Historic Preservation Commission gives OK to downtown park, but requests more information


By Liz Moomey

SALISBURY — After a lengthy discussion about the historical appropriateness and features of the Bell Tower Green project, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission has approved most of the near-final plan for the downtown park.

Project leader Jason Walser and LandDesign representatives Beth Poovey, Josie Bulla and Jeff Mis discussed the architecture and landscape plans for the park, which will be at 215 W. Innes St., at a commission meeting Thursday night.

“The commission understands that the park has been designed to reflect a more contemporary feeling that does not attempt to mimic historic materials and architecture too closely but which is contextually appropriate and sensitive to Salisbury’s historic charm,” City Planner Kyle Harris said. “As staff liaison to the HPC, I believe that Bell Tower Green honors Salisbury’s history while also embracing its forward-thinking, creative and innovative spirit.”

The commission was divided on the plan. Some members were OK with approving the project, but some didn’t like the contemporary features of the park. Others said they need a better idea of how the park would fit in with the surrounding area.

“All members of the Historic Preservation Commission care deeply about preserving the historic character and architectural integrity of Salisbury,” Harris said. “I recognize that the commission’s deliberations (Thursday) night did become a little heated, and some members were more favorable toward the park’s design than others. Ultimately, I think it’s wonderful that we have such committed citizen volunteers who serve on the city’s boards and commissions and who help carry out the hard work of the city.”

Most commission members said they are excited about what the park will bring to the Salisbury community.

Eugene Goetz said the park plan is beautiful and contemporary.

“Once you go to the heart of the park, it does not have a historic feel for me,” Goetz said. “It has no historic feel.”

Goetz was one of two members who vote against approving the design plans, even with the request that technical information be added. 

Commission Chairman Andrew Walker agreed that the historical nature of the park is important, especially for Salisbury.

“We are a historic town,” Walker said. “We absolutely have to be congruous with the historic nature of this town.”

Larry Richardson said he was ready to approve the plan.

“I love everything,” Richardson said. “I have no problem with it. I like that it’s trying to pay homage on the outside of it, and the inside of it is modern, contemporary. It’s not replicating anything because if it was replicating, you’re building a whole new church. My whole issue was (if it was) going to affect the structure of the Bell Tower. … I have no problem with it.”

The park will have features that include a waterfall, a stage area for performing arts, the addition of stairs and a lift to the Bell Tower, and lighting and plants throughout. A tree at Church and Fisher streets will be removed.

Commission member Elizabeth Trick voiced concern about the lack of details provided, but she voted in favor of the design.

“They are pretty drawings, but there are no dimensions,” she said.

Meredith Abramson, a member of the master plan committee and the Bell Tower Green board, spoke during the public hearing, saying she thought the commission was backtracking from the conceptual plan that was approved last year.

“I am having trouble figuring out how a historic preservation committee is asking for so much from a brand new structure,” Abramson said. “That’s a little bit perplexing to me. I am new to the process, but again these are brand new structures. But these folks (LandDesign) have done their work for us. We’ve spent hours around tables, two years worth of meetings and I, as a person of the public and this committee, just want you guys to know that none of these decisions have been taken lightly. We’ve thought about all the things you have talked about.” 

After more than two hours of discussion, the commission members were ready to vote but decided they needed more information before making a final decision. The structures they requested information about include the proposed Quarry Pavilion + Water Wall, the performance shell, and a series of ornamental garden structures.

They also want to have a better understanding of the elevation and perspective of the park’s features and additional details on materials, size, scale, dimensions and spatial relationships.

An early 2019 start is planned for construction of Bell Tower Green

Summary of approved items

• The design of all new hardscapes (i.e. walkways and other paved areas) including their material, which will be a combination of brick, concrete, crushed stone, and granite;

• The design of all new “green” landscaped areas, including the central lawn, promenade gardens, leisure garden, Bosque garden, etc.;

• Modifications to the surrounding streetscape, including replacing all concrete sidewalks with new red brick walkways with granite curbing and replacing the existing asphalt road surfaces around the park with new red brick pavers to mimic the bricked portion of West Fisher Street;

•  Modifications to accommodate new on-street angled parking, including new planting islands and planting strips to break up expanses of paving;

•  The planting of new red maple and Japanese elm street trees bordering the perimeter of the park;

• Furnishings including benches, bistro tables, chairs, umbrellas, bicycle racks and trash receptacles in a variety of materials and finishes;

• Traditional, decorative vehicular and pedestrian pole-mounted lighting around the perimeter of the park, with more contemporary lighting and accent lighting in the interior of the park, including warm spotlighting for the historic Bell Tower;

• The installation of new monumental granite slab stairs on the southwest side of the historic Bell Tower, with an accessible lift to provide universal access;

• The rebuilding of inconsistent and deteriorated stairs, retaining walls and appurtenant hardscape elements with new brick, granite and stone materials.

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