Future White Oak police station plans revised by county designers
200-foot forest buffer still leaves room for office building
Following harsh criticism by the Planning Board, county designers have created a new plan for a future White Oak police station that quadruples the buffer of trees on the site while still leaving plenty of space for a county office building.
"All we wanted to do was demonstrate we could meet the Planning Board's recommendations and have enough land area to accommodate everything we wanted to do on that site," said Ernest Lunsford, chief of the Division of Building Design and Construction with the Department of General Services. "We think we have successfully done that. And the planning staff thinks so, too, but that's not formal. We just showed it to them to get a feel."
County planners said they are planning a public meeting for September where they will unveil official sketches of their proposed site plan. By early October, they expect to present these plans to the Planning Board.
The designers had previously tried to present plans for the Third District police station that would push the building to one side of the property and leave free a plot of land known as Parcel B that could be used by the county in the future. But after heavy opposition from the station's future neighbors, who wanted more forest buffer between the station's security wall and their property lines, the Planning Board sent designers back to the drawing board.
Now Lunsford says his agency has a solution he thinks will make everyone happy. The station, proposed for the intersection of New Hampshire Avenue and Milestone Drive in White Oak, would be shifted to a more central location on the land. The width of the forest buffer would be increased to 200 feet to allow for 100 percent of the required reforestation to be done on-site, and the county would still leave enough room for a future office building.
The original plans proposed for the police station left just eight feet between the station's security wall and one homeowner's property line. That amount was increased to 33 feet in March and then 50 feet when designers officially presented their forest conservation plans to the Planning Board in late May.
After nine infuriated residents testified in at that Planning Board meeting, the board recommended county planners adjust their plans to fit in with the surrounding neighborhood. Planning Board Commissioner Norman Dreyfuss said the submission was "the worst abuse by the county of their mandatory referral process, and no private developer could have ever gotten away with it."
Lunsford, who was present for that Planning Board meeting, said the rejection was frustrating to members of his department, who had worked with planning staff to meet their recommendations.
"I think it's fair to say it caught us by surprise," he said. "We weren't sure we could meet all of these needs on the site. We weren't sure we had enough room, but we have provedat least to datethat we can. So we're encouraged by that, and we think we've been resourceful in going back to the drawing board and coming back with a plan that is satisfactory for everybody."
Though no formal sketches have been constructed or submitted of the new plans, Lunsford said the site would have a minimum of a 200-foot forest buffer to the west and north of the site that is contiguous with existing preserved forest near the site of Sunrise Senior Living community. The station's design will remain the same but will be moved toward the center of the site.
Approximately 24,000-square-feet of space would be left on "Parcel B" for an office building with a parking structure. The office building is not part of what the Department of General Services plan to submit this fall, but several county officials have suggested the site would be a good location for a centralized Health and Human Services office building.
Elizabeth Molloy, the president of the Sherbrooke Homeowner's Association, said she's eager to see the exact proposal, but wants the county to submit plans for both the station and the office building at the same time.
"While they talk about the potential use of Parcel B,' without it sort of fleshed out and seeing how it would all work together, it's somewhat difficult to express support or point out where there might be concerns," she said. "... We just can't tell. There's something hidden that we can't see."
Lunsford said the reason for keeping the second piece of the site open is economic frugality. The county paid $6.192 million for the 12.8-acre parcel of land. The $25.5 million police station would take up 33,000 square feet of the land, not including the space needed for parking.
"The county paid a lot of money for this particular piece of land, and we can show easily that two county functions fit on the acreage," he said. "It seems to me that it would be wasteful not to use the land that the county already purchased if we can meet the requirements of the board in terms of [forest] buffers."
The county has lost time and money by the required redesign of the project, Lunsford said. Engineers need to reorient the plans for the building because the topographythe slope of the land and amount of dirt needed to moveis different in its proposed new location. He said he does not believe construction costs will change. Lunsford said he expects the required modifications will tack on three to six months to the construction timeline, pushing the ribbon-cutting back to late fall of 2012.