Concord city council kills Main Street balcony application

  • A rendering developed shows the proposed balcony on the fourth floor of 66 N. Main St. Warrenstreet Architects

  • A proposal to build a balcony off the fourth floor of 66 N. Main St. in Concord is dead after the city council denied an application from Associated Enterprises Inc. Caitlin Andrews / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Wednesday, January 10, 2018

A Concord developer is debating whether to move forward with a Main Street apartment project after the city council denied an application to install a balcony hanging over the city’s right of way.

The council’s decision, made Monday night during their regular meeting, ended months of waiting for developer siblings Remi and Dora Hinxhia. They first put their application in before the council in May under the name Associated Enterprises Inc. to build a 5-by-15-foot balcony on the fourth floor of 66 N. Main St. The design received approval from the Architectural Design Review Committee and the planning board, usually a good sign for developers.

But the council voted to table the application, citing a need to get input from the city. Guidelines from the city’s planning department are pending, but many councilors – perhaps still stung over a design change for balconies at Remi’s Block that Remi Hinxhia swears he didn’t know about – didn’t want to take chances.

Ward 3 Councilor Jennifer Kretovic, who pulled the original application from a consent agenda in May, didn’t shy away from mentioning the Remi’s Block balconies, which were described as having a “shark cage” appearance by city residents. The original designs featured a horizontal cable system; the final result had vertical bars.

“My original concern was I don’t know where we stand on this as a city that we allowed this to continue and allowed them to basically take occupancy on a building, particularly Remi’s Block, that was not part of the plans approved by our planning board,” Kretovic said.

She noted the project had been granted tax relief under RSA 79-E, and said the council didn’t know whether the property’s value was decreasing due to the balcony design.

Other councilors stressed the importance of waiting for the planning board to bring its Main Street Guide – recommendations on signs, architecture, overhangs and anything else that could impact the look of downtown – before the council made a decision. Multiple councilors mentioned the neighborhood’s historic nature.

“It would be inappropriate to vote on this while our own city staff is in the process of giving us guidance,” said Steve Shurtleff, councilor at large, who made the motion to deny the application “without prejudice.”

Ward 5 Councilor Rob Werner stressed caution, saying the council didn’t want to vote on a “one-off proposal” it would regret in the years ahead. Ward 4 Councilor Byron Champlin said the council was facing a “slippery slope” if it voted without guidelines.

The planning board approved the Main Street Guide late last year. City Planner Heather Shank said the plan was supposed to go before the board Monday night but it was put off until next month.

Those draft guidelines stress that balconies should use subtle or dark colors that match the building’s architecture and that new balconies should not be allowed in the city’s right of way for safety reasons.

Only Ward 2 Councilor Allan Herschlag spoke against the motion to deny the application, saying the city did not do its due diligence the first time Remi Hinxhia’s balconies deviated from the plans by granting an occupancy permit. He said to allow the project to go through the approval process, only for the council to say, “Nah, we’re not crazy about that,” would chill developers who were going through the approval process themselves.

Speaking Tuesday afternoon, Remi Hinxhia said he would have to talk to his sister about the apartment’s future. The balconies, which would offer a view of Main Street, are a key component of the design, he said.

“We’re not happy about it,” Hinxhia lamented.

The Hinxhias sent a letter to the city Sunday asking that the application be taken off the table because their subcontractors needed to know whether the project would go forward. In the letter, they say they would be willing to explore different designs, such as multiple 3-by-5-foot balconies that would be mostly covered by the roof’s overhang.

When it comes down to it, Remi Hinxhia said he feels he is being punished for the Remi’s Block balconies by the city. He said he did not know about the design change because he was in Concord Hospital for several days while the balconies were being installed – an experience he declined to elaborate on.

He also didn’t place the blame on anyone, saying he would take responsibility for his building.

“I spent $7,000 to $8,000 to put a cap on the balconies, to break that industrial look,” Hinxhia said. “And I’m still willing to do more work.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, candrews@cmonitor.com or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)