Old design review articles

Discussion about specific design review controversies may die down. Lest we forget, create a library of articles.

New York Times Published: November 1, 2004
You can't help feeling sorry for the Jets. Their only moment of glory was the Joe Namath era. And for decades, they have suffered the indignity of having to play in a stadium named after their cross-swamp rivals, the Giants. Now the Jets management, with the support of the city, is threatening to create a new stadium on the far West Side of Manhattan that is so crassly commercial it makes the head spin. It may provide the Jets with a home, but it will extinguish any hope of injecting some humanity into the area.
Designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, the 75,000-seat stadium is shaped like an enormous shoe box and would cover the three blocks from 30th to 33rd Streets on a railyard site overlooking the Hudson River. A retractable roof would allow it to function both as an open-air stadium for the Jets and as an extension of the Jacob J. Javits Convention Center just to the north. The project would have around 50,000 square feet of retail space and a waterfront park.
Until now much of the opposition to the stadium has centered on who would foot the bill for the project. But even if it were a gift to the city, the result would be depressing. As if to mask its colossal scale, the stadium is dressed up in a blinding assortment of L.E.D. screens, advertising, shops and restaurants: a mind-numbing spectacle that would echo through the surrounding neighborhoods. The park spaces, supposedly conceived as an act of civic generosity, are nothing more than banal front lawns for retail outlets. The result looks like a parody of late capitalist consumerism.
Stripped of its excesses, the stadium itself is not all bad. The structure is supported on the north and south sides by a massive steel frame topped by rows of wind turbines that will generate energy for the building. A series of tapered steel trusses spanning its interior evoke the skeletal steel frames of the old waterfront warehouses that once lined the city's piers. The roof slides open to frame a rectangular patch of sky. (The stadium is also designed so that an additional 10,000 seats could be tacked on to the side facing the river if New York wins its bid for the 2012 Olympic Games.)
I've seen uglier stadium designs. Even so, the forms are crude when compared with the sloping concrete planes of Eduardo Souto de Moura's recent soccer stadium in Braga, Portugal, which fold like an origami sculpture to frame views of a valley, or with the soaring tubular arches of Santiago Calatrava's Olympic Stadium in Athens.
Kohn Pedersen Fox tries to cloak the deficiencies behind a veil of high-tech graphics. A narrow band of L.E.D. screens projecting scores and advertising messages would run along the stadium's intermediate level, just in front of the corporate boxes. The four corners of the main concourse level, conceived as "sponsors' rooms," are to be emblazoned with corporate logos and colors.
On the exterior, a series of programmable screens would flash images across the surrounding neighborhood. The largest, a 55,000-square-foot low-resolution L.E.D. screen, would loom over 11th Avenue, projecting soft-focus images of Jets games or convention events. An arrangement of narrower horizontal screens would create a more abstract pattern of moving images across the north and south facades. On game days, beams of colored light would shoot up into the sky from the top of the turbines.
The visual noise would be overwhelming. But what's more unnerving is that some are promoting the stadium design as a model for thoughtful urban development. The proposal is the keystone of a vast development area extending several blocks from Madison Square Garden to the river, with another swath between 10th and 11th Avenues stretching north to 42nd Street. It includes an expanded Pennsylvania Station at the neo- Classical James A. Farley post office building to the east, a corridor of office blocks along 11th Avenue and a smattering of park spaces.
To connect the stadium to that context, the architects have proposed a blocklong park flanking the stadium's north side. The park was conceived as a public promenade, linking 11th Avenue to the river. Yet most of the space for it is swallowed up by a proposed one-story retail complex enclosed by an undulating glass wall at the stadium's base. The complex will house shops, a sports museum and an undetermined cultural venue that was no doubt added to help sell the project to the public. It's a generic urban mall for West Siders, tourists and football fans that would efface the neighborhood's gritty but powerful mix of railyards and industrial buildings. It sends a message that the desires of developers once again trump public welfare.
Worse still is a plan to connect the stadium to the High Line, a 20- block-long strip of abandoned elevated freight tracks that extends south from the stadium site through Chelsea to the meat-packing district. The nonprofit group Friends of the High Line wants to transform the tracks into an elevated public garden that would thread its way through the streetscape and link a number of West Side neighborhoods. But under Kohn Pedersen Fox's design, this park would plug directly into the stadium, serving as an entry point for football games and convention events. An additional pedestrian walkway would connect the stadium to the new Pennsylvania Station in the Farley building.
The contrast between the High Line and the stadium projects could not be more stark. Designed by Field Operations and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, the High Line plan is conceived as a string of discrete urban moments, ranging from contemplative gardens to an outdoor theater and distant views of the river. The idea is to savor the nuances of everyday urban life, to heighten the contrast between vast scale and intimate spaces that give the city texture.
The stadium plan, by comparison, would transform the High Line into a mundane people-moving machine - a conveyor belt funneling visitors between Pennsylvania Station, the stadium-retail complex and the meat- packing district's bars. It mistakenly assumes that all urban density is good, regardless of its quality. It is a blunt expression of what was once innocently called the culture of consumption.
There is nothing new about this strategy. It is rooted in the tired New Urbanist formulas that sprang up in reaction to the Brutalist aesthetic of 1960's and 70's architecture. But at least those modernist visions were imbued with a spirit of social optimism, even when they failed.
The stadium plan will enrich developers, while adding nothing of value to the public realm. If this is our vision of humane urban planning, we should fear for the future.

