THANK YOU WINTHROP ELKS
I would like to thank the Winthrop Elks for organizing the 39th Annual Elks Holiday Party WINARC Holiday Party. This year was their 39th annual event. Speaking as a board member of WINARC and a parent of a special needs child, I can’t begin to tell you how much Winthrop participants appreciate the fine work that they do. This is evidenced by the smiles on the faces of our members who were up dancing to Mojo’s singing, enjoying the tasty dinner, and delighting in the gifts in their Christmas bags.
Their event provides a venue where the WINARC participants can meet their friends, socialize, and dance together during the holiday season. It also gives an opportunity for parents, guardians, and group home workers to get together and communicate. The Elks party is considered a significant event in our calendar of activities, and we all look forward to it every year.
We truly recognize the great deal of time, effort, and financial cost it takes to put on this type of event. The Elks’ committee led by Roberta DiPierro should be proud of the fine work that they do every year, and I would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them. The cooks, the servers, the Winthrop High School football team volunteers, and Mr. and Mrs. Santa all helped to make the event a success.
The Elks’ WINARC Holiday Party truly captures the essence of the “Christmas Spirit.” The good will and joy that they brought to our group members and our families represents to me what Christmas is really about.
Opinion on Center Development Project Plan Review
The following remarks were delivered at the Review Meeting at the Cultural Center on Dec 13. The following condensation of opinion are edited by the writer for this paper.
In the front page article of last week’s Transcript, two images were shown of an intended housing project atop the old CVS (formerly First National, formerly Woolworth’s) store. The current brick building, though now boarded-up, was designed and scaled to fit the narrow confines of the extended Somerset Avenue, and had provided an anchor storefront of good businesses for this tight streetscape. However, the photo of this existing building is taken from the opposite direction on Woodside Avenue, making it appear large by comparison, and emphasizes the deteriorating condition of the structure.
But above this photo is an image of the outrageously overly scaled housing scheme as seen from the north end of Somerset Avenue, far away from this new expanded structure, which gives the newspaper image a sense of a smaller complex. This view angle, as shown, was also depicted from an elevated horizon or viewpoint, which diminishes the apparent height of the complex, and would not accurately convey for a pedestrian a true sense of the project’s impact.
Given my training and practice in architecture and design, and based on my 45 years of experience in working closely and intensively with world-class architects to provide design and illustrations for a huge variety of projects around this country and the world; and having a highly developed understanding of the critical importance for points of view in explaining the scale, design features and visual impact of a project with such drawings, I suggest that these images are far from telling a true or complete story of what this project would look like, or what it is really about. The developers have dictated this narrow point of view in the paper, but have yet to publicly show town residents what the actual height, bulk, depth, and aesthetically compatible design would look like from French Square, or Bartlett Road, or from abutting neighbors on Somerset Road. The recently available set of drawings at the Town Clerk’s office does show other street and aerial views, however. The plans on the Town’s web site are not contextual to the adjacent properties or to the larger Center, nor are they clear for most people to read or understand. Such a visible, high profile and impactful project needs to address numerous criteria, and these first impressions seem very wanting.
The other subtle aspect of this image is the picturing of an auto turning in the wrong direction from Somerset St. onto a one way street, Cottage Park Road. The very sharp presenters of this project, responsible for every nickel of expense and every detail of their proposal, excused their architect’s, engineer’s or illustrator’s error on this traffic direction. From the current scope of this project, we might infer that the developers and the Town are intent on altering the Zoning Guidelines for the building heights, unit numbers, and occupancy density in the Center, and further to allow this development to accommodate the flow of even more vehicles into a congested area. Or will the street pattern be changed, without public input, to accommodate this project?
The street-side and other elevations, on all sides of the structure, show the town and its residents the height and bulk of this oversized project. What will be the demand on the new, soon-to-be-installed utilities by the 60, 70, 80 or so occupants of this project? It seems evident that it immediately strain the new infrastructure’s capacities. What about the many inconveniences of long-term, or even compressed construction time, and eventual property devaluation to abutters that remains unaddressed? What has been considered about the increased traffic on our public streets by another 34 cars, as the garage plan shows, in the densest part of town? It also doesn’t help that that this blocky design looks like a Lego structure, or something transplanted from Revere Beach. This project will be as high as the roof lines, and as bulky as the E.B. Newton School, in the middle of the Center.
