By Seth Daniel
After three years of contentious meetings, court battles, bitter discussions with some Soley Street neighbors and numerous volleys across the passageways of City Hall, the owners of the controversial property at 6 Soley St. still want to move in, still want to be neighbors to those who they are seemingly at odds with, over the home located on one of the most historic streets in America.
“We’re not developers,” said Niko Skiadis, with his wife Christine beside him at the Monday evening meeting in the basement of St. Mary’s Church. “We’re a family trying to execute on the home we thought we bought. We want to live here. We expect to be your neighbors. We want to raise our kids here. There’s not plan to flip this. There’s no profit in it, I swear. Whatever hard feelings folks have about the design or the process…We’ve not closed our hearts to anybody…We’ve really tried to follow the letter of the law. We got a curveball from the recent court decision. We want to work something out.”
The high-tension meeting came after a history as complex as the American Revolution unfolded between the Skiadas family, several opposing neighbors, and some neighbors who support them. The family came three years ago to the community with a plan to demolish the old historic home and build a very modern home attached to both neighbors. Preservationists were riled in July 2015 when the home was torn down, with many believing that was done without proper authority – though that is in contention too. Many saw the demo as another example of historic homes being lost in the Town for the sake of building a new home on a prime location. Others saw it as an old historic home, but one that was a blight, and needed to be replaced and occupied by a good family – and therefore supported the Skiadases. It equaled bad vibes on a large scale up and down the tight-knit street.
After the ruling in court last fall, referred to above, many thought the family would disappear form the scene, but their perseverance showed on Monday night.
It was the first time they appeared before the neighborhood since a Suffolk Superior Court judge in November 2016 ruled in favor of the 59 Warren Street condo trust, and against the Skiadases, in a technical ruling that basically rendered the existing plan for the home impossible. The technical ruling read that if the family attached their wall to 59 Warren St. to make a row house, it would be considered trespassing and against the law.
That stopped everything in its tracks because the only way to rebuild the new home, on the site of the former demolished home dating back to the 1830s, was to create a row house that attached.
Therefore, the decision was to appeal the ruling and face years of legal wrangling, or to come back to the community with a compromise and a plea for peace.
“There’s no legal structure, due to the ruling of the court, that can be put on 6 Soley Street,” said Skiadas. “You can’t do anything with that site. We faced a decision. We could go back to court and seek to appeal or amend the ruling or we could look at other options. When we first came here, our kids were 4 years old and two months old. Now they are 7 and 4. A lot of time has passed since we made the decision to buy the property. We could face another 18 months or two years in court…or seek another alternative by getting variances. We made the decision to try this first.”
Skiadas unveiled plans to the standing-room-only crowd.
The new home would not attach to 59 Warren St., but instead would leave about a two-foot alleyway between them. The backyard would be a lot smaller with a porch proposed, and less bump outs for the second and third floors. The house would be larger in square footage, but the prized backyard Skiadas said they wanted would be gone.
“The part we really don’t like, besides the time and delay, is we lost our backyard,” he said. “That was a big part of why we bought it and why we liked it. On the flip side, the house is bigger.”
To accomplish the new plan, which creates a 3,000 sq. ft. home, they need three variances. They need a variance to create a freestanding structure in a row house district, a variance for the rear yard setback and a variance for shortage of open space.
Many in the audience were still rather angry at how the Skiadas family went about trying to redevelop the home, tearing it down with little notice and pushing a design that didn’t fit on an historic street, they said. The wounds hadn’t seemed to heal for many, as neighbors said if the family hadn’t tried to avoid getting variances, going around the community, things wouldn’t have devolved into such a battle.
“Most of the problems you’re having are self-inflicted,” said Peter LeCam of Soley Street. “The way you went about it is the issue. We’d love to have a house built there, but the way you went after it was really part of the problem.”
Other neighbors, despite the problems, were ready to move on and forgive.
Arthur Colpack, a long-time resident and supporter of the plan, said he remembered 33 years ago moving onto Monument Avenue and getting the same treatment.
“I don’t see humanity here at all,” he said. “I was supposedly a developer too. I brought up three kids here and I’m still here now. I wish there was a little more humanity going on here.”
Amanda Reinfeld, a Charlestown Neighborhood Council member, said she hoped there was a way to get to the end of the argument. She said everyone needed to look for a solution.
“This family only wants to live here,” she said. “They’ve come back. They want a solution. I think we need to be a little more community oriented. We should love our neighbors and want to show support and help them get through this.”