Bob and Beth Siemanowski write that some of the changes in front of First Presbyterian Church, including the electronic sign, should not have been permitted by the Town of Smyrna's Historic Review Board.
By Bob and Beth Siemanowski, Smyrna
I am the third generation owner of my family’s historic home that is located in Smyrna’s historic district. As our Town of Smyrna elections approach my husband and I have read with interest concerns expressed about the performance of Smyrna’s Historic Review Board (HRB). As we understand it, a candidate for councilman-at-large is partially running on the position that the HRB has overstepped its bounds and dictated positions unfriendly to local residents and business owners.
Although we have had no direct, personal dealing with the HRB, we would like to encourage Smyrna voters to consider that the following undesirable renovations were approved by the HRB:
1) There is currently a large digital electronic sign glowing brightly within the historic district at the location of First Presbyterian Church in the west 100 block of West Commerce Street. Given the number of signage issues presented in this paper over the last five years, how could such a clearly non-historic and intrusive sign receive approval? Has a precedent been set?
2) This sign is attached to a large stone structure that consumes one-half of the sidewalk that previously existed in front of this lovely old church. This structure is disproportionate to the church, extends farther onto the sidewalk than other properties on that end of the block, and dominates the view to the east from West Commerce Street.
3) Two very bright, double streetlights have been installed on either side of this massive structure, under an already existing street light. Aesthetically and functionally they are unnecessary.
We are willing to assume that the planners of this project submitted their ideas to the HRB and that the process outlined in Smyrna Municipal Code, Chapter 19.3 and 19.4 (g) was followed, regarding membership and public notice provisions of the HRB. We were aware through conversations with friends who are members of this church that dire concern existed about the integrity of the church’s foundation. Our assumption, had we seen a public notice regarding renovation plans for the church, would have been that there was intention to address this pressing need. We certainly never dreamed a project of this magnitude currently visible from our front porch and blocking our view to the east was contemplated.
It is our position that the HRB violated its purpose as specified in Chapter 19.1 of our municipal code. Specifically, the HRB is charged with, among other things, ensuring compatibility with the structure altered and the surrounding area; enhancing the attractiveness of the historic preservation overlay district; and maintaining and improving property values in the historic district. Clearly, the recent additions detailed above are in direct opposition to these purposes set forth for the HRB.
The HRB that permitted this project to be developed betrayed its purpose, and, therefore, the citizens of Smyrna, and, most surely, the neighbors of this church. The scale of this project might be appropriate on a larger tract of land in a suburban setting, but not at this site. We want municipal code to be followed uniformly in letter and spirit. We surely cannot abide more electronic signs or disproportionate structures to be erected in our town’s historic district. We long for the bygone days of understated elegance in Smyrna, where beautifully crafted historic buildings were honored and preserved. We need more attention to thoughtful restoration!