Submission to Concord Journal week, February 3, 2020
Recent articles and commentary in the Journal about the Library’s exciting expansion project have caused some concern and confusion. We would like to clarify the issues.
Impact on Historic Building
On January 17th, the Library Corporation’s architect and the Corporation responded to a December letter from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC) informing us that, in their judgment, our project would have an “adverse effect” on the Heywood-Benjamin House – the historic home at 151 Main Street that will be connected to the Main Library by a one-story addition. Our responses set forth specific and detailed facts why we feel the MHC’s conclusion is incorrect, as it appears to be based on inaccurate information. We have requested that the MHC reconsider its conclusion. Our responses are available at www.CFPLCorp.org
Our response is based on a number of factors:
(A) Both the Historic Districts Commission (HDC) and the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) approved the design. It is notable that the HDC, the Town committee most familiar with the Main Street Historic District and the Heywood-Benjamin House, granted its approval after a comprehensive review process with extensive input from the public that included five public hearings and two site visits over the course of 2019. Significant improvements were made during this process.
(B) The project was designed to (i) preserve the Heywood-Benjamin House’s essential characteristics and (ii) comply with the HDC’s guidelines and the Secretary of the Interior’s standards for rehabilitation of historic buildings.
(C) No historic portions of the Heywood-Benjamin House will be removed.
(D) The proposed additions were designed in accordance with accepted architectural guidelines to be “subservient to, but compatible with” the massing, size and architectural features of the existing house.
While the MHC does not have jurisdiction over local zoning decisions, without its approval, we would not be eligible to receive a $200,000 grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) that we were thrilled and proud to have been awarded.
In addition, the HDC and ZBA approvals for the project have been appealed by two Concord citizens.
Concord and its boards have always prided themselves on conducting fair and open hearings, and we believe all citizens had ample opportunity to (and did) publicly express their opinions of the project at public hearings before the HDC and ZBA voted to approve the project.
It was implied in one article that the project is being rushed through; nothing could be further from the truth. Before purchasing the Heywood-Benjamin House in 2013, and since, we have consulted with Town officials and engaged the public in the planning process. A detailed timeline is available at www.CFPLCorp.org
It is unsettling to us, and we are sure to the many Concord community supporters of the project, that we are faced with the need to again address issues already put to rest by our Boards.
Nonetheless, we are hopeful that the MHC concerns and citizen appeals can be amicably settled so that construction may commence in the near future.
Sherry F. Litwack
President, Concord Free Public Library Corporation