GROTON – Picking up where landscape consultant Peter Flinker left off two weeks before, members of the Planning Board last week began their review of proposed design guidelines for future development in town.
“Design Guidelines for Commercial Development” would outline a single grand vision for the future of development in Groton.
Prepared by Flinker, a landscape engineer with Ashfield-based Dodson Associates, the guidelines emphasize “public space” and “streetscapes” and would free town planners from a strict adherence to standards enshrined in current zoning.
By bringing together all aspects of design, a good plan could free planners from being dependent on any single building for setting the tone of architectural style.
With that thought in mind, Flinker appeared before the board some weeks ago with a presentation that displayed photos of buildings in town offering good, and not-so-good, examples of what could be done and what to avoid.
“I think this is a good start,” said Chairman Bruce Clements before opening the issue up for board comments.
Board member Carolyn Perkins said she hoped the guidelines would help town planners avoid “architectural abominations” in town.
“We need them to help us guide something like the Four Corners to be everything it could have been,” said Perkins, who expressed some disappointment at how the intersection has turned out.
Agreeing with Clements that the draft guidelines were a good start, board member George Barringer warned that, in the future, town planners had to be wary of “monolithic” commercial and residential developments, such as the Shaw’s supermarket project or 40B projects like Residential Gardens.
Degen, however, described the draft guidelines as “generic” and in need of more detail. In particular, Degen suggested that more specific rules for signs may be needed.
“I think having sign guidelines above and beyond what the (current) sign bylaw says is a good thing,” said Degen.
Attending last week’s meeting was local businessman Andy Field, owner of the Broadmeadow Sign Company, who has designed and installed many signs for businesses around town. Field cautioned the board not to place too many restrictions on signs and to leave room for creativity.
Field said businesses want signs that are different from the competition and would get them noticed. Also, Field asked the board to keep in mind the placement of signs when considering the design of buildings. Frequently, architects design buildings without signs in mind, placing trees in places that obscured storefronts or leave no room for signs on the structures themselves.
Field agreed that guidelines for signage are needed but that they should be loose enough to permit tasteful creativity.
“There should not be too many boundaries,” concluded Field.
“You have to create a balance between creativity and consistency,” said board member Scott Wilson about signage. “It’s very important that the bylaw reflect that.”
Wilson said the board was not unfriendly to allowing some creative freedom in business signage, but cautioned against “visual pollution.”
“I think that signs should be distinctive and colorful and reflective of the business,” agreed Perkins. “The thing that attracts you is a really creative, beautiful sign. I think there are some really great signs out there, but if there are too many restrictions on them there can be a loss of quality.”
Last week’s presentation of the latest draft of the “commercial development” portion of the design guidelines included three major sections:
Neighborhood design and general site planning, intended to create “more livable communities” that makes “the neighborhood the fundamental unit of planning for the whole town, and the organizing principal for design on individual parcels.”
Streetscapes and landscaping “based on the notion that the ‘public’ street, that is everything that is enclosed by the structures lining both sides of a road, should be designed as a cohesive unit.”
Architecture — “the most visible aspect of new development and the hardest part to ignore when it doesn’t fit in Certain fundamentals of good design remain constant, including the general scale and massing of buildings, the shape of the roof line, the size and location of doors and windows, and the materials used to cover walls and roofs.”
Flinker informed the board last week that he was contracted to produce one more draft of the guidelines. Board members asked that, in addition to incorporating elements based on the comments made at last week’s meeting, Flinker also include photos displaying positive examples of the kind of architectural styles appropriate for Groton.