Westport Commons Update

On January 23rd, Art Collins, Principal and President of Collins Enterprises, LLC attended the Talbot Park Civic League meeting to discuss and present his latest plans on Westport Commons development project on Newport Avenue.  Here are the notes of the meeting taken by our WCCL President Scott Gurlinger:

Collins needed to go through the civic leagues before going to the architectural review board (ARB) with these designs because they are new structures that were never presented before. There are 19 buildings in the complex. At this point, only the original set of 3 townhomes has been approved. The multi-family flat, a.k.a. condos, are what’s being presented now.

There were two points of concern that were officially recommended:
• A majority of residents present preferred a sloped roof as opposed to the flat roofs in the current design.

Counterpoints made: Mel Price, the community liaison for the project, had explained that they wanted to vary the roofline types to keep the complex from all looking the same. The multi-family flats are in two buildings that flank the clubhouse at the center of the development, so the architects also thought it provided the feel of a town square.

• A majority of residents want the look of the front (street side) of the building to more closely mimic the rear (water side) of the building.

Counterpoints made: Mel Price had explained that the “columns” with no windows are where fire stairs and elevators are located, and windows are not permitted in those locations per code. Still, they could potentially dress up the exterior in those locations in some way other than windows. Some residents also pointed out that no one outside the community/development will see the front of the buildings since they face each other and clubhouse in-between.

Talbot Park officially voted on all of the above. I did not hear any additional comment or concerns from those present from Wards Corner. I move that we adopt a position of support of the Talbot Park recommendations. Please let me know if you agree. ARB meets this Friday and I would like to respond to Mel with our feedback no later than tomorrow morning.

A few other points that were discussed outside of the specific multi-family flat presentation:

• Townhome balconies: Collins stated that there must be a certain amount of street clearance for fire trucks to maneuver. The street is not designed to be wide enough and the original balconies were going to stick out too far and infringe on the required clearance. So the balconies were shortened to the “nothing” is there today. I have a gut feeling that the fire marshal was not actually consulted but that a decision was simply made by Collins and/or his builder to comply without seeking alternative solutions. Looking to the future, I think our response should simply be to design the street better.

• Own vs. Rent: The multi-family flats, and actually the whole Westport Commons development, is being built with the intent to sell units to private homeowners. But, if the units are unable to sell, Collins can convert them to managed apartments, same as the ones that are already there. Apparently there are state laws that prohibit putting own vs. rent restrictions on developers. So we can only hope for a good housing market and that all goes well.

• Kayak Pier: Collins didn’t really need to be at the meeting and some were surprised that he was. I suspect his reason was he wanted to address this last topic. He wants to delay the building of the kayak pier until later when construction is not blocking most of the access to the launch (and seemingly when he has more money in the bank – piers are very expensive as we have learned). He needs a change approved in order to delay the construction because the ordinance says he must complete phase 2 (townhomes, clubhouse, and kayak pier) before phase 3 (multi-family flats and more townhomes) can begin. His bigger problem is it’s not that simple. Martin and others did a very good job of locking him into that deal. It’s an ordinance (law), not just a permit or approval, meaning it has to go to the highest levels of city approval (including public notices and readings and such) before it can be changed. Brian from Talbot Park explained it very well to him that there was nothing we could legally do for him in the context of the meeting last night and that the change process for that would be long and arduous.

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