After their first design was rebuffed by the Riverside village board, architects for the Riverside Center Development last Thursday presented a revised plan for a mixed-use condo/retail building at the corner of Longcommon Road and Burlington Street to the Riverside Preservation Commission.
Architects made the presentation to test the waters and gauge potential support for the new design. But if the comments from Preservation commissioners are any indication, it will be a long time before any structure replaces the former Henninger Pharmacy, which sits vacant at the site.
“I appreciate the fact that a lot of work was done, but if Riverside is the professor and this is the final exam, you get a C-minus,” said Commissioner Chris Robling. “This is something you could find in Lombard, and it’s just not good enough.
“This will never be built.”
Robling’s assessment of the new plan was perhaps the most critical, but there was little, if any, enthusiasm for the new design among the commissioners, who found the design a bland, timid attempt to mimic the historic buildings already in Riverside’s downtown.
“It seems like everyone wants this to be an Arcade Building, and that’s what worries me,” said Commissioner Richard Ray, who is an architect. “I’d like to see you do a better piece of architecture than this, rather than sucking on the pipe of the Arcade Building.”
The new design, presented by architects Robert Kirk and Anthony Beccasio of Group A Architects, is substantially different than the design which failed to win several zoning variations from the village board in April.
The issue of parking, for example, has been addressed by including the property north of the Henninger site, a one-story office building at 23 Longcommon Road, into the overall plan. Both the developer, Harry Liesenfelt, and the owner of 23 Longcommon Road, Dr. Samuel Chmell, confirmed last week that there was a deal in the works for the sale of the doctor’s office.
Neither would give any details regarding the contract, which has not yet been finalized. But, according to an appraisal performed last November, the property at 23 Longcommon Road was valued at $600,000 if it were purchased as part of a commercial development plan.
With the addition of the roughly 5,900-square-foot property, architects were able include 50 parking spaces (33 of them under the new building), and provide an exit drive onto Longcommon Road.
According to Liesenfelt, the building as presented last week was actually smaller in overall scale than the original design, even though the new plan calls for 22 condo units instead of the original 20.
And while the building’s roof ridge line is still 45 feet, the corner towers have been scaled back, matching the height of the roof dormers. Meanwhile, the central tower originally planned for the building’s Burlington Street elevation has been removed completely in favor of a simpler recessed central bay.
“What we’ve tried to do is reduce the appearance of bulk, and one of the ways was taking that center [tower] and treating it differently through materials, height and setback to split the building in two.”
In addition a covered arcade along Burlington Street has been eliminated completely so the building complies with the 10-foot setback required along that frontage.
But Preservation Commission Chair Charles Pipal, an architect by profession, doubted the reconfigured central bay on the Burlington facade elevation would be successful, saying the elevator penthouse would be easily visible from the street.
Robling added that despite the architects’ attempts to fit the new design into the context of Riverside’s historic downtown, they failed to respond to that context.
“You’ve overlooked the fundamental nature of the water tower,” Robling said. “The west corner shouldn’t be [at a right angle], it should be curved. You’d end up with dramatic fenestration and views that you’re not getting with a rectilinear approach.”
Commissioner Theodore Smith criticized that Burlington Street facade as repetitious and pedestrian, commenting that the architects could have chosen to design a Burlington Street facade that looked as if it were more than just one long building.
“I find it a very uninspired, dull, mendacious-looking thing,” Smith said. “It’s not a very pleasant building.”
Despite the overwhelming number of negative comments, Kirk responded to the suggestions positively, acknowledging that he had been “treading cautiously.”
“These kinds of discussions are helpful,” Kirk said. “As long as the square footage of the units work, we’re open to this.”
The building’s developer, however, would like to keep the project moving forward. It’s been working its way through the village’s approval process since it was first unveiled publicly in September 2004. The former pharmacy has been vacant since 1999.
“We’re looking for a zero-variation project,” said Liesenfelt in a separate interview. “If this is not going to get resolved I want to disengage. From a time perspective, I want to move this project along at a speed that’s acceptable.”