Letter: Deny proposal, preserve Bristol’s ‘livability’

Posted 6/5/18

I wish to express my strong opposition to the proposed Belvedere at Thames project and the developer’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness before the Bristol Historic District …

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Letter: Deny proposal, preserve Bristol’s ‘livability’


I wish to express my strong opposition to the proposed Belvedere at Thames project and the developer’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness before the Bristol Historic District Commission.

I have practiced historic preservation for four decades. I recently retired from 27 years at Roger Williams University, where I was professor and director of the Historic Preservation Program.

I hold the premise that stewardship must be commensurate with significance — and, here, that the Bristol Waterfront Historic District (and environs) holds incredible significance and integrity maintained by each property owner, guided by the Bristol HDC fiduciary leadership and responsibility, one decision at a time.

Bristol is a living laboratory of livability. Livability is Bristol’s precious asset realized through the arrangement of streetscape profiles, interface between public and private amenities, flow of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, historic character-defining features, traditional neighborhood design, scale and stewardship.

Recently, I have been testifying about a different form of preservation, elder justice, before state assemblies and senates, and our U.S. Senate. I have been border to border, coast to coast. Throughout my travels, I have seen the devastating effects of misguided development on the social and physical fabric of communities and historic districts, nationwide. I now return to historic preservation — here, Bristol’s heritage and future.

I was just in Austin, Texas. I composed this opinion (and my testimony to the HDC) from the rooftop of a multi-story building and garage, recently completed. From my vantage point, I looked down on one- and two-story dwellings that defined the integrity and scale of a historic community that, a few years ago, decided to scale up. This community has compromised the content of its (historic) character, now long lost.

A crane towered above, across the street. This was a teachable moment I typically bring in to a class. Today I bring it to you, to inform the HDC and Bristol’s livability.

The proposed Belvedere at Thames project is contrary to the Town of Bristol 2016 Comprehensive Community Plan (adopted 2017), the Bristol Historic District Commission Guidelines for Rehabilitation, Additions and New Construction (1987), and the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation and Guidelines for Rehabilitating Historic Buildings (Technical Preservation Services, NPS) that is the basis for the Bristol HDC Guidelines. The proposed project would seriously detract from the historic and architectural character of neighborhood and historic district.

At their heart, preservation and elder justice are the same — for they both respect and protect the ageless value of that which is old but may be discounted, sometimes until it’s too late. Please do not let it be “too late” for Bristol. I urge the Bristol HDC to deny the Belvedere at Thames project a Certificate of Appropriateness.

Philip C. Marshall 

South Dartmouth, Mass.

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