Holley Hall kiosk project triggers debate in Bristol

BRISTOL — An Eagle Scout project to construct an information kiosk in front of Holley Hall in downtown Bristol has drawn both praise and criticism, often from the same quarters.
The project also shows the disconnect that can occur when selectboard priorities and processes leave some townsfolk wondering how or where to weigh in on an issue of community importance.
When Eagle Scout hopeful Victor Hinojosa presented his kiosk proposal to the Bristol selectboard at its April 17 meeting, board members quickly approved the proposal.
But many Bristol residents are now saying, “Hey, wait a minute.”
Almost universally admired is the proposed kiosk structure, which Hinojosa designed with Lincoln landscape painter Reed Prescott. The wooden display is detailed to echo elements of the historic 1884 building it stands in front of and is roofed in copper.
Public concern is with the actual message display: a 5-foot-6-inch by 2-foot-7-inch Daktronics electronic message center, either amber monochrome or full color.
The perceived mismatch between the historic character of Holley Hall versus a screen likened to that found in malls, casinos and car dealerships packed Monday’s selectboard meeting at close to overflow capacity.
Among those voicing concerns about the kiosk was Ian Albinson, whose comments kicked off an hour-long discussion.
“I fully support the kiosk project,” said Albinson. “I really like the design elements that they use from the original building, this building, in the kiosk design.”
Albinson, a Bristol resident and member of the Bristol CORE downtown business group, said the kiosk made a great contribution to the organization’s downtown signage goals.
“My issue,” he said, “is that the screen itself just doesn’t fit the character of the hall. It just doesn’t fit the character of the town. And I don’t think it’s a good direction for the town to take.
“My biggest issue is the choice of an electronic screen versus something that’s more traditional.”
Albinson learned about the proposed kiosk at the April 17 meeting and posted his concerns on social media, which brought forth much discussion online.
Meanwhile Albinson had met with Hinojosa about his design, met with the Bristol Historical Society, heard from other community members and researched other possibilities. He presented his concerns and suggested some alternatives at the May 1 selectboard meeting, including keeping the main design but installing a pin board or using something like the E-ink technology to create an electronic board with higher resolution, more sophisticated lettering and graphics.
Albinson’s sentiment was echoed by many in attendance, with one woman saying, “I think it’s a fabulous project but I’m here because I really do not like the idea of an electronic board in front of Holley Hall.”
The strong community response seemed to baffle or even upset some members of the selectboard.
“The board first met with Victor back in October, and he presented his plan,” said selectboard member Michelle Perlee. “So I’m a little disappointed that this outcry has come for him at the last minute. I mean he’s put in a lot of time since October and nobody has said a word until last week. And now there’s a public outcry for a design that nobody likes. I don’t think that’s fair to Victor.
“The board supported him back in October, and we approved it. So I really think that the community should support him and let the DRC (Design Review Committee) and the ZBA (Zoning Board of Adjustment) go forward.
“I don’t think it really will detract.”
Another concern raised by some attending Monday’s meeting was that the use of social media to respond to the kiosk project created bad feeling unnecessarily. Megan LaRose said that Victor had felt attacked on Facebook and that respondents should be more careful about how things are said when their comments are directed at a young Eagle Scout.
Various community members articulated that the April 17 presentation was the first they’d heard about the project and the first opportunity they’d had to respond.
Indeed a review of the Bristol selectboard minutes finds no mention of the Holley Hall kiosk project in the October 2016 minutes. (There is a mention of the Howden Hall kiosk project.) Before April 17, the first mentions are from June 2016. The June 13 minutes state briefly that Selectman Joel Bouvier “is working with an Eagle Scout to create a kiosk for the front of Holley Hall.” Likewise, the June 27 entry says only: “Joel discussed his request to spend up to $1,000 for a professional design of the kiosk. Joel has been working with Victor Hinojosa to create a kiosk for the Town as an Eagle Scout project. Ted said he would like the Eagle Scout to make a presentation to the board with his design. Kris Perlee said part of his project could be to reach out to architects. Joel will come back to the Board with pricing on the digital sign.”
Town Administrator Therese Kirby told the Independent that getting a kiosk in front of Holley Hall has been a goal of the selectboard since the building was renovated in 2010. She also said that young men working to achieve Eagle Scout approach the town all the time looking for projects. Over the years, said Kirby, some selectboard members have wanted an electronic sign, while others have argued for something more like a pin board. Nevertheless, an information kiosk in front of Holley Hall has long been on the town wish list.
That, she thought, might be the source of the difference in perception between many community members and the selectboard. Many community members might have just learned about it on or after April 17, which was Hinojosa’s first presentation of a detailed plan.
At Monday’s meeting, furniture designer Bruce Beekens spoke to the importance of public input on public projects and stressed that such input was critical, given the building’s importance to the community.
“I’d like to speak as a community member and also as a person whose livelihood depends on design and making things much like Victor is setting out to do here,” he said.
“Design is a messy business at best, especially when it’s a public project like this. And the fact that a proposal is made, then counter proposals and suggestions come in, this is good. This is all meant to strengthen the public process.
“Is it Victor’s project? I think it’s Victor’s service to the community, and I think the community needs to be an active participant in his service.”
Public response to Hinojosa’s efforts, said Beekens, showed the community’s respect for his efforts and shows how much Holley Hall means to the community.
“Building something for a public venue like this draws community response and well it should. This is part of the lesson I hope that Victor experiences through this process. This is not a snap down or a criticism. This is meant to be honoring your effort and saying that what you’re getting ready to do here is really important.”
After the discussion, the selectboard reaffirmed its April 17 decision and move the process forward.
Community member Anne Wallace expressed appreciation for the selectboard’s consideration but asked where citizens unhappy with the electronic message board could take their concerns.
Selectboard members said the proposal next goes before the DRC, which it did on May 2. That committee makes a recommendation to the Zoning ZBA, which meets on May 9 to make a final decision on the project.
DRC Chair Ron LaRose, present at Monday’s meeting, pointed community members to the new zoning regulations approved Town Meeting Day.
“The DRC has an 18-point checklist,” said LaRose.
“But public input can shape the kind of recommendation you make?” asked John Moyers.
Answered LaRose, “We go by our checklist.”
Tuesday night’s DRC hearing lasted three and a half hours, said Bristol Zoning Administrator Eric Forand. On Wednesday morning he said the DRC will recommend to the zoning board that the kiosk itself get built, but that the electronic messaging board be suspended until a committee can be formed to further review the matter. He also explained that in terms of formal processes, the ZBA would typically be the first spot for public input. Seen in that light, the town added an extra forum by devoting so much of its Monday meeting to the kiosk. Forand said his understanding is that Hinojosa would still be able to use the kiosk (minus the electronic messaging board) as his Eagle Scout service project.
Hinojosa said this has been a learning experience.
“I have learned many things throughout this entire process — mainly how everyone has their own opinion, and I respect that,” he said in an email with the Independent.“Another thing I have learned is that more people will go out of their way to share their disapproval than they will their approval of something.
“The fact that the Bristol community didn’t know much about my project until it was mass-posted on social media is disheartening and strengthens my point of how the town needs to take a step into the future and not be afraid of an electronic messaging board.”
But he is undaunted.
“Despite having to see/hear about many online keyboard warriors down-talking the electronic board idea, I am eager to attain the rank of Eagle Scout … all while keeping the town informed about their local government with new technology, and have gotten much support from many community members to do just that.
“If you want something changed, empower yourself to physically get up and go to the place and meet the people who are the decision makers and be a part of the decision making process — that means so much more and has a lot more weight than a comment on social media.”
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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