Woodstock officials have resurrected a $2.3 million renovation of the Comeau offices while the town’s design panel has raised concerns about layout and building functionality.
The town hired Les and Jess Walker of Walker Architecture in early 2019 to design an addition to the 1911 home that contains a majority of the town offices.
The single-story addition will allow all second-floor offices to move to the first floor and make it handicap accessible to the public.
Each department will have its own file room, making record-keeping more efficient. The second floor can be used for storage and possible office space for Town Board members.
The existing house will also get new windows and get a renovation to make it more weather-tight and include a new HVAC system.
The Supervisor’s Cottage, which houses offices for the town supervisor and bookkeeper, will be renovated with better insulation and a new HVAC system.
The Commission for Civic Design has criticized the addition’s shed roof and has said access through the main meeting room is disruptive.
“The CCD believes alternative layouts and building forms should be considered,” chair David Ekroth said at an April 12 meeting.
“Whatever the Town Board decides to do, the CCD will work with the town to make sure this is the facility of the future.”
The extension came to the CCD in June 2019 as a courtesy review and its members raised concerns about design and layout.
At its February 10, 2020 meeting, a handful of residents questioned aspects of the project, which led the CCD to write a letter to the Town Board.
There was to be a public hearing on February 13, 2020, but it was canceled largely out of Covid-19 concerns.
Supervisor Bill McKenna decided last year to pause the project, noting it may not be fiscally responsible to ask voters to borrow more than $2 million during a pandemic. Now that the economy is improving and restrictions are easing, the project is back on the table.
Ekroth said the CCD was unaware Walker Architecture had continued work on the project and it had received no response to its letter to the Town Board.
“We’re not here to get into a circular firing squad,” Ekroth said.
“We want to make sure the project is successful.”
The CCDs concerns are that the shed roofs are “not complimentary to existing historic Comeau.” It also stated access through the meeting room is “very disruptive and will minimize desire to use that large room.” The CCD suggested the town clerk’s office be relocated outside the meeting room where staff can direct the public to the new wing. The CCD objected to continuing to have the supervisor and bookkeeper in a separate building and suggested as many services should be under one roof as possible. The existing Supervisor’s Cottage can be used for storage and less critical functions, it said.
The CCD has an advisory role in projects within the town’s Hamlet District, but decisions on the Comeau offices project are ultimately made by the Town Board.
“It’s not a good idea to have everybody march through a meeting to get to the offices. I mean that’s just common sense,” Ekroth said.
Both Les Walker and Supervisor McKenna noted the layout is constrained by certain areas designated on the 76-acre property that allow for municipal office within a conservation area.
The Walkers have made some changes so the addition has less of a visual impact from Comeau Drive, such as rotating part of the structure 90 degrees.
CCD member Cornelia Rosenblum suggested making a formal application to the Woodstock Land Conservancy to get the easement boundary changed to allow for a different layout, but McKenna said it’s not that simple.
“The easement is very clear. It says if there’s an alternative, you can’t get an adjustment,” McKenna told the CCD.
Defending the decision to keep the supervisor and bookkeeper in the cottage, McKenna said the cost of renovating the cottage is less than adding space to the addition for the main building.
“What do we do with it? Do we just tear it down? The separation does not take away from the function,” McKenna said of the cottage.
McKenna noted the town already has separated functions, such as the police and highway garage.
“We’re not here to be the bad guys and to be a problem,” Ekroth said. “We’re here to make this good for the town and good for the life of the project.”
When asked later about the easement constraints, McKenna said the language is very clear that if another design can accommodate the town’s needs, an easement is not possible.
“Such boundary line adjustment shall not serve to increase the acreage of any designated Government Area but shall only be for the purpose of complying with environmental, regulatory or site specific issues existed that would not allow the proposed work within the boundary of the particular Governmental Area as originally established under this easement,” states Section 7.02B of the easement agreement.
“The land conservancy was the first group we got involved with,” McKenna said.
“Initially, we talked about going out the back and extending it. They said if there’s another way, it’s going to be difficult to do it,” he said, referring to modifying the easement.
“We all seem to agree if there’s a way to do this, we don’t have the right to get a lot line adjustment,” McKenna said. “The line is the line. We can build up to the line, but we can’t cross the line.”
McKenna has invited anyone from the public to call and make an appointment to view the model and discuss the project by calling (845) 679-2113, extension 17.
Walker Architecture plans to make a presentation to the Town Board at its April 20 meeting.