Developer Seeks to Demolish Historic Home, Abutters Ready to Fight It

A developer looking to tear down an historic home at 8 Lawrence St. and build a new single-family building on the property is headed for what looks to be a long-term clash with neighbors and abutters after a public information meeting on the plan last Thursday.

George Sarkis appeared at the Article 85 Demolition information meeting with his attorney, Patrick Mahoney of Charlestown, to go over their plan briefly and to explain the alternatives to demolishing the home – which has been significantly renovated but the bones of the structure date back to 1813 and the Fosdick family.

From the outset, Mahoney made it clear that the meeting was about checking all the boxes that were required for a demolition hearing, and that Sarkis – a high profile realtor with Douglas Elliman – intends to demo the home so that he and his family can live in it. He said there is no profit deal going on, and the Sarkis’s simply want to live in a modern home that takes advantage of the large site.

The project is by right and requires no variances or special permits.

“His building is only a little smaller than (that of abutters),” said Mahoney. “Although Boston and Charlestown are intentionally down-zoned, this project is meant to comply. I’m a developer and a zoning attorney and I can’t see a profit here. This is meant specifically for George Sarkis and his family.”

But neighbors are clashing with that plan, and some in the Town have privately said they have doubts that Sarkis will eventually live there. Abutters have hired Charlestown Attorney Scott Holmes, and at the online meeting last Thursday, he said to be ready for a fight.

“I don’t think anyone thinks your client should not be able to live there and I don’t think anyone thinks your client should not buy what he wants to, but to build a building that defies the context of that neighborhood is not appropriate and is going to be opposed,” said Holmes, on behalf of abutter Ron Cooledge. “You can go to the Boston Landmarks Commission and wait for the 90 days to collapse, but it’s not going to end there and I want you to know that. It’s not some idle threat. You may think you can go ahead and do whatever you want to do, but the neighborhood is going to challenge anything that will change the context and simplicity of what’s there now. We ask you go back and figure out how to make it fit in the neighborhood.”

Both Cooledge and neighbor Kent Edwards also chimed in and said they were worried about losing an historic home in one of the oldest settled areas on Charlestown – which contains a cluster of only a few of the original homes built shortly after the dawn of the United States.

Sarkis’s development team showed alternatives they explored, including keeping the historic double, book-end chimneys that are original, and surrounding it with a new building. That apparently wasn’t structurally feasible and would have incurred too much expense and effort to preserve them while building around them. Meanwhile, another alternative shown explored leaving the home in the front and constructing a new extension on the back – which would require a zoning variance.

Neither was deemed plausible by Sarkis, so the plan to build a three-story new building after tearing down the old building was settled upon. The developers have revealed very little about the new building plan, and kept much of it close to the vest in the meeting as well. A small drawing of the building showed a garage at the ground floor (requiring a new curb cut) and a front door flanking it. Bedroom and living space on the top two floors included balconies facing the street. The idea, it was stated, was to create something that appeared historic, but was modern and new inside.

Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) President Amanda Zettel said the home is very old and quite historic and they do not support a demolition of the property. For the CPS, the proposal brings back memories of about five years ago when several historic homes were slated to be demolished and rebuilt with modern buildings – the worst offender being on Oak Street, she said.

“Demolition is a bad deal for many reasons in Charlestown,” she said. “It’s not the best environmental option and we have few of these old houses left that were built so long ago and contribute to the quality, character and appeal of the neighborhood. It is as old as the Monumental House on Union Street. Right now is our only chance to say the building is important and that we want to keep as much of the original building as possible.”

She also said the late Bill Lamb had worked on this issue on Lawrence Street and was adamant that it not be demolished.

She said previous plans that were shared with the CPS Design Review Committee included a curb cut on Lawrence Street – taking away parking – and a building that would go up 35 feet and be built nearly from lot line to lot line.

“We need to keep a diversity of building types in the neighborhood,” she said. “If all these kinds of homes go away in exchange for mini-mansions, we lose that mid-tier historic home like this.”

Records from the CPS indicate that 8 Lawrence St. was built in 1813 or 1814 and is among the earliest homes built in that area after the burning of the Town in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

  James Fosdick (1789-1854) built 8 Lawrence Street. James Fosdick was a chair-maker. His parents were David Fosdick (1757-1812) and Mary Frothingham (1758-1848). Mary was the daughter of James Frothingham (1735-1820), who was deacon of the First Church in Charlestown on Town Hill. Her brother, James Frothingham Jr. (1763-1848) married Sally Fosdick. In 1811 James Fosdick married Sophia Goodell. As was customary, CPS believes he built his home to house his family shortly after his marriage. His first daughter was born in 1812 and first son in 1813 and ultimately another six children. His wife Sophia died in 1833 and James Fosdick kept the house until 1845 when his eighth child, a daughter, became 23-years of age. James Fosdick is laid to rest in a vault at the historic Phipps Street Burying Ground in Charlestown, where Lawrence Street ends at Phipps Street.

Mayoral Liaison Quinlan Locke said the meeting was just the start of a process, and that there would be a Boston Landmarks Commission meeting on the matter in the near future. That meeting hasn’t been scheduled yet.

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