Thursday, July 17, 2008

Landmarks Commission to Hold Hearing on Demolition by BC of Foster Street Houses

The Boston Landmarks Commission will be holding a hearing on Tuesday, July 22nd regarding a request by Boston College to demolish three houses at 188, 192, and 196 Foster Street.

Thomas Keady, Jr., BC's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, told the now-defunct BostonNOW newspaper last year, "Those three houses will be coming down."

The three houses are located on the corner of the five-acre lot bought by BC from the Archdiocese of Boston. (One house and its comparatively small lot was purchased from a private seller in 2006.) BC has proposed to demolish all three to make way for a 75-bed Jesuit seminarian and theology graduate student housing complex as part of the re-affiliation of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology with BC. The three buildings date to the time period 1870 - 1885.

BC submitted their demolition request to the city, and the BLC will hold this hearing in order to determine whether or not to invoke a 90-day demolition delay under the Article 85 process.

Alternatives to Demolition

Despite arguments presented at this blog as to how BC could incorporate these three houses into their new construction, rather than demolish them, BC has shown no inclination to consider the alternatives. No assessment of the feasibility of renovation or preservation of the buildings was presented in their revised IMP. (By comparison, last year the university extensively renovated three houses bought recently on Wade Street.)

Harvard University, on the other hand, followed such an alternative path 25 years ago with their University Place development -- preserving two houses by incorporating them into their new development to positive reviews from the community.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission in January called for BC to explore alternatives to demolition:
Rehabilitation alternatives should include additions to the existing houses and/or compatible, adjacent new construction. Feasible alternatives that would preserve and protect the historic properties should be adopted and implemented.
The houses "display elements of Victorian eclectic style and are fine examples of this period and type of construction," according to the MHC letter. All three houses are identified in the appendix of BC's IMPNF as listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In their revised institutional master plan, BC has disputed the architectural significance of the three houses (DPIR 11-5 to 11-6), disagreeing with the MHC's letter:
This opinion is not substantiated with an explanation as to how these buildings are representative of any style or construction, not does it address subsequent changes to 192 and 196 Foster Street which seriously detract from their integrity.
The MHC and BC dispute whether or not the three houses lie within the "Upper Foster Street Area," which is part of the MHC's Inventory of Historic and Archeological Assets and is an area that the MHC said "meets the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places," or the "Foster Street Area," an area that the MHC has not commented on regarding its eligibility for the register.

The Foster Street houses were built by Horace W. Baxter on the southern end of his Baxter Estate, according to an email provided by Brighton historian Bill Marchione. The property traces its prior lineage back to Reverend John Foster, "Brighton’s first resident minister (and namesake of the street), and his wife Hannah Webster Foster, the first native born American female novelist," according to Marchione. Mrs. Charles Eldredge (aka "Fanny Fern") -- "the most popular female writer/ journalist of her day" and author of the novel Ruth Hall -- also lived on the estate.

The Foster Rock is located on the opposite end of the five-acre site from the houses. BC's proposed development would not modify the granite outcropping.

How Can the Public Comment?

The BLC hearing will be at City Hall on Tuesday, July 22nd at 6:25 pm in Room 900.

Verbal public comments will be allowed at the meeting, and written public comments are accepted in advance of the meeting. Written public comments are only accepted by mail. In order for the public comments to be considered at Tuesday's meetings, they must be received before 3:00 pm on 7/22:
Gary L. Russell, Staff Architect
Boston Landmarks Commission
City Hall, Room 805
Boston, MA 02201
In documents provided by Russell, he notes that consