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Design board rejects Bristol memorial

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March 29, 2007

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — At a selectboard meeting on Monday, Bristol’s Design Review Commission (DRC) recommended rejecting the plans for the veterans’ memorial proposed by the American Legion for the corner of the Bristol town green. In response, the selectboard approved some changes to the design but kept most of the plan unchanged.

The architects who developed the plan said that part of the negative response was because of a misunderstanding of how it would look. “Some of the points just needed some clarification … The notion of this embedded position which got included in the newspaper was not the idea at all,” said Tommy Thompson of Twenty 4D Architects, referring to a possible confusion about what the memorial would actually look like.

For example, the plans for the memorial include moving the cannon on the green slightly and putting small walls in front of it, as well as around the sidewalk to either side. “What’s being referred to as walls aren’t really walls at all, they’re retaining walls,” Thompson said, arguing that walls about 20 inches high would not create the fortified impression some expected.

Based on the DRC recommendations, the selectboard removed the retaining walls around the cannon from the design because of concerns with the appearance and because Legion sponsors decided the structures could too easily provide a small, out-of-the-way place for trash to collect.

The DRC also recommended removing the retaining walls around the sidewalk out of concern they would get in the way of plowing the sidewalk in the winter and be damaged. The selectboard did not remove these from the design but decided instead to use reflectors seasonally to make sure the plows could see where the walls began.

The board also compromised with the DRC’s recommendations by reducing the number of lights planned for the memorial from five — one for each of three flagpoles and two footlights along sections of retaining walls — to three, just on the flagpoles.

The plan was also revised to lower the memorial itself. The five-sided, 10-foot obelisk would have been on ground elevated about two feet in the original plan, but in the new version it will be level with the nearby area of the park. In addition to addressing the appearance of the memorial, the DRC was also concerned about whether it would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the elevated obelisk would have included a few steps up to it.

Selectman Doug Corkins said that the proposed memorial is smaller and less obtrusive than it might seem. “The amount that’s new is a lot less than it appears to be,” Corkins said. “Three out of four things that would be part of this scheme already exist in the park.” The cannon on the corner, for example, is already on the site and would just be moved slightly.

The American Legion’s memorial is the first project the DRC has evaluated after the body was created last year as part of the Downtown Designation process to protect the commercial and historical nature of Bristol’s downtown.

Commission Chair Bonita Bedard said that commissioners made a deliberate effort to look at the memorial as if they had never heard about the project before. This led to some of their criticisms, such as disagreeing with the use of names of individuals in the park, repeating issues that have already been addressed.

“We looked at the park itself as a historic structure,” Bedard said. “We had to look at this as a thing that is going on the park and how does it affect the surroundings.”

Bedard said that how the town or various groups can use the park is relatively undefined. “It’s made very complicated by the fact that there are not clear policies around the use of the park,” she said after the meeting. “It’s kind of an odd situation for everybody.”

The next step for the revised plan is review by the zoning board of adjustment (ZBA). The selectboard, as administrator of the park, is technically a co-applicant to the memorial proposal with the American Legion, so selectmen have input in the plan at this stage.

Bedard hoped the ZBA will take more recommendations of the DRC seriously, such as a complaint about the footprint of the memorial. Although the memorial would take up only about 2  percent of the total area of the park, Bedard said that footprint is more than all other structures on the park combined. “We’re hoping that there is clear attention paid to the recommendations,” she said.

TOWN PLAN UPDATE

Also at their meeting on March 26, the Bristol selectboard:

• Voted to appropriate up to $5,000 to hire a consultant to help the Bristol Planning Commission with the new town plan. The previous town plan expired in December 2006, but the town voted to re-approve it while the commission works on an update, which has taken longer than expected.

Commission member Tom Wells estimated that the cost of a consultant for the time needed would be between $15,000 and $20,000. However, Wells said they plan to access grant funding from the Vermont Forum on Sprawl, and a donor or donors in the community who wish to remain anonymous have also offered to provide up to $10,000 to fund an independent consultant.

• Received a request from James Lathrop to re-extend town water service to the Claire Lathrop Mill. Lathrop said that the mill had water service through a fire hydrant installed in the 1950s. But at that distance from the rest of the town, it would have been expensive to keep the water running to prevent it from freezing in the winter, so the mill switched to well water about 10 years ago. Now, Lathrop is asking that the service be offered again.

Lathrop argued that since he was not billed for the cost of keeping the water running to keep the pipe from freezing in the past, he should not be billed for it now. “I don’t believe when that hydrant was put in that it was intended to be Lathrop Mill property, I believe it was intended to be town property,” he said.

The board took no action on the request yet, waiting instead for input from Bristol downtown district coordinator Scott Powell on how exactly to reactivate the line and what the cost would be.

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