Letter to the Editor: A Way to Band Together for Smart Building Decisions

Towns and villages throughout Door County face the growing challenge of responding to proposals for new buildings, particularly in their commercial centers. Developers and their architects and engineers present their plans to planning commissions and architectural review boards (where they exist) for review and approval or denial. 

The playing field is not level. The small municipalities in the county do not have planning and design professionals available to review these proposals; and hard-working citizen reviewers on these commissions and boards are responsible for approving or rejecting designs without professional assistance. While talented local architects and engineers often submit plans for well-designed buildings, some proposed buildings are not suitable and compatible with their surrounding buildings and community plans.  

I am a retired city planner (and current member of the Village of Egg Harbor Architectural Review and Historic Preservation Board). I worked in city government in Pittsburgh when four new skyscrapers were proposed by major corporations, using world-class architects – architects who had little appetite for suggestions from what they considered low-level planners working in city government. To level that playing field, the city planning department engaged its own world-class urban design professional who had the respect of the developers’ architects and could represent the city’s interests. 

Transposing this idea to Door County, I wonder if towns and villages could pool resources to engage a capable and versatile design firm to represent towns and villages in the design review process. When proposals of sufficient scale are made, this design talent could help citizen commission members make complex design decisions with greater skill. In Pittsburgh the give-and-take between the city-engaged designer and the developers’ architects produced superior building design.  

Given the increasing growth pressures facing Door County and the many design decisions ahead, this arrangement could help get well-designed buildings built throughout the county. 

Paul Brophy

Egg Harbor, Wisconsin