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Stewart’s Shop, as planned, will stick out like a sore thumb

To the Editor:

I love Stewart’s shops. There’s ice cream, free tire air, basic groceries, and there always seems to be one where you need it, even in the most rural parts of New York State where I grew up. For this reason, it pains me, as a preservation architect, to see Stewart’s at odds with the historic preservation community.

Several chain retail companies, including Stewart’s, have frequently ignored the local architectural character and historic significance of the surrounding community in favor of putting up inexpensive, cookie-cutter store designs throughout New York State. While some towns do successfully persuade these companies to make changes to the design to make them more appropriate to their setting, oftentimes local governments are too scared of losing the development to put up a fight.

While I recognize that this site is not within the Historic District, I would encourage you to push Stewart’s to improve the following weaknesses with its design, and take this opportunity to improve the architectural character of this small, but highly visible commercial corner and make it more sympathetic to the historic qualities of the village.

I will admit that the site plan is improved over the existing layout; however, the rotation of the building is not consistent with the other buildings on Helderberg Avenue. Additionally, the small setback is not consistent with the other buildings on Helderberg Avenue, which will cause this building to stick out like a sore thumb when driving down the street.

The Victorian era homes of the village, and those on Helderberg Avenue in particular, have moderately steep roofs that are often broken up through the use of crossing gables and large dormers. The main roof in this Stewart’s design is too shallowly pitched and needs to be broken up to be more sympathetic to its neighbors.

The shallow pitched front porch roof is appropriate, and a similarly pitched shallow roof across the storage area at the back of the building would further decrease the area of the main roof, and possibly allow the pitch to be increased, without greatly increasing the overall height.

Altering the roof planes would have the added benefit of improving the proportions of the building from the Helderberg Avenue elevation. The Victorian houses on this street have strong vertical lines, while the Stewart’s building in its current configuration is strongly horizontal in its proportions. In addition to breaking up the roof planes, providing some vertical breaks on these side elevations would help with proportions.

The pair of window dormers on the building’s front elevation are not located with any relationship to the elements of the first floor, and appear pointless. The central dormer is a good effort to break up the roof, and I am glad to see the front of this dormer has been brought into alignment with the wall below; however, the peak should be raised closer to the main ridge in order to be convincing and further break up the roof plane.

The detailing for the building appears to be a confusing mish-mash of architectural styles found within the village. Rather than trying to pick something from everything, I suggest one style be selected.

The window muntins at the first floor and diagonal trim moldings at the top of the dormers and gable seem to suggest a craftsman or stick-style character that is at odds with the almost Folk Victorian massing and detailing of the rest of the building, and should probably be discarded. Revised window muntins that simulate one-over-one windows typical to this style would be more appropriate.

I hope you will consider pushing Stewart’s to look harder at how it can blend its development into the architecture of the village, and demonstrate that it shares the village of Altamont’s commitment to the protection of its historic character.

While I cannot say that the current plans put forward by Stewart’s are worse than the current construction on this property, I would say that approving these plans is a significant lost opportunity to make the village of Altamont more architecturally and historically cohesive, to the benefit of all who live and visit there.

Katherine Onufer, AIA

Albany

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