Residents Say MBL’s Loeb Building Over Height Limit
By: Brent Runyon
It was hailed as good news when the Loeb Laboratory on the Marine Biological Laboratory campus in Woods Hole received grants for a $25 million renovation, but now many residents are upset that the building’s height is changing the aesthetic of the village.
The maximum height for buildings in a public use district in Falmouth is 50 feet, and the Loeb Laboratory, which was built in 1970, tops out at 45 feet.
The building is the same as it always has been, with the exception of two new structures on the roof, referred to as penthouses, said Richard D. Cutler, director of facilities. The structures are actually a 10-foot-high enclosed stairwell tower, and a 15-foot-high enclosed mechanical room.
Falmouth Building Commissioner Eladio R. Gore said the stairwell is required by building code in order to access the mechanical equipment, some of which was replaced in the renovation. Technically, the mechanical equipment could have been moved elsewhere in the building, he said, but that was not a practical solution.
“We can’t say that there was no other place for it to go,” Mr. Gore said, “Perhaps they could have gutted the whole building and placed it somewhere else, but that would have been problematic at the least and impractical at the worst.”
He said those additions are allowed above the 50-foot height limit, only because they do not include habitable space.
But the new structures are an eyesore to several Woods Hole residents, including Enid K. Sichel of Whitman Road. “They are architecturally very ugly,” she said, “They look like giant packing crates on the roof.”
She wrote to Mr. Gore in November asking if MBL had applied for a waiver of height requirements, but did not receive an answer until yesterday, when he informed her they did not need a waiver.
Ms. Sichel said that the addition of large structures on top of the buildings ruins the charm of the brick architecture of the F.R. Lillie building on MBL street, across from the Loeb Laboratory.
Ultimately, she said, she does not want to see rows of 50- and 60-foot-high buildings surrounding Eel Pond.
“I feel strongly that if the appearance of the historic center of the village is changed, then that is very unfortunate, and I am personally very unhappy.”
Ms. Sichel is a former professor of physics at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and has lived full time in Woods Hole since 1999. She said she has donated money to MBL in the past, and although she is not a major donor, she said she would likely not donate again.
Another Woods Hole resident, Albert E. Fitzelle of Penzance Road echoed Ms. Sichel’s sentiments and went a step further.
“[MBL has] just ignored the town and the community entirely,” he said. “They don’t even bother to talk to the village about their plans.”
He praised the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for constructing large buildings outside of the village on the Quissett Campus, “taking the pressure off the village center.” He said most of the rest of Falmouth is limited to a 35-foot height requirement, and would like to see a hard ceiling of 50 feet in the public use areas.
But Mr. Cutler said it will likely take some time to get used to the new structures. Right now, the stairwell and mechanical room stand out because they are new, but they are not even the tallest structures on the building. “There’s an elevator shaft and cooling tower enclosure that are 10 feet taller than anything new that’s been added,” he said.
He said MBL has tried to work with the residents and added quieter cooling systems on the roof to appease concerns about noise.
Mr. Cutler said residents want to see the buildings go back to the way they were in the past. “I don’t expect to see that happening any time in the near future,” he said.
Leave a Reply
In order to comment you need to be logged in.