The Architectural Commission needs to change its attitude or it could receive the same fate as two town boards that were dissolved of their members this week, the Town Council warned Tuesday.
The council dismissed 20 volunteer members of the Landmarks Preservation and Planning & Zoning commissions at Tuesday’s meeting. Earlier in the meeting, they gave the Architectural Commission its last warning.
Council members said they’re getting numerous complaints of the Architectural Commission’s “unfriendliness” and lack of constructive feedback, but they did not identify who is being criticized. Commissioners also are forgetting their guidelines and are rude to applicants at times, they said.
“Certain members seem to think that they’re there to insert their personal preferences as to what should be approved and what shouldn’t be approved without real regard to the requirements,” said President Pro Tem Bill Diamond. “I attend practically every ARCOM meeting, and when I hear someone say they don’t ‘like’ this project, and they don’t define why they don’t like it, I get very upset.”
To clarify its role, Town Attorney John Randolph has attended several recent ARCOM meetings to relay the council’s expectations and explain the criteria for reviewing projects.
He told Commissioner Henry Homes III in February: “With all due respect, Mr. Homes, I don’t think ‘I do not like it’ is a reason to defer or disapprove of something. In the event of disapproval, you are required to state those criteria which it doesn’t meet. When you defer an application, I believe you should give some guidance as to criteria you don’t feel are being met.”
Mayor Gail Coniglio said she’s troubled by the antagonistic atmosphere on the commission and the rudeness of members’ feedback to applicants.
Several commissioners have recently compared applicants’ designs to airports, hotels, commercial buildings, offices and medieval castles.
“To say someone’s architecture looks like an airport hangar … it hurts, not only the community, but the applicant, and it sets up a very controversial and contentious desk,” Coniglio said. “We’ve had this conversation so many times. With a human being, you have to be polite, you must be respectful, you must give consideration to (those who) make presentations to you.”
Commissioners also have told architects that their designs look like they belong in Boca Raton, Coral Gables, Fort Lauderdale, Miami and other nearby communities, which President Robert Wildrick said is “inappropriate.”
Architectural Commission Vice Chairman Nikita Zukov, who listened to the council reprimand Tuesday, said he agrees with council members and the mayor about the commission’s attitude and behavior.
“Every architect comes to me or I go to their office to review their submissions before the meeting,” he said. “They all tell me their grievances with ARCOM.”
Zukov said he’s discussed how to address architects and applicants with commissioners.
“The job of this commission is to review what somebody else submitted,” he told them. “These are equal architects or residents to you. They’re not your students. They should not be preached to or talked down to. You have no right to do that. You have to give your opinion on what’s best for the town, not what you like.”
The irony is that here in Greenwich, it’s even worse: we’ve ceded control of our property to a handful of staffers, not citizen volunteers, and no one in town government has the balls to tell them to shape up. Perhaps tossing out the planning and zoning commission members would send the right signal.