The Fort Ward Stables renovation project jumped another hurdle in the Planning Commission process last week.
The two-phase project is for an educational facility for an architectural school and office space for McLennan Design Inc.
The project would mix old and new. The building is on the national and local registries of historic places. But it will also have solar panels on the roof to provide power. And water runoff from the roof will be used in the facility’s toilets.
“It honors the historic legacy,” owner Jason McLennan said. Instead of a dilapidated, boarded-up building, “We will be bringing it to life.”
Commissioners voted on two issues: to have an outside light put on a timer to shut off at 8 p.m. and to not allow some landscaping to be done for up to three years. Landscaping will be put in if Phase 2 is not going in by then.
McLennan said the light is needed to keep workers and the building safe at night, just like any business or residence would have on their porch. The light would not bother neighbors in that it points down rather than cause pollution to the skies. He said normal working hours would be 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but there could be some night work.
Commissioners were still concerned about complaints from neighbors so they set the 8 p.m. time limit.
There was some discussion about a motion sensor for the light, but Commissioner Sarah Blossom raised a good argument against that. She said she had one at her place, but deer would walk by at all hours so she had to disconnect it.
Regarding landscaping, planning commissioners were most concerned about the front of the business.
“Neighbors have nice-looking frontages,” Commissioner Yesh Subramanian said.
McLennan said he would love to plant flowers and make that area look nice, but it’s not his property – it belongs to the city. Because the stables were built so long ago, they actually end right at his property line.
It also was explained that parking should not be an issue as a gravel area between the stables and barracks will be used during Phase 1, and parking at the nearby community hall already has been approved for Phase 2. There was a question about sidewalks, and commissioners were told there already is one there, and it will end at the business to give privacy to the homeowner next door.
Commissioner William Chester is a fan of the project. “It’s a glorious effort to bring about rehabilitation and historic preservation,” he said, adding it would be nice if the landscape in the city right of way could be enhanced.
McLennan explained that the stables and barracks are part of a “cool collection of buildings that exist from that era,” and that’s why they are on the historic registries.
He said the project started a few years ago but the COVID-19 pandemic delayed things. He said the stables are the least costly project of the two, plus it is degrading quicker so its needs are more immediate to fix it “up to be shipshape.”
McLennan said he hopes doing this project will help with fundraising for the other one. “It’s hard to see with an abandoned building” just what the potential is, he said.
He added they would like to stop the degradation of the barracks building too, by getting some windows put in to stop rain from coming into the building.
The only caller during public comments asked the city to provide traffic calming devices in the area as speeding is already a problem there with drivers going up to 15 mph over the limit.
It was explained that traffic was a concern at a public participation meeting, but no impact study was need on this part of the project. However, Phase 2 of the project will bring more traffic so a study will be needed then.