Plan Commission Rejects Shodeen Design

A report from an attendee at the Plan Commission meeting:

There were about ten citizens in attendance, including Dave Patzelt, president of Shodeen.

The first agenda item was the Design Review (continued from 25 January), along with the Preliminary/Final Plat of Subdivision for Consolidation of Property for One Washington Place.

Mr Patzelt began by going over Option 2 of the design, as previously presented to City Council, including some details on materials and colors.

City staff confirmed that Design Reviews are now, according to city code, a function of the Plan Commission. As such, their vote is not a recommendation to City Council (as it was with the zoning variances), but a binding vote that can be appealed by the applicant (Shodeen in this case).

The Plan Commission asked if Mr Patzelt brought any samples of building materials, as they wished to examine the materials and color and not just look at pictures and drawings. Mr Patzelt had not brought any. The commissioners noted that in other Design Reviews, the applicants always bring material samples. Discussion continued about roofing, siding, and balcony materials.

One of the commissioners indicated that they thought this whole process was a waste of time, as the project seemed to be a “done deal.” The Chair disagreed.

Tom Lalonde showed a presentation that included his own sketches of a modified building design for One Washington. This design was well-received by the rest of the commission and many members of the audience. Mr Lalonde’s design included corner balconies, masonry higher up on the exterior walls, stone along the ground floors, a center element visible on the River Street elevation, and a different, more subtle roofline. His design also featured one step down in height along Wilson Ave, and two steps down in height along State Street, with the result that the building was only 3 or 4 stories high at State and River. His design also extended the “notch” in the corner of the building at State and River all the way up to the roof, not just at the ground floor as in Shodeen’s latest plans. Mr Lalonde then showed photographs of similarly large buildings around this area that had architectural elements he liked more than Shodeen’s design for One Washington.

Sue Peterson raised the issue of the project’s compatibility with the city’s Comprehensive Plan, which was one of the points on the proposed Design Review findings put forth by city staff. It was noted that the Comprehensive Plan is due for a review soon. Ms Peterson quoted a section of the plan that describes urban design elements, and notes that Batavia’s historic downtown is what makes the city unique. She felt that Shodeen’s design was not in keeping with what was described in the Comprehensive Plan; however, she felt that Mr Lalonde’s design suggestions were much more in accordance with the plan. Other commissioners agreed.

Mr Patzelt was asked to respond. He noted that about 7 out of 10 of the photos Mr Lalonde showed were designed by the same architect who designed One Washington Place, and thus he could not understand how the Plan Commission could like those other designs but not the one for One Washington. He defended the choice of materials and colors, and insisted that the bell tower at Washington and Wilson was intended to be a focal point that was echoed at the other ends of the building. Tall glass panes at street level imitate the glass in the building at River and Wilson, and the large roof gables make for vaulted spaces. He argued that Mr Lalonde’s design was not feasible, as it implied that stairwells would be missing, along with many apartment units. He repeated his statement from a previous meeting that he felt the commissioners were not able to read the plans and visualize what the building would truly look like.

The Chair asked the other commissioners which view they liked better, the east elevation (along Washington) or the south elevation (along Wilson). Everyone agreed that the east elevation looked better.

Another commissioner (either Sara Harms or Joan Joseph–I couldn’t see from my seat) stated that she would prefer the color scheme to be primarily the darker red, without so much yellow. Mr Lalonde reiterated that he would instead prefer there to be more brick and stone up the sides.

The Chair took a straw poll to see if the commissioners were likely to vote in favor of approving the applicant’s design; the result was NO.

Gene Schneider expressed frustration about the lack of material samples, stating that even designers of buildings in industrial parks always bring samples to show the commissioners.

Mr Patzelt stated that he wanted the Plan Commission to vote on the design tonight. Mr Lalonde expressed disappointment that the applicant had not provided updated, full-color views of the project, and Mr Patzelt argued that those had indeed been provided. Mr Lalonde recalled that the provided images and 3D model were monochrome. At this point, tempers flared a little, and after some arguing, Mr Patzelt demanded to know how many mixed-use commercial buildings the commissioners had designed.

The Chair determined that, for the record, the commissioners should come to a consensus on their requested design changes before the final vote, even though they “may fall on deaf ears.” The commissioners proceeded to do this, assembling a short list of requests.

Scott Buening, the Community Development Director, stated that City Council had already decided on the number of rental units that will go in the building, and that Mr Lalonde’s designs are unusable for this reason. Mr Lalonde disagreed, leaving it to the architect to work out a way to reduce the building size without losing too many units.

The discussion turned to streetscape plans. The commission wanted to make sure the streetscaping around the building would match what already exists on River Street, and that there would be plantings between the retaining wall and the sidewalk on Washington Street. It was noted that the Fire Department requested that the dropoff lane along Washington be made longer, and that negotiations with the existing business on River Street are ongoing about the use of the garbage corral and the sidewalk between the rear of their buildings and One Washington. Some parking in the new garage may be reserved for some of these businesses to use.

The Chair ruled that the commission would not hear comments from the public during the meeting, and that such comments should be saved for the inevitable appeal of their decision to City Council.

The commission decided to vote on each of the five staff Design Review findings. The votes were as follows:
1. The project is consistent with applicable design guidelines. YES
2. The project conforms to the Comprehensive Plan, and specifically to the Land Use, Urban Design, and Environment Elements. NO
3. The project is consistent with all applicable provisions of the Zoning Code, as modified by the planned development overlay. YES
4. The project is compatible with adjacent and nearby development. NO
5. The project design provides for safe and efficient provision of public services. NO

Next, the commission voted on the approval of the overall Design Review, with the outcome being a NO vote. As I understand it, this technically means the project cannot continue, but this decision can be appealed to City Council.

The final vote was a YES vote on a recommendation to City Council to approve the Plat of Subdivision for Consolidation of Property for the One Washington Place project. Mr Patzelt left the meeting at this point.

Next on the agenda was a public hearing on some proposed amendments to the text of the zoning code. Two local business owners spoke about the effect of zoning codes on internet car sales businesses. City staff were instructed to further review the zoning codes, and the business owners were encouraged to seek variances for their specific situations.

Finally, under Other Business, a citizen asked if he could speak about One Washington Place. He thanked the Plan Commission for repeatedly voting against One Washington Place, and discussed what he felt was disrespectful behavior on the part of Mr Patzelt at this meeting. After this, the meeting was adjourned.


(Documents regarding the downtown redevelopment project can be found on the City’s website and under BRG’s City Council tab.)

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