A 90-day demolition delay was imposed on the building at 8 Lawrence St. at the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) hearing on June 22, where many community members spoke out in favor of preserving the building.
Two alternatives that preserved the building were presented, as well as the proposal for the demolition of the existing building and the construction of a new one as a single-family home.
Step one in any demolition delay hearing is to determine whether or not the community meeting process was adequate. BLC Staff Architect Yolanda Romero said that the applicant had submitted the proper documentation from the community meeting that was held on June 9.
Step two is determining whether the building in question is historically significant and potentially imposing the demolition delay.
Romero explained some of the known historical information about the building, including that eight children were raised in the home by James Fosdick, a chair maker, and his wife, Sophia Goodell.
As previously reported by the Patriot-Bridge, the Charlestown Preservation Society has records showing that the home was built in either 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.”
Attorney Patrick Sweeney and architect Eric Zachrison then went through photos and descriptions of the existing building and its significance and condition.
Zachrison said that there is what “we believe to be an addition on the original structure” that features the same siding and similar windows to the original building. He said that much of the rear is “probably very consistent with what was originally there,” adding that the window above the addition is likely not the original shape. There is also a dormer on the top of the building as well as a sliding door on the first floor.
Sweeney then referenced a document from the Charlestown Preservation Society that refers to changes to the building, including a 1957 building permit that he thinks says, “removal of one and one half story, brick ell no basement, no fill required.”
Owner Nestor Limas of 8 Lawrence Street LLC explained that there are also several issues with the structure of the home, including that the framing is not up to code and the foundation has “bowing walls and evidence of moisture.”
He said that one of the structural engineers who examined the building recommended that it be razed.
Amanda Zettel, President of the Charlestown Preservation Society, said that the summary discussed earlier by Sweeney was “from over a year ago,” and stated that things like wood and mortar are replaceable and deposits on brick are removable.
Charlestown resident and abutter Ron Kulich said that “this process has been torturous,” adding that “I do think we should indeed hold whatever developer…to their word that they should follow through with the appropriate work.” He said at the previous community meeting regarding this building, there were “multiple historians” and “two engineers” that had “suggested this building certainly can be saved.”
Other residents spoke out expressing their dissatisfaction with the proposal to demolish the building as well as lack of community input and proper notice.
Commissioners also made comments about the significance and condition of the building.
BLC Chair Lynn Smiledge said that the comments made by the structural engineer that “the building has exceeded its life expectancy” are “quite concerning. I think buildings can last indefinitely if they’re maintained.”
Commissioner John Amodeo said he feels as though there is enough significance to impose the demolition delay.
The BLC voted to impose the demolition delay for 90 days until September 22.
The next portion of the hearing involved the presentation of alternatives to demolition, where Zachrison presented two different options. The first one includes an addition behind the existing house and the removal of the ell. He also said the front facade would be restored and replaced “in such a way that has a more typical feel.” The front windows would be replaced on the first floor to be a better match to the second floor windows.
He explained the addition in the rear would be three stories, and would be metal clad and would not include many windows.
Option two includes retaining the “horizontal scale” and replacing the siding, as well as including new windows “similar to what you’d see on the front of the building” in the rear. He said it also includes an “optimistic plan to try and activate part of the basement. In this scenario, we would really try to dig out the front of the basement and the new addition portion of the basement enough to make a family room.”
Smiledge said, “I trust that your preference is not for one of these alternatives,” to which the team agreed, saying that their goal is to preserve portions of the existing building in a brand new one. Zachrison said that the existing “building is configured kind of awkwardly on the site,” and does not allow for things like the addition of “ground level parking and having a more open flow” within.
Zachrison then talked about the proposal for the brand new building, which he said would be a “three story, flat roof building” that would be “pretty heavily detailed at the top and the windows.” It would also feature a door on the left and a garage door on the eight with large windows above it.
There would be a deck in the rear, and cement fiber panels would be used.
Several public comments were made that reiterated the community’s thoughts that the existing building should remain as it is a historically significant building in the neighborhood.
Stephen Spinetto, a past president of the Charlestown Preservation Society, said that in his nearly 50 years as a Charlestown resident, he has “seen a lot of development here” and has “organized the preservation of some buildings that were in way worse shape than that house.”
He said that “It’s obviously doable…” and called the first alternative to demolition “totally unacceptable.” He said the other two proposals “have some merit,” but he said there were also specific details for those that he would like to see worked out better.
He called for a historical district commission for Charlestown, and said “we’re losing our neighborhood one building at a time, at a pretty fast pace.”
Commissioner John Freeman said “I think the bar here is very low,” adding that he feels the “building absolutely deserves the 90-day delay.”
Other commissioners agreed with him, and they voted to keep the delay in place after hearing the alternatives.
Smiledge said she “really strongly” encourages the developer to keep the lines of communication open with the residents, adding that she believes alternative number two is the best option of the ones presented.
“The proposed project is just so wrong in so many ways,” she said, and said that “ongoing conversation” with the neighborhood is imperative in this case.
“We are pleased that BLC recognized the significance and the value of the historic building to the neighborhood and that the neighborhood would be negatively affected by the loss of 8 Lawrence Street,” Zettel told the Patriot-Bridge via email following the hearing. “However, after the 90 day demolition delay, the BLC does not have the ability to block demolition. The same applies to nearly every historic building in Charlestown. We do have options, and we need to determine as a neighborhood whether our historic buildings should be protected from demolition.”
Abutter Ron Kulich wrote, “sadly, Charlestown has a history where developers have had full control of the process, and demolished buildings with little regard for the town’s history and culture. This may be a first opportunity to stem the tide and finally provide Landmark status to some of the most precious structures we still have. We have extraordinary community support, and look forward equally strong support from our elected officials.”