2011-04-14 / Front Page

Panel approves major facelift for St. Mark Church

By Geoff Campbell

Drawing of the proposed entrance to St. Mark Church. Drawing of the proposed entrance to St. Mark Church. The Jamestown Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the application by St. Mark Church during its April 6 meeting to provide front-door access for the physically challenged, add a bathroom and construct indoor and outdoor gathering spaces.

Three conditions were attached to the plan and the application will be revisited by the Technical Review Committee for final approval.

Town Planner Lisa Bryer introduced the application saying that beyond adding a ramp the church “also seeks to provide additional gathering space outside the front of the church.” She explained that while the project was initially taken directly to Fred Brown, the town’s building official, all parties agreed that the size of the project did not meet the “greater-than-50-percentchange in-the-building-facade” test that triggers Commission review. According to Bryer, it was “probably less than 50 percent” but it was a significant change to the building itself, interfacing directly with the street.

Given those findings the application was sent first to the Review Committee for assessment and then on to the Planning Commission.

The Review Committee consists of Brown and Bryer, along with Public Works Director Mike Gray and a Planning Commission member in rotation; for this project, Duncan Pendlebury sat in.

The Committee reviewed the project and met with Victor Calabretta, chairman of the church’s building committee. The resulting memo explained that the Review Committee was “deferring the application to the Planning Commission” for full review because of “project elements that render such public review appropriate or necessary.”

Speaking on behalf of the church, Calabretta explained that the project was undertaken after an inspection by the church’s insurance carrier of the front steps following a signifi- cant case of frost heave. The total project has been ongoing in three phases, over two years, according to Calabretta. He explained that both the roof and the sanctuary have been “re-done.”

With the builder ready to begin work after Easter and the funds already raised, Calabretta was appreciative of the expeditious timetable for the hearing and hopeful that the project would be found acceptable so that it could begin.

Calabretta briefly described the project, indicating that beyond an accessibility ramp, the church intends to place a new bathroom at the front of the church and move the stairs that are currently inside the building to the outside thus allowing for a flat gathering place in the narthex.

Along with Calabretta, in attendance on behalf of the church were Rev. Bill O’Neil, the pastor at St. Mark, and John O’Hearne, owner of the architectural firm hired for the project.

O’Hearne described the project in detail, using colored renderings to illustrate the changes to the facade of the church. He explained that moving the ramp to the front of the building would “make it integral with the plaza” and he added it would to “make it dignified and a little more graceful” for those who are physically challenged.

The drawings showed steps beginning at the sidewalk, rising in two series of five steps, each separated by a landing.

Hedges would contain the plaza and a covering over the front door will offer sun and rain protection as O’Neil greets parishioners, according to O’Hearne.

Calabretta acknowledged that the church agreed to the Committee recommendations. Ultimately, the Committee’s six original conditions would be combined and reduced to three:

• That the entrance to the steps begins on church property — the current drawing indicates two posts on the sidewalk.

• That the church add a landscape plan for review by the Review Committee and that the plan include a safety edge to the lower plaza and a planting screen for the railings.

• That the lower plaza be lowered to create a semi-level lawn at the street edge.

Pendlebury described in detail the Committee’s thinking regarding the conditions to approve the project. Pendlebury applauded the idea of adding a gathering place for parishioners, adding that when visitors and townspeople see such spaces from the street, “it reinforces the sense of community.”

Pendlebury pointed out that buildings west of Howland Avenue are generally “green-lawn faced buildings.” He further explained that there was concern over the number of metal railings that are visible to the street because it “implies a sense of security more than it implies a sense of welcome.”

There was some discussion regarding the “pinch point” at the top of the stairs, where exiting churchgoers reach the steps. Pendlebury acknowledge that the “pinch point” was not a matter for the Commission but simply an observation.

Pendlebury also said there was a need for a “character-based edge” at the sidewalk of properties on Narragansett Avenue. He described a character-based edge as a hedge, fence or planting scheme that “softened” the streetscape.

Construction is to begin the day after Easter and Calabretta said that he hopes that the construction will be finished by late summer.

Following the vote to approve the application with conditions, the Commission discussed the Review Committee structure, as well as the communication and advertising plan regarding the Committee meetings.

The Planning Commission agreed to place dates of upcoming Review Committee meeting dates in the minutes whenever possible. Review Committee meetings are currently posted at Town Hall. The Commission also agreed to discuss the Committee procedures in general at a future meeting.

In other news, Bryer’s report included a brief description of the sidewalk makeover that is currently underway in the village. Almost 20 years in the making, Narragansett Avenue — a state road — is receiving a facelift that includes new plantings, curbs, sidewalks, black top and certain pedestrian amenities such as benches and trash receptacles. Following her inspection of several driveway aprons that had just been completed on the southern side of the avenue, she said that the project “is coming along beautifully.”

An administrative sub-division application and the review of the population element of the Jamestown Comprehensive Community Plan is on the Planning Commission’s agenda for its next meeting on Wednesday, April 20.

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