, will not be undertaken), commissioners voted 4-1, with Tincher dissenting. "I'd like to revise the staff report" on scale, mass and design, Tincher said. Achtmeyer suggested it might be faster to just cast her lone dissenting vote, and move on.
Achtmeyer joined Tincher in dissenting on Standard #9 (New additions, exterior alterations, or related new construction will not destroy historic materials, features, and spatial relationships that characterize the property. The new work will be differentiated from the old and will be compatible with the historic materials, features, size, scale and proportion, and massing to protect the integrity of the property and its environment).
The Planning Commission will be the next body to review the plan. Achtmeyer said he would like to hold off the vote until next month, so that the Planning Commission can reach their own conclusions apart from the HDC's influence.