CONWAY — Reviews were mixed during a design presentation last Thursday of a redo of TD Bank’s branch on Eastman Road, with board members criticizing the proposed two-story building as looking too modern.
The presentation was given at the Conway Planning Board’s Dec. 9 meeting by civil engineer Nicole Duquette of Greenman-Pedersen Inc. of Portland, Maine, and architect Jason Cohen of Burgmeyer Associates of Boston.
The consensus among board members was that while the design looked attractive it did not meet the town’s architectural design ordinance instituted by voters in the mid-1990s that calls for New England-style designs in new builds.
However, board chair Ben Colbath pointed out that the guidelines are not clear and need to be updated along with the town’s master plan — a task he has said the board needs to address now that new town planner Jamel Torres is on board and can offer his expertise and assistance.
Colbath and others agreed that the proposal would be a big improvement at 1249 Eastman Road (Route 302), with plans calling for the driveway to be moved away from the busy intersection with Route 16 intersection and a new two-story building replacing the small single-story modular structure that dates back to the 1970s.
According to Duquette and Cohen, TD Bank seeks to raze the existing 2,305-square-foot building and replace it with a new 2,873-square-foot TD Bank with a three-lane drive-thru (replacing the current two bays) and 31 parking spaces.
They said the new building would be “reminiscent of a modern ski chalet lodge” with timber-type architecture.
In a letter to the board prior to the session, Duquette and Cohen said their design “is in keeping with some of the modern recent buildings across Route 16, such as the REI Co-op, and while being a bit bolder, fits in with the local vernacular of North Conway in general.”
While half the board seemed to like the proposed design, it prompted discussion of whether the flat-roofed wood-and-stone exterior meets the town’s regulations calling for New England-style architecture.
That discussion was prompted by comments from former town building inspector and now private technical consultant Shawn Bergeron of Bergeron Technical Services, who spoke as a citizen.
“I will say with all due respect … that this building fails miserably from our architectural guidelines perspective. And I think that needs to be looked at,” he said.
Bergeron said the guidelines have not been updated, and without naming specific projects, he said the intent of “New England architecture” has not been met with many in recent years.
“Intent is a slippery slope. But it’s what the people voted for. And I think it’s what needs to be applied,” said Bergeron, conceding that New England is comprised of five states and a lack of specific guidelines gets troublesome.
Colbath said Bergeron was right but added, “You can drive all over Bartlett and Jackson and see homes that are similar to this.”
Board member Eliza Grant said while that may be true, she would not characterize TD’s proposal as having “New England-style architecture.”
Board alternate Steven Steiner, who is a Realtor and former board member, spoke from the floor, noting, “If you compare this to the AutoZone (on Route 16, built in the past few years to replace the Homestead Restaurant that was housed in a 1793-buit historic structure), it blows it out of the water. I mean, oh my God.”
“Weren’t you on the board when that got approved, Steve?” queried Colbath of Steiner.
Colbath then said the proposal was generally a vast improvement with a “very nice building and with a nice aesthetic,” though he said he could “go with less green on top.” (The proposal calls for a green banner in keeping with TD Bank’s corporate colors).
Porter, who heads a selectmen-appointed committee charged with coming up with ways to maintain Conway’s historic structures, said he feels the guidelines’ intent is to “project a colonial architectural design” but it “never got put into words.”
Porter said the proposed redesign “looks too me more like the Midwest, like REI’s design … And when you look at AutoZone, the one you’re looking at now is 100 percent better than the one that was proposed. Same with Taco Bell.
“But again (TD Bank’s proposal) is a nice-looking building, I will say that,” Porter admitted.
The ordinance was adopted Oct. 3, 1996, by the planning board.
According to Section 110-30, Architectural design, “The purpose of these regulations is to provide design standards for developments or renovations of commercial properties that complement the overall New England-style ambiance of the community. The regulations are directed towards, but are not limited to, assisting corporate franchises and commercial developments in the design of structures that reflect the small-town New England atmosphere unique to Conway. Consideration must be given to human scale and pedestrian orientation for the design or renovation of a commercial structure.”
Local architect Mike Couture, who was planning board chair at the time, told the Sun this week he does not recall the term “colonial” used in those discussions, but the intent was to get away from flat-roofed box stores.
At the Dec. 9 meeting, board member Erik Corbett raised questions about the building’s relatively flat roof, which would require a waiver.
Grant and board secretary Sarah Frechette said it’s also a question of functionality due to the potential for snow removal versus having a more pitched roof.
Cohen responded they will be asking for a waiver from the requirement for a sloped roof.
“The roof slope guidelines are for a roof that is 3-in-12 — (meaning that for every foot, there is a 3-inch rise). This is less than that at 1-in-12; we are hoping to make the case that he reason for that in the guidelines is to avoid a warehouse-type of appearance, and we feel this is certainly not that,” said Cohen.
He also said the structure would have a recessed bay that would house mechanicals that also would make for better aesthetic appeal.
“What we’ve done is created a well in the roof just because the roof is high enough and large enough that we’re going to create a recessed well in there that the two rooftop units are going to sit in there which will screen them from view from grade and also hopefully really help with the acoustical mitigation of those units,” said Cohen.
Vice Chair Ailie Byers spoke in favor of the design, saying, “I think this is absolutely gorgeous, I think compared to some other architecture around it.”
Board member Bill Barbin, who is a Realtor, also expressed admiration for the design.
Cohen after lengthy discussion noted that one step he could take would be to make adjustments to the proposed structure’s tower.
“I think we could make modifications to that that might bring it more in line with what you’re looking for and it might be a starting point,” said Cohen.
According to planning assistant Holly Whitelaw, TD Bank has yet to submit an application to return before the board.
The board will next meet Jan. 13 at 6 p.m. in the Marshall Gym, as the controversial Viewpoint Hotel in Intervale is on the agenda.