BY MATT FREEMAN
The typical municipal government matter involves something the neighbors might be aware of, or a neighborhood. Rarely does it set in motion something people around the globe will notice.
But that’s what the East Marlborough Township Board of Supervisors did Monday night in issuing a demolition permit for the Main Fountain Garden at Longwood Gardens, for generations a destination for tourists from around the world.
Lawrence Gutterman, an architect with the New York- and Washington-based architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, told the supervisors the fountain garden, a six-acre area built in the 1930s that is “certainly a major iconic feature of Longwood Gardens,” has significant portions in serious disrepair. The south wall, Gutterman said, has been closed to the public for 20 years.
Gutterman said less visible problems include a plumbing system dating from the original construction that is prone to failures and leakage. The lighting system is outdated and the few spare lights available will eventually run out and cannot be replaced.
Longwood officials have felt in recent years that the time had come to renovate the fountain garden, Gutterman said, to put in updated pumping and lighting infrastructure, remove features that had been added in recent decades, and add new ones.
The renovations, which will require about two years of construction work starting this fall, would be done in a way that would preserve the historic quality of the site, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, Gutterman said.
The existing pumphouse building would stay, Gutterman said, with new underground structures added behind it to house new infrastructure, as well as underground tunnels that would allow for more efficient maintenance. The loggia on the south end of the garden would be rebuilt with a new grotto space behind it. The balustrade on the top would be renovated with salvage balusters used where possible to minimize the use of new stonework.
Gutterman said other new features will include a trellis bridge to replace a 1970 addition on the western end of the south wall and an opening in the eastern retaining wall, both of which would help pedestrian traffic circulate through the garden. Seat walls would allow people to sit next to the fountain area, and a new elevator would provide access for people with handicaps.
The only changes proposed were to the newer additions, Gutterman said. The renovated water features will operate as they do now, with a few new features, and the same for the lighting. The “legacy view” from the terrace of the conservatory will be the same as it always was, he said.
The supervisors unanimously approved the demolition permit.
In other business, the supervisors discussed problems with stormwater runoff and erosion with James Sinclair, owner of Liondale Farm, which lies east of Route 82 on Route 926. As he has in the past, Sinclair said erosion from floods on a section of Red Clay Creek that runs through his property has increased in the 12 years he has lived there, as has the amount of water, which he said far surpassed “any thought about what a 100-year storm ought to be.”
Sinclair said he believed existing developments upstream from him have increased the runoff, and he said proposed new construction would make it worse. He argued that even though such development might be permitted under the township ordinances and other regulations, the supervisors should consider restraining it anyway to help preserve the stream corridor.
In particular, Sinclair was concerned about possible construction on a six-acre plot near the southeast corner of Willowdale where owner Anthony Dambro hopes to build an apartment building. Dambro recently began work to install a pipe on the property that would conduct runoff from a neighboring site to a wetlands area that would hold it until it could be absorbed.
The township engineer Jim Hatfield had said Dambro had the right, according to a variety of regulatory agencies, to install the pipe, which could help make the property more amenable to development. The discussion at Monday night’s meeting suddenly grew heated when Sinclair referred to this finding as a “deal.”
Cuyler Walker, chairman of the board of supervisors, told Sinclair he felt the word “deal” was an insult to Hatfield’s professional integrity. In addition, he challenged Sinclair’s assertion that runoff had increased in recent years because of new construction, saying longtime residents had seen similar floods for decades, and rainfall had increased in recent years.
“The fact is, Jim, you bought low-lying property,” Walker said. “We cannot stop the rain from falling.”
“We don’t have the authority as a township to tell people that they can’t build on their property,” Walker added.
The meeting turned more collegial as Hatfield discussed the matter, saying that although it was not perfect, for decades the aim of stormwater management had been to keep new construction from adding to runoff. New techniques had helped in this effort, he said.
The discussion ended with Sinclair saying he appreciated the chance to speak.
The supervisors also established a building code appeals board.