Letter: Belvedere project would erode Bristol’s historic character

Posted 6/5/18

The Colt auditorium stage is set for the sitdown drama of the Belvedere Hotel extension. The opposing factions to Jim Roiter’s building proposal are set to continue the feud in Act II on June …

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Letter: Belvedere project would erode Bristol’s historic character


The Colt auditorium stage is set for the sitdown drama of the Belvedere Hotel extension. The opposing factions to Jim Roiter’s building proposal are set to continue the feud in Act II on June 7. Or is it Act III?

Previously, both sides brought in new counsel with expert witness testimony, and yet another architect’s presentation whets the appetite of some attendees. Curiously, at the May 10 joint meeting of both the Bristol Planning Board and Historic District Commission, the center aisled marked the neutral zone in audience opinions on the proposal.

The board members, though initially self-conscious — as the klieg lights and larger attendance were unanticipated exposure for a volunteer position — became more animated as the self-regarding lawyers paced through their witnesses. It became evident that other than opposing counsels, only the planning board has speaking parts (and novice uncertainty about the mics’ pickup range), until one HDC member challenged the citizen’s group attorney that lifetime residency is sui generis — an unassailable one-upmanship status of primacy.

He asserted that irrespective of the audience makeup, background or sentiment, they only comprised a small minority of the entire population of Bristol. No masking the “Hearing” or absorption of new information there, his predisposition was crystal clear. The democracy of assembled itineracy blushed.

The attorney calmly replied that, “This is not a referendum.” But as the night betrayed, one side could not resist and applause line for their respective attorney, credentialed expert, or when a planning board member would reaffirm their position.

“Do we have the strength to carry on this mighty task in one night?” Apparently not. Hoots, howls and bullhorns are the reserve for the June 7 public follow-up.

It’s paradoxical that some lifetime residents who quickly salvage the province of “best interest,” confusingly grant a fudge factor when out-of-state ROI is pile-driving its own trophies behind the facade of superficial patronage. So too, in the interest of client allegiance the architect spoke favorably of the “head piece” of a flat-roof building as an adornment, significantly unlike the head piece that King Henry VIII referred to removing from the shoulders of its occupant.

Thus the planning board (and towns-people) are left with the wonderment of a triple-layer pizza, encrusted with sausage units and thin-sliced parking — an architectural equivalent of an oversized matchbox — a sardine can of catalytic, fair weather tenants that Mr. Roiter’s new colt boldly claims will last a century and spring a tooth fairy with a box of chocolate-coated tax receipts.

Sure, we get that $0 equals a beautiful math lecture on patriotic capitalism, and also how political expedients trade in board appointments and budget goal posts. How much more easy it must be for the Town Council to influence through inducement and reappointment the small number of which a board of appointment consists, rather than allow those boards to be justly guided by the codes, ordinances and purposed they were established to defend.

Do we also guess the unintended consequences of winning a $1.7 million mini-lotto state grant will help the applicant with those busy taxi commutes around NYC a tad, while the town of Bristol forfeits a valuable waterfront resource to satisfy a prescription for two state fetishes: water watching with one more cheesy carb lure.

New England town centers that readily revere their built history should caution against reflexive appeals for promised treasures. The interest of a NYC wannabe real estate tycoon isn’t synonymous with the full-range viable dependencies and the contingent hallmarks of a small town’s identity. The delinquency in this project or through precedent and misapprehension leads inevitably to the loss of Bristol’s historic character and, thereby, loss of the resource in its truest sense.

It’s at that point the town is filled more with nostalgic bereavement than historic embrace.

Ronan Hernon

91 Constitution St., Bristol

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