The San Bernardino County Planning Commission on Feb. 19 accepted the recommendation of the Land Use Services Department to approve the Lake Gregory Self-Storage project - a 193-unit mini-storage facility at the corner of Arosa Drive and Dart Canyon Road.
In late January, the Crest Forest Municipal Advisory Council voted to write Supervisor Paul Biane and ask him to write a letter to the County Planning Commission requesting that the project be denied and that the hearing date be delayed so the MAC could have the opportunity to review the project. "We have sent letters to request information for years," Roger Hatheway said at the time. "We specifically mentioned in our Nov. 19 meeting that we receive additional information prior to our approval and we have not received that." The letter expressed in detail what the concerns of the MAC are regarding the project, including the overwhelming public opposition to the project. No document expressing the MAC's opposition, either from Supervisor Biane's office or from the MAC itself, was included in the staff report, and the hearing was held as scheduled.
Biane Field Representative Marshall Riley explained why Biane did not write a letter requesting the project be rejected and the hearing be delayed on behalf of the MAC. "It is not proper for the supervisor to intercede in the process as it moves along," Riley said. "The board of supervisors is the final arbiter of any dispute or appeal that is made relative to a development project."
Riley said that Biane responds to MAC requests either through Riley's monthly report to the MAC or through memos or a letter to that body. In this case, Riley said, the supervisor's office also did not respond to the MAC. "The reason is because they were asking for things that are not proper for the supervisor to do," Riley said, adding that the MAC should have sent its letter directly to the County Planning Commission.
In addition to the 193 storage units, the project includes an office, recreational vehicle and boat parking, a caretaker residence and a garage on the 2.5-acre site.
Over the 13 years the project has been proposed, there have been many objections in writing and at hearings expressed by neighboring property owners. These objections include light pollution, negative visual impacts, drainage concerns, noise and the potential for crime. Traffic safety was also a major concern. The county states that when conditional use permits for the project were submitted in 2000 and 2003, there were 25 letters received objecting to the project, and 14 in support. All 14 of the letters of support were received in 2003; however, six of those letters of support appear to have been signed by only two people.
At the latest Crest Forest MAC meeting, opposition to the project was unanimous among the assembled audience, and MAC members stated that opposition has been overwhelming over the life of the project.
Lee Bell, who will be the resident manager of the property until it is fully occupied, represented the developers. "I will say that I think the project is going to be a much-improved use of that property," Bell said. He added that he believes that a storage facility has minimal impact in comparison to other uses that could be allowed under the location's current zoning. He said that the project's developers would "try to be good neighbors."
Ray MacDonald, the architectural engineer and designer who has worked on the project since 1996, said at the hearing the developer has taken into consideration the concerns of locals. "We have adhered to everything the community asked us," he said.
Several mountain residents were in attendance, most of them close neighbors of the site who spoke in opposition to the project.
Sharon Roberts, who said she was representing several surrounding residents in their opposition to the project, pointed out to the Planning Commission that Dart Canyon Road is a two-lane road with one way in and one way out, and that there are two churches down that road with a combined membership of about 950 people. She said she believes the storage facility would exacerbate the traffic situation at that intersection of five roads, where there is also a school bus stop, which is used throughout the day by the district. She objected to the fact that the county ruled that a traffic survey was not necessary for the project.
The third finding on the conditional use permit addresses the project's impact on the surrounding areas: "The proposed use will not have a substantial adverse affect on abutting property or the permitted use thereof, meaning that the use will not generate excessive noise, vibration, traffic, or other disturbance, because these considerations have been addressed through design review, and appropriate conditions of approval have been included to mitigate any potential adverse impacts. A mini-storage facility is not an intensive land use and represents a relatively benign use of the land."
Roberts also pointed out there are other storage facilities available in the area, and contended that none of them are full.
Mike Chilson, who built Mountain Storage in Valley of Enchantment, spoke in favor of the project. He added that in the 25 years he has lived here he has seen the proportion of full-time residents grow, and the need for self storage grow with it, as many cabins without garages became year-round homes. He said that when Mountain Storage opened it was occupied to 75 percent capacity in only 33 days. He said the storage facility stays at near capacity and said he believes this is true of the other self-storage facilities in the area.
Chilson was asked to come back to the lectern later by the Planning Commission to answer questions about the typical traffic patterns created around such a facility. He stated the traffic impact around his facility in Valley of Enchantment is minimal.
Roberts said she is considering talking with her neighbors about whether there should be an appeal, but is concerned in part about the $1,700 cost of filing such an action and whether the money would be well spent. Those wishing to appeal have only 10 days after the hearing in which to do so.
Roberts said she is frustrated at the decision. "What concerns me as a resident up here and coming from Orange County, is that we really don't have a voice," she said. "My concern is how we go through all of the process and all of the procedures, all of the meetings and all of the petitions and it always comes down to 'No.' I would really like to find time to go down to the county and find out how many times people have said we don't want something up here and they've just overlooked it."
Gloria Midget, who lives within walking distance of the project, said that she feels safe walking in the area now, but once the mini-storage facility is there, she will not feel safe doing so.
Estelle Gough, who says she has one of the closest properties to the project, objected to the effect that the lights at the facility would have on her property at night. She said she has already had to ask Lake Gregory Elementary School to turn off lights near Lake Gregory Drive that the school installed, and the school complied with her request. Even though the developer has agreed to put covers over the lights that make them shine downward, Gough is still concerned. "Sitting on my deck or sitting on my property, I will probably be looking out over a tremendous amount of lights," Gough said. "You said you are going to have covers on the lights to keep the light shining down. That doesn't really help, because it's going to just reflect up into the air."
Roberts said there are other sites in the mountains more suitable for such a facility than this small strip of commercial land abutting a residential neighborhood. "I'm not against progress, but I don't think it should be there," she said.

