ZBA Subcommittee Looks at 8 Lawrence Street Roof Deck

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

During a Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) subcommittee hearing last week, the board reviewed and subsequently tabled a vote on a proposal requesting to add a roof deck to a building at 8 Lawrence Street.

Per past Patriot-Bridge reports and conversations with residents, a large contingent of residents and the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) previously voiced displeasure with and fought against a project at 8 Lawrence Street, which included demolishing the previous building at the property — built in the 1800s — which has since gone forward and is under construction.

In 2020, Realtor George Sarkis proposed demolishing the historic building — amongst staunch criticism from residents — which, according to documents on the CPS’ website, is believed to have been built in the early 1800s.

According to Amanda Zettel, the President of CPS, the property was eventually sold to the current owner, Nestor Limas, who went forward with the proposal.

In June 2021, the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) imposed a 90-day demolition delay at the property after a hearing in which Limas and his team presented a proposal to completely demolish the building to erect a single-family home along with two alternatives that would have preserved the building.

Later that year, residents and CPS worked to designate 30 Union and 8 Lawrence Streets as an Architectural Conservation District to protect the building from demolition. The BLC unanimously accepted further study of creating the district.

However, unfortunately for residents and CPS, the BLC “released the demolition process” in May 2022 due to the “already lengthy delay of the designation process” and the inability to “forecast when the time frame to complete the landmark designation process would occur,” per a past report from the Patriot-Bridge, and the building was eventually taken down.

Fast forward to last week, and some residents are looking to continue the fight against a new proposal that would add a roof deck to the building.

Limas presented the project during the hearing and asserted that there are “17 decks in the immediate vicinity of the property location.” He also reviewed the project’s zoning refusal letter, which cited violations, including floor area ratio, building height, and roof structure restrictions.

Speaking about the height, Limas said, “We have two feet above the roof line; that’s allowable, so we’re asking for a 0.7 roof height variance.” He also reviewed some math regarding the floor area ratio and said, “I’m not sure how we don’t comply.”

Initially, there was only one question from the board, where Hansy Better Barraza asked clarifying questions regarding the height variance requested for the implementation of the roof deck.

Following Barraza’s questions, Sean Breen from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services reviewed the community engagement associated with the project. Breen indicated an abutters meeting was held in December that was “well attended” and that the office received no letters in support but two in opposition.

“Abutters have reached out with concerns with what they said was a lack of consideration for neighbor’s safety and property with ongoing work, preserving the historical nature of the area, privacy and worry over the building being eventually converted into condos,” said Breen.

Breen’s comment regarding concern about condominium conversion prompted confusion from the board’s Chair, Sherry Dong, who asked what the building was now, to which Breen concluded that it was currently being built.

Limas further explained that the building is a single-family home, “BPDA (Boston Planning and Development Agency) approved and ISD (Inspectional Services Department) approved stamped for a single-family home. So it would require another BOA (Board of Appeal), ZBA to convert that single-family into condominiums.”

“It is zoned for a 3F, but that’s not what it’s currently approved for,” he added.

Dong also asked about the whereabouts of roof decks in the area, and Limas claimed there were decks in the areas of Union and Austin Streets.

Initially, it looked like the proposal would be approved as Barraza made a motion, which was seconded to approve it with the proviso of BPDA design review.

However, a vote was put on hold because individuals looking to provide public testimony were inadvertently passed over and then given a chance to speak after Barraza’s motion was made.

Marianne Gibbons, an abutter to the project, voiced her opposition to the proposal, saying that the building already has one roof deck and other outdoor space.

“It’s already a very massive structure in a small space, and this would significantly increase the density. It would be visible from three streets and also cast further shadows incasing my yard and house,” said Gibbons.

She also pointed to “contentious relationships” with the builder and neighbors, previous pushback with the demolition of the old building, and frustration with the materials used for the current building.

Ron Kulich, also an abutter, provided public testimony and echoed opposition. “This is a second roof deck, so it’s disingenuous to suggest the number of roof decks in the area. There are no roof decks on Lawrence Street,” said Kulich.

Kulich also spoke to the concern of condominium conversion, saying, “His construction supervisor has spoke to — not to me — but to other neighbors suggesting that’s his next step, perhaps a rationale for building this deck.”

“We really strongly oppose this. It’s an offense to the neighborhood, and unfortunately, this developer has offended the community since the initial teardown,” he later added.

Limas was then given an opportunity to respond. First, he responded to a question from both Dong and Barraza regarding the claim that there would be more than one deck.

Limas indicated that a deck on the second floor was approved by the BPDA and ISD. He also responded directly to the comments from Gibbons and Kulich.

“There was a lawsuit presented because the Landmarks Commission due to some filings of a subcommittee by Mr. Kulich and his wife Marianne were done inappropriately. When we filed the lawsuit, we prevailed, and then it was adjudicated by the Director of Landmarks,” said Limas.

Further, Limas point-blank refuted the conversion concerns, saying, “I’m not converting this to units. That would be another process that would go forward.”

He also commented on the safety concerns about ongoing work, saying, “I will share with you that ISD, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), the police department; everyone’s been called and consistently OSHA, ISD, and the police department have said continue with the work,” and refuted concerns about shadows and the visibility of the roof deck. Ultimately, Barraza withdrew her motion and made a new one to defer the proposal to the full board in order to receive more context and public comment, which was unanimously approved.

The next ZBA hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, February 27th, according to the ZBA webpage on the city’s website.

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