We expect most of you, especially those more attuned to Cape Brunswick’s concern for its self-image, are familiar with the Village Review Board (VRB), if not the details of its role in preserving our precious and unique identity. Especially as it relates to registered historic landmarks and the like.
You can find a relevant document here: http://www.brunswickme.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/village-review-bd-summary.pdf
It’s not hard to recognize that our little community is one of a kind in its place in America’s and Maine’s history, architecturally and otherwise. Even if we do have a penchant for tearing down buildings that no longer please us.
We formed our own view of the VRB role more or less by osmosis. We understand them to be overseers of the style, consistency, preservation, and appearance of the town’s historic zones, and approval authorities for any proposed changes, modifications, or developments that might alter things in a detrimental way.
As an example of what the VRB has a role in and what it doesn’t, we’ll use the case of the Harriet Beecher Stowe elementary school.
You can’t live in Brunswick without eventually becoming familiar with the McKeen Street neighborhood. It’s where HBS school is located, and where the now forgotten‘old’ Brunswick High School, dating back to the 1930’s, once stood.
Your correspondent is an engineer by vocation, which means we aren’t all that sensitive to aesthetics. But you’d have to be from outer space to believe that the new school is ‘consistent with the character’ of the neighborhood.
We’re not even willing to accept that it’s consistent with rational architectural design. We think the damn thing is plug ugly, but we’ll gladly publish the opinions of those who think it’s a wonder to behold.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s move on to the inner Pleasant Street area, and in particular, the rebuilding of the Unitarian Universalist Church just across the street from the Curtis Library. The prior home of the Church, at the same location, burned down a few years ago.
The subject property is in the historic zone that falls under the purview of the Village Review Board.
As we watched the new replacement for the old Church being built, we couldn’t help but wonder how the VRB rationalized that the new building is consistent with the established character of the neighborhood and the rest of the adjacent buildings. And why it should be allowed to have a near-zero setback from the sidewalk. And a ‘face’ pointing towards the street and sidewalk that looks like the backside of a building of unknown purpose and character.
Oh, sure, it’s in the block with the building that displays the “Dance of Two Cultures” mural. As if that is consistent with historic Brunswick architecture and character.
We think the ‘pill-box’ architectural detail atop the HBS school is asinine, if you want to know, and you probably don’t.
The ‘architectural details’ atop the new UU Church seem even more discordant with the character of the in-town historic neighborhood. And inexplicable from any point of view.
Which leaves us verklempt and disoriented. We have no idea where the richest, most perfect little town in America is headed if we’re to judge by it’s buildings.
Surely someone must.
Shirley? Are you there?