"City may create review panel: Architectural board would ensure designs comply with others, By Mark Langlois, THE NEWS-TIMES"
DANBURY -- The city is considering creating an architectural review commission to make sure new buildings are designed to look compatible with others in the city.
The city has an Architectural Advisory Committee, but the new plan would give a new commission, whatever its name might be, more power.
For most of the committee's 18 years, it has reviewed signs proposed by new businesses. The committee's goal has been to help a business design a sign that will attract customers and at the same time fit in with other signs and building facades in the neighborhood. While the committee has some influence over signs, it doesn't have as much as committees in other towns do.
Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton said he will propose a more powerful committee at Tuesday's Common Council meeting. He said he first proposed one in 2002, but the idea was rejected. People argued against it then, saying it might be too much of a financial burden on downtown developers.
In other towns, the committees can influence more than sign design.
"In other towns, like Southbury, Glastonbury and Ridgefield, the committees have more power," said Mark Nolan, chairman of CityCenter Danbury, the downtown tax district that sponsors the advisory committee. They make recommendations about the shape and facade of a building to local planning commissions or to zoning commissions before a building is approved. The golden arches of McDonald's restaurants disappear behind wooden facades.
Danbury officials are hoping the new commission, if approved, will have that kind of power.
Committee members like the look of downtown Glastonbury, Ridgefield, Southbury and Northhampton, Mass., where they say more powerful architectural committees already work.
"The main street of a town or city may be only 5 percent of a town, but that's what gives a town its identity," said Joseph Heyman, an urban planner and member of the Architectural Advisory Committee.
Heyman said visitors who reach Danbury's outlying streets see the exact same big-box retail stores and franchise food stores they see across the country. If the city had an architecutral review committee, it might be able to influence what those big-box retial stores look like.
"We're asking developers and business owners to be sensitive about how their business will look from the outside," Danbury architect Leigh Overland said. Overland is also a member of the Architectural Advisory Committee.
Boughton said the architectural review committee concept must be reviewed by an ad hoc committee of the Common Council before it can be approved.
City Planner Dennis Elpern said he proposed such a committee in the city's Plan of Conservation and Development approved in 2000, and he still supports the idea of architectural review.
"It's a question of teeth" or power, Elpern said. "An architectural review board can make recommendations."
"Other towns have been quite successful in influencing the design of facades to make improvements on how buildings look," Elpern said.
He said the level of influence such a commission has depends on the members and their skills at working with people.
Contact Mark Langlois
or at (203) 731-3337
But note the weasel words "may" and "could." I would never expect downtown Danbury to ever look like downtown Ridgefield or downtown Glastonbury. It's far too late for that. But maybe we can keep it from becoming another downtown Stamford or downtown Bridgeport.