BAR Rues Pointe Decision

McLean: I Felt Like We Were ‘Had’

BLYTHEWOOD (March 24, 2016) – After unanimously approving a Certificate of Appropriateness (COA) on Jan. 19 for The Pointe, a controversial 56-unit, government-subsidized apartment complex proposed for construction by Prestwick Development LLC on Main Street in downtown Blythewood, members of the Board of Architectural Review (BAR) sorely lamented that approval during Monday evening’s regular monthly meeting.

“I felt we were ‘had’,” board member Jim McLean told his fellow BAR members. Others on the board agreed.

The object of the BAR’s lamentation was their regret after the fact that they had failed to make the developer carry through on an agreement it made with the BAR in December 2015 to install a decorative wrought iron fence on three sides of the apartment site.

“We’d had a discussion up until that time about Prestwick’s proposal to build a chain link fence, which is not permitted,” McLean said. “We asked them (Prestwick) to change the fence material to a wrought iron material and they agreed. But when they came for the COA in January, it (the fence) was not mentioned at all in the discussion until just prior to the vote on the COA.”

When Prestwick agreed to the change in fence materials at the December meeting, the prospects for moving the project forward hinged on the BAR’s approval of 13 variances. After those variances were granted at the January meeting, McLean asked the developer’s representatives about the wrought iron fence. The project’s architect, Robert Byington, said Prestwick Development, because of costs, had decided not to build any fence at all around the property. He also pointed out to the Board that there was no requirement in the ordinance for a fence of any kind to be built.

Without addressing Prestwick’s about-face on the fence, the BAR went ahead and unanimously approved the COA.

“I went home (after the Jan. 19 meeting) and kind of kicked myself from the standpoint of not digging in,” board member Jim McLean told his fellow board members Tuesday evening. “It got away from us. They were wrong and that particular group (of residents) has a need for fencing more than any area in town. Maybe this is just a lesson for us.”

“They took us off guard,” Chairman Michael Langston said in defense. “When they said they weren’t going to do the fence, we were getting ready to vote (on the COA) and I just didn’t press the issue. I feel we missed an opportunity, but I didn’t feel like challenging them at that point.”

“I worry about reports of considerable amounts of liter around these types of buildings and I just feel like we need to go back to the scene of the crime,” board member Gale Coston said.

“We can’t now,” Langston noted. “We’ve already voted (for approval of the COA) which is legally binding. I can almost guarantee you that if we go back with anything else it would be challenged and brought in to legal proceedings.”
Residents in the vicinity of the proposed apartment project had been vocal early on against the apartments, saying the proposed project would increase traffic and could lower property values of surrounding homes. Opponents of the project were publicly chastised by members of the Town Council for speaking out against the project.

Councilman Bob Mangone, a Cobblestone Park resident who, during the previous year, had voiced the same concerns about a developer building less expensive homes in his gated Cobblestone Park neighborhood, accused those speaking out against the apartments of veiled bigotry, bias and racism, even though those speaking out included both African-Americans and whites.

After the Planning Commission sided with residents in October and recommended that the project be denied based on the “will of the people,” Prestwick filed a lawsuit against the Town that resulted in the Commission’s decision being overturned.

In a move to further stem citizen dissent over The Pointe, at the December BAR meeting Langston announced to those residents who had come to the meeting to address the BAR that citizen testimony at that meeting would not be allowed on agenda items slated for discussion which included The Pointe. While Langston said he was adhering to the BAR’s rules of procedure, it was a departure from how the BAR had conducted meetings in the past when no specific limitations were placed on citizens who wished to address issues before the Board.

Thereafter, citizens no longer attended any of the town’s government meetings dealing with the issue and none were present at Tuesday evening’s BAR meeting.

At the conclusion of the meeting, the Board decided to ask Mayor J. Michael Ross to join with Langston in writing a letter to the Prestwick Development in an effort to persuade them to reconsider installing the decorative wrought iron fencing as they had agreed to do in December.