LPA Letter to Lawrence City Commission About HUB Project Plan to Build Over the Alley Between Massachusetts and New Hampshire Streets
April 17, 2019
From: Lawrence Preservation Alliance
To: Lawrence City Commissioners
Re: HUB Request to Build Over Alley
The Board of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance previously is on record (April 7 letter to City Commission), asking commissioners to uphold the determinations of the Historic Resources Commission at your hearing scheduled for May 7. LPA believes that the HUB project, as proposed, should not be built downtown. The purpose of this letter is to comment about a specific aspect of the HUB proposal that the commission is also being asked to approve.
One of the methods the applicant is proposing to reconcile the massive density in relation to its site is a plan to extend the building’s third level over the alley that runs through the block. This is a new and unique request that LPA believes would negatively affect downtown Lawrence if allowed.
We must first point out that this is an incentive request. The applicant is seeking permission to build in air-space over a right-of-way owned by the city. There is no mention of acquiring the rights via purchase or lease.
The historic street/alley grid pattern downtown has been used in Lawrence since its inception. This has served not only as a transportation grid, but also as a guide to downtown development. Throughout Lawrence history, conforming to that grid pattern has helped to evenly distribute the overall massing of downtown structures while allowing for a variety of building heights and styles. Moving down each block, we see buildings facing Massachusetts Street and buildings facing New Hampshire Street, with a shared alley. This doesn’t work for HUB. The HUB building is designed to face Massachusetts, New Hampshire and 11thStreet all at once.
The HRC is correct in expressing concern that allowing this building to cross over the alley will create a tunnel effect. HRC also is correct in its concern that, if this pattern is repeated in other downtown blocks, it would significantly alter the way downtown looks and functions.
This request by the HUB applicant is a tacit admission that their project simply cannot fit the density it needs within the confines of the site they wish to develop. It validates concerns expressed by HRC and preservationists that this structure will be painfully out-of-scale with the landmark buildings and the existing commercial structures within the Downtown Overlay District. If allowed here, a precedent will be established for future projects that would allow for even more infill that does not relate to the size and massing in the downtown historic district—which could eventually destroy the historic character of the downtown generations of Lawrence citizens have worked to protect.
Dennis J. Brown
President, Lawrence Preservation Alliance