Combined commissions would work well
Editor's note: This is a response to Sunday's editorial.
Interested and thoughtful members without personal agendas are what make local advisory committees and commissions productive. In this case, a combined Landmarks and Historic Preservation Commission (LHPC) and Site Plan and Architectural Review Commission (SPAC) peopled by these civic-minded folks would serve the community well. The combined commission could be called SHARC.
Both LHPC and SPAC are driven by city and state (and to some extent federal) rules and ordinances and each of these commissions relies upon city staff input to frame its agenda and to point out the pertinent rules and requirements attendant to each project. If no applicant proposed to do something different from what is allowed under the various rules and policies, neither of these commissions would be necessary.
The Oct. 8 editorial had it wrong when it suggested that SPAC determines the number of shrubs to be planted for each project. These numbers are determined by formulas within the city's ordinances. It's visualizing the future mature landscaping that SPAC is interested in. Likewise, the writer got it wrong when suggesting that SPAC members would be uninterested in cornices. Appurtenances and architectural features greatly affect the appearance of a structure, its value, and its continuing utility. If retaining certain original features is required as part of an approval, those features become a part of the review process. There is no insurmountable crossover problem in reviewing a new dentist's office and in reviewing the conversion of an historic building into a dentist's office.
About 30 years ago SPAC coined the unofficial motto: "To make Medford a better place to live, one project at a time." That SPAC members recognize the desire for continuing development within the city doesn't put them in the pocket of developers. And, since historic preservation is of interest to the community, there's no reason to doubt that a combined SPAC/LHPC wouldn't fairly represent those values as well. And as with SPAC, there's no reason to think that LHPC members wouldn't come to the table to fairly review projects brought before the combined commission.
The road to a successful combined commission is to encourage and even recruit interested and unbiased people to join and then to help provide strong, unbiased leadership. The mission of each of these commissions isn't to, on the one hand, build new big boxes everywhere, and on the other hand, to preserve every old building in town. Their missions are to serve the community to help make Medford a better place to live, one project at a time.
It seems to me that one commission that is functional will serve the community better than two commissions where one can't seat a quorum.
— Jon C. Elliott lives in Medford.