By Seth Daniel
After more than two years of legal and neighborhood fighting over plans to build a new single-family home at 6 Soley St., owner Nicolas Skiadas cleared what is likely the final hurdle to build his home – angering dozens of residents of the old, historic street and even dabbling into mayoral politics.
On Monday morning, the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) unanimously approved the variances that will allow the Skiadas family to build a new one-family home on the site where a very old, but blighted, older home used to sit. The new 3,000 sq. ft. home needed 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.
The plan was an amended plan that is different from the original plan submitted to neighbors more than two years ago before the older home was torn down in July 2015.
The ZBA approved all of the variances, but only after some extensive testimony from both sides.
Mayor Martin Walsh supported the new plan, but offered no comment from his office.
On his behalf, Neighborhood Liaison Chris Breen spoke in favor of the Skiadas’s new plan – as submitted to neighbors in May at St. Mary’s Church.
However, his mayoral opponent and the District 7 City Councilor Tito Jackson, testified against the plan – cementing the home as one of the most scrutinized and wide-ranging single family home developments in the City. Jackson offered comments against the plan in support of more than 180 people who had signed a petition against the development – including some neighbors on Soley Street.
“Although 6 Soley Street is not in my district, I am proud to stand with the people of Charlestown in opposing a project that does not comply with zoning regulations, and willfully tramples the neighborhood’s character,” said Jackson in a statement. “Sadly, this is only the latest example of the Walsh Administration and the BPDA (Boston Planning and Development Agency) being dead-set on pleasing developers at any cost. Sadly, once more the Mayor puts profit over the thoughtful and legitimate legal and stewardship concerns of the neighborhood’s residents.”
That said, District 1 City Councilor Sal LaMattina said he supported the project and was very disappointed that Jackson stuck his two-cents into what is a neighborhood issue far removed from his district.
LaMattina said Jackson never called him about his intention to oppose the project, and he felt that the councilor was just posturing to establish some sort of voter base in Charlestown.
“I am very disappointed in my colleague Tito Jackson,” said LaMattina.
Beyond that, LaMattina said he couldn’t oppose an owner that has put so much time and effort in trying to build a home for his family.
“I supported that project first because it was a one family and he tore down a home that had been vacant at one time,” he said. “Second, he’s building it for his family. All across the city, I see people tearing down single family homes to build six-unit buildings. He’s not an absentee landlord and he’s not doing that. He’s a family man and he’s putting another single-family home there. I don’t see anything wrong with it. It’s not right. I will support a family doing that anytime.”
Tom Cunha, chair of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC), also spoke in favor of the plan – as did some other CNC members.
“It’s been a long time and an awful lot of money has been spent and an awful lot of animosity between neighbors has developed,” he said. “A man spending that kind of time and money in my Town is someone I would want to have live here. He’s got a family and isn’t building eight units. He’s building one unit for his family. That’s the kind of development that needs to happen here…This is the longest review of project in my Town that is less than five units that I’ve ever seen.”
Cunha said now that the variances have been granted, the project can move to a design review and engineers can look at it – where before that couldn’t happen. He said he believes any remaining kinks can be worked out within that process.
The Skiadas 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. 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.
It all resulted in a very long and drawn out fight between the neighborhood.
A ruling against the Skiadas family in Suffolk Superior Court forced them to have to redesign the project, come back to the community and hope that the ZBA would approve the variances that allowed another path to building.
That indeed did happen on Monday.