Lawrence Historic Resources board delays vote on East Ninth design, told plan is a ‘slap in the face’ to history

This contributed rendering imagines the final design of the East Ninth Street Project, which includes large rocks, a stormwater management system with native grasses, and integrated art installations that combine unique lighting and recorded sounds.

The city’s historic resources board interrupted the recent back-to-back-to-back votes of support for a concept design for the East Ninth Project.

The Historic Resources Commission on Thursday postponed a decision on the design after hearing from a half-dozen people who were against it, one of whom, Phil Collison, said the reconstruction and reimagining of the corridor was a “slap in the face to the history of East Lawrence” and “an attempt to disconnect that history from the neighborhood.”

John Naramore, who owns property along East Ninth Street, said the design was “changing it totally,” and his son, also named John Naramore, said the “original streetscape will be lost forever.”

A stormwater management plan is illustrated in this rendering from an East Ninth concept design document dated March 25, 2016

Broadly, those who voiced opposition said the design, if implemented, would harm the street’s historic integrity by changing its landscape, visual relationships and current use as a truck route and place of business. Specifically, they had concerns with the introduction of native grasses and a shared-use path and the elimination of tree wells and some parking.

A couple of commissioners themselves had concerns about what plants would be appropriate for the street and what would be done with historic bricks harvested during construction.

East Lawrence resident Josh Davis told commissioners the majority of East Lawrence is in favor of the project. While they were hearing opposition, he said, those with concerns were vocal, but few.

“Tonight, a lot of people showed up to address issues,” Davis said. “I just don’t want to say that represents the neighborhood. A lot of people have looked at it as a whole and found benefit.”

But KT Walsh, another East Lawrence resident, said the neighborhood was “very split,” “torn apart” and “struggling.”

The commission was being asked Thursday to send a letter of support for the project to the City Commission. Instead, commissioners directed city staff to compile a list of historic, defining features along East Ninth Street that the commission should address. They’ll talk about those issues at their May meeting, and then decide whether to support the project.

Lynne Braddock Zollner, the city’s historic resources administrator, said she’d hoped the historian hired to work on the East Ninth Project would’ve provided such a list. The architectural historian, Dennis Domer, was not present at the meeting Thursday.

The Historic Resources Commission is the last body to review the design before it goes to the City Commission, which has to approve it before work on a more extensive, technical design can begin.

On March 30, the East Ninth Citizens Advisory Committee voted 12-2, with one abstention, in favor of the design. That triggered two more votes of approval, one from the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association on April 11 and another from the Lawrence Cultural Arts Commission on April 13. The city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee also sent a letter of support for the design.

Proposed landscaping along Ninth Street from New Hampshire to Rhode Island streets is shown in this rendering from an East Ninth concept design document dated March 25, 2016.

Most recent estimates put the project cost at just over $3,500,000. The current design includes two driving lanes for most of the six-block corridor, along with sidewalks on each side and an 8-foot shared-use path for both pedestrians and bicyclists. There’s also parallel parking on the south side of Ninth Street.

Three art installations have been proposed so far: poles putting off low-level light on gathering spaces; speakers playing a variety of sounds, including some picked up from New York Elementary School; and a large rock formation that would act as a sitting area.

Zollner said the East Ninth Project design was tentatively scheduled to go before the City Commission on May 24. The Historic Resources Commission meets again May 19.

“When it goes to the City Commission — you are the last commission to officially see it — they will be asked to commit millions to this project,” Walsh said. “And we all know that once the dollars start getting committed, it’s hard to slow things down, and it’s hard to tweak them.”