They say a camel is a horse designed by a committee.
In Atherton, the Civic Center Advisory Committee appears to be trying very, very hard not to end up with a camel for the town's new civic center, which will have new town administrative offices, a library, the police department and the council chambers.
The advisory committee met on Feb. 8, and was scheduled to approve the schematic design for the project, including the building's exterior appearance, site plan, energy conservation elements and circulation system. Instead, the committee sent architects WRNS Studio back to the drawing board and postponed by a month the public meeting scheduled to unveil the design.
Part of the problem may be the difficultly committee members are having communicating to the architects exactly what they want. One committee member said that when her husband was shown the latest drawings, he commented that it "wasn't Atherton" and walked out of the room.
Just what is "Atherton"?
Mayor Elizabeth Lewis said the town wants something that is "timeless and beautiful."
"I feel that we're getting there, but we're not there yet," she said. "I don't want to feel that we're compromising."
That "close, but not quite there" comment was echoed by several other committee members, including the other council member on the committee, Rick DeGolia, and by Didi Fisher, who is co-chair of the Atherton Now committee raising funds for the project. Ms. Fisher also commented that the current plan "almost looks like a jail."
"We've given you an impossible assignment," committee chairman Steve Dostart told the architects at one point. Mr. Dostart ought to know what he is talking about, because as the president and founder of Dostart Development Company, he has supervised many major business campus projects in Silicon Valley.
Mr. Dostart did have some concrete suggestions. "The building desperately wants to be symmetrical," he said, echoing the comments of several other committee members who said the police department wing is too different from the town offices wing.
The committee has asked for a design in the "Santa Barbara Mission" style, and the architects made liberal use of white stucco, tile roofs, arches and iron multi-paned windows in an attempt to comply.
Mr. Dostart and several other committee members also asked the architects to move the town offices wing back toward the courtyard behind it so the two wings are flush across the front. "We want it to look the most residential possible from Fair Oaks," he said.
But Mr. DeGolia disagreed. "The one thing that I think really would be a mistake is if the whole building was flat across," he said.
The good news was that while the plans aren't quite ready for public consumption, the committee is unhappy about only one face of the new complex, that facing Fair Oaks Lane, where the front entry to the joint police department and town office building is located.
The committee was, for the most part, happy with the back of the buildings, which faces a courtyard and what will be the town library. They had one small niggle with a blank wall that needed more architectural embellishment, they said.
The appearance of the library, which has a sleek, modern design, was approved by the committee months ago.
The community meeting to unveil the plans is now scheduled for March 21, with the advisory committee planning to meet again on Feb. 22 and March 7 to look at what the architects can come up with.
The delay will add cost to the project because it will be another month behind schedule, the committee was told. In July, committee members were told by the consultants hired to manage the project that every month of delay in getting the project started would add about $90,000 to the final construction cost.