First, thank you to everyone who came to the Board of Architectural Review last night. There were people from both sides speaking for and against the demolitions. The BAR’s decisions were to deny the demolition requests for most of the properties, based in large part on the excellent research provided by City staff and the PHW office to learn more of the history of this block and its relevancy to the growth of Winchester from about 1900-1940.
Many of us at PHW are not opposed to the basic idea of mixed use retail and housing development for this block. We did, however, have concerns that the historic qualities of these buildings may be overlooked because of their outward appearance. Historic preservation is a field that contains both objective facts – ages, styles, building construction techniques, family histories and retail uses on the sites – and subjective calls relating to the aesthetics of the design, how individual properties relate to each other, how buildings evolve to change with the times, and what are good design choices over bad design choices. The subjective aspects often cannot be considered in a vacuum, as changes to the streetscape can impact multiple buildings that are not even directly under consideration. In this case, we have deep concerns about the height and massing of a new building overpowering its historic neighbors like the train station and the Chopstick cafe across the street, and one of PHW’s own Revolving Fund properties at 208-210 North Kent, a modest but lovely duplex that is being well-maintained and improved by its new owners.
Those two buildings are good examples of incremental development, which is driven by small groups to suit their needs. It is a gradual change that can have stops and starts and may not always work, but it is usually the kind of development that works well in historic districts. We encourage you to read a few other articles to get a better sense of what we are talking about:
What Smart Growth Advocates Get Wrong About Density (great comparison photos)
Jane Jacobs and the Power of Women Planners (very accessible introduction to her work)
How Cities Are Making the Global Housing Crisis Worse (planners are ignoring the lessons we learned from “urban revitalization” of 1950-1980 and sliding back into those same bad habits)
The Power of Growing Incrementally (a good starting point for Charles Marohn and the change in development in America that happened after World War II – the entire series of posts are worth a read)
Podcast: Thoughts on Incremental Development (what do you do when you see a problem but don’t know the answers?)