Our presentation on historic impact

Address to Planning Commission concerning Kensington Terrace

Nov. 15, 2007

Dear Commission Members:

 My name is Pam Hubbell and I live at 4080 Terrace Court in a 1912 2-story shingle home which we bought 7 years ago from the original family whose great-grandparents built the home.

You have in your materials I believe a 12-page packet of pictures to accompany my address. In it we have provided pictures of many of the houses in Kensington which are on the National Register of Historic Homes, and there are a few pages at the end that help to situate this project in its surroundings. You can browse through these pictures on your own as I talk, and we hope these help to show the historic value of our community that we are trying to protect.

When I think about this project being built in Kensington, I am reminded of, say, a housing development called “Oak Grove Estates,” and when you visit the development there is no evidence of any oak grove in sight. Or, say, a condo complex called “The Meadowlands,” and they’ve attempted to landscape it to look like a meadow, which it doesn’t.

What is both funny and sad is that these developments in effect obliterate their namesakes while at the same time capitalizing on them. I feel the Kensington Terrace project has the potential to do the same thing to our Kensington community.

A 3-story high building that spans one full block right in the heart of Kensington is just too big. To be honest, the prospect of this size of a building coming in to Kensington feels very wrong to me. And, clearly, this has been impressed upon the architects.

In the DEVIATION REQUEST within the PROJECT PROGRAM they explain that they have “terraced” the corners and they claim they have “stepped the third floor significantly back along 80% of the building, effectively creating a perception with the façade that the majority of the building is a two story structure.” Having looked at the plans, I feel strongly that the building will look very much like a 3-story building despite these design features.

Also, throughout the Report to the Planning Commission on this project issued Nov. 1, I have noted numerous instances where the size of the building is manipulated. For example, it describes how the rear of the building will be designed “to offset the bulk and scale of the proposed 3-story building.” I feel Kensington deserves much more than an inadequate attempt to make this building appear to be something that it isn’t. 

I am actually excited for this development to occur; this block needs improvement. I think we are lucky to have the design talents of Allard Jansen Architects on the project. But it is not right for this development to capitalize on the very nature of what we know and love to be Kensington while at the same time seriously compromising its integrity.

The question I am asking you to consider today is whether or not the Kensington Terrace development is right for Kensington. On the one hand, according to the goals of the General Plan’s vision for a City of Villages, this development is exceptional. It is a consummate example of what a mixed-use project should provide a community. But throughout the Urban Design Element section of the General Plan, there is a conspicuous reference to the equally important goal of not losing sight of distinct communities and historic resources. 

In the Policies for “Architecture” section of this document, the stated goal is to “Design buildings that contribute to a positive neighborhood character and relate to neighborhood and community context.” It also “Encourages designs that are sensitive to the scale, form, rhythm, proportions, and materials proximate to commercial areas and residential neighborhoods that have a well-established, distinctive character.” (UD-9)

There are also Policies for “Historic Character” that stress the need to “Respect the context of historic streets, landmarks, and areas that give a community a sense of place or history” (UD10)

This tug-of-war between development and preservation in the Urban Design Element is seriously tested with the project you are considering today. Being 3 stories high for 1 entire block, it is in no way sensitive to the scale of buildings around it, all 1 and 2 story except for the previous building Allard Jansen built in Kensington. The project’s façade is attractive, but the modern, boxy look does not relate well to the majority of architecture throughout Kensington. The west elevation, along Marlborough, is said to be Spanish Colonial, but other than the three arches along the street, the remaining two stories continue the same design as the south facing façade. And the identical facades of the row homes on the east side create a repetitive rhythm that is completely out of keeping with the diversity of architecture one sees from house to house in Kensington. 

Within the context of this vision for a City of Villages, I must ask, does the Kensington Terrace development help to create a village or to diminish an existing one?

I could make a very similar point if I stepped through the Mid-City Communities Plan, which is cited often as justification for the Kensington Terrace development project. And in a similar manner, this plan is tested by this project. Within the “Vision 2020” section it states that the primary goal is “the re-establishment of a deep-rooted community,” but Kensington is already a deep-rooted community that would actually become less stable with this large influx of retail and office space and the traffic that comes with it. Another goal is for “Neighborhoods to recognize, maintain, and enhance their unique identity.” The residents with concerns about this project fully recognize the unique community that Kensington is, and that is why they are here today. Another stated goal is to “Preserve environmental, cultural, and historic resources,” which is what we have come here today to ask you to do. 

More locally though, the Mid-City Communities Plan identifies very specific issues and problems that each community faces. What I found disturbing is that the Kensington Terrace project does not address any of the issues listed for the Kensington-Talmadge area, and in fact it could conceivably contribute to 3 identified problems: the first being the increased noise, visual impact, and traffic circulation caused by State Route 15. The second being the speeding and cut-through traffic that is disrupting portions of residential neighborhood streets. And third, that commercial parking is deficient with on-street parking overflowing into the neighborhoods. 

My question then is how readily should we allow the Mid-City Communities Plan to become the mandate for this project?

Kensington is essentially and most importantly a historic residential community supported by a small-scale, walking commercial district. As homeowners and residents in Kensington, we have invested in a unique community and we ask today that we be allowed to work with the developer towards a better vision for Kensington.