It is also telling in the developer’s project plans that on key critical points – of maximum density, maximum building height, minimal yard area or setback, and the Town’s parking requirements – are all listed as “Requires Relief” from zoning restrictions.
Guidelines from the Planning Board should not be changed, altered or amended just for one project for the convenience of a developer, and to the disadvantage of the larger community. How can a developer come into town and change the rules of the game? Doing so, as this project threatens to do (or may have done already; who knows?), will mean that any zoning can be changed for any project. Hence such a precedent will result in developers swarming all over this town doing what they want, without any interference or objections. Lawsuits derive from such an unregulated, irresponsible process.
Many residents are understandably disturbed by this project. Our townsfolk should have a consensus of what the Center should look like, how to enhance its visual appeal as well as its commercial and social appeal. Successes can be easily found in other towns that have undertaken comparable transformations. There are plenty of such examples nearby to emulate. It’s the Town Council, the Manager and the Townspeople, in some capacity of agreement, which should dictate how we achieve a comfortable, well-fitted transformation of a sensitive business district. How dense an area should be, how tall a project can be according to our current zoning guidelines; what materials or colors can be used, what public amenities – such as streetscape, planting, storefronts, etc. – will be provided. These are aesthetic issues that are implied in, and should complement, the design of any project. Such design qualities affect the look and character of our Town, and are equally critical elements as is the rentable square footage that can be squeezed out of a project. There are also social issues of the residency, dependent on the market cost for these units, which will also have a long-term impact the town.
We should not overlook these issues having to do with aesthetics, scale, materials, social uses and integration of any project in the unique setting of our Center; let alone the necessities and access issues of municipal services, let alone the disruptions to existing businesses, abutting or nearby residents; let alone value impacts to their property values. And let alone the rules-bending by any party to realize their vision that clouds residents views; from which they are have recorded on their drawings will “require relief”.
Of principal concern, that this project might offer is what benefits the community environment; or from the Town Council, what the short and long-term advantages might be for all concerned parties; other than increased tax revenues. I suggest that the proposed benefit of increased tax revenues to the Town is a financial intangible that no one really sees on the street every day. But a proposed project, that might fatten the Town’s budget and provide a better bottom line, will never offset the disturbing, unsettling, unsightly, over-scaled, and over-dense conditions that would be created by unfettered construction.
The intended or unintended results of this project are much too large to not consider more fully. The center should not be shaped in a way that only suits developers, but enhanced in deliberate ways to become an asset for the entire community. Winthrop’s town officials and residents need to be more pro-active as to what they want our town to be. A development of this scope will alter Winthrop’s Center for decades, if not generations to come. Collectively, we have to proceed with a full sense of civic commitment from residents and Council alike that this project is worth creating in this Town and in this place.
I have reserved confidence in the new Town Manager, but remain skeptical of the diminished decision-making of only a six-member Town Council that will vote to decide the fate of the center.
The Town could first and economically, readily initiate a celebratory project that adds to the distinctive appeal or character of the town and the Center specifically. An inviting competition or open proposals for a mural on the CVS wall, for example, depicting the narrow gauge train, or an ocean scene, or the docked boats that occupy our yacht clubs. A sculpture or some telling project about Mike Eruzione celebrating the undiminished recognition for his Olympic performance, would be quite relevant in this sports-minded town. Or a historic restoration of Scotty’s seminal gas station canopy and facade that hearkens back to the 50s. Our cultural council could help with any such arts project. Arts are what accentuate a town and enhance its identity, and can make Winthrop a most attractive destination for many visitors.
No matter how a developer wants the rules changed, and wants us to play his way, Winthrop should not be bullied into letting this project proceed. This project will stomp on the center. Bottom line for me, this project is an ugly foot, and much too big, for too small and delicate a shoe. I believe the residents, and our Town, deserves better.
Frank M. Costantino