Fresno Planners Split On Veterans' Memorial Plan
Jim Wasserman The Fresno Bee February 17, 2000
In a stunning and rare display of conflicting opinions over values, honor and aesthetics, Fresno planning commissioners deadlocked 3-3 late Wednesday on a plan by Fresno veterans to make over the entryway to downtown's 1936 Veterans Memorial Auditorium.
But according to legal interpretations Wednesday night, the tie vote means that the veterans have received their conditional-use permit for a controversial 65-foot flagpole and small memorial courtyard in front of the downtown landmark.
By failing to definitively reject a use permit for the project, the commission by default upheld the Development Department's approval, Deputy City Attorney Anthony Cresap said. But opponents almost certainly will get another crack at the proposed memorial to honor the nation's six branches of military service.
Standing in the way of construction now is a special permit for the project, which was denied recently by the city's Historic Preservation Commission. Commissioners argued that the memorial would obscure a building that wasn't designed for such an addition. They also contended it would detract from the vast plaza-style entryway. That decision is expected to be appealed to the City Council for a final ruling.
And the council is widely perceived to be supportive of veterans' goals to build a memorial at the site, directly north of Eaton Plaza and the Fresno Water Tower.
In November, when veterans groups unveiled the proposal, four of seven council members attended. Mayor Jim Patterson and City Manager Jeff Reid are also driving forces behind the city-sponsored project.
Still, despite legal interpretations that veterans had prevailed in their quest, a nervous and cautious Chuck Monges said immediately afterward: ''I'll believe it when I see it.'' It was an almost unparalleled scene in a room where planning commissioners typically vote unanimously.
After a two-hour hearing, Commissioners Jesse Alvarez, Sherian Eckenrod and Nat DiBuduo favored a use permit for the memorial.
Eckenrod's husband, Gervase, is commemorated with a plaque on the veterans corridor of flags outside the building. He was in the audience with his fellow veterans.
''I cannot think of a more fitting place for a memorial than the front of Memorial Auditorium,'' she said.
But commissioners William Civiello, Cynthia Sterling and Terry Stone came down on the other side, expressing concerns about the memorial's effects on a building that's on the National Register of Historic Places.
While Sterling quibbled with turning the atmosphere of a building shared by cultural arts groups and veterans entirely toward veterans, Civiello said: ''I'm really concerned that it doesn't, in fact, diminish the long-term historical aspects of the building.''
In a crowd of about 40 people, veterans outnumbered opponents of their project about six to one.
They spoke emotionally about the project, with its ''magnificent flagpole.''
Said Bruce Kinabrew, aide to Council Member Ken Steitz: ''Our veterans want it there. . . . They want their memories to go forth in that manner.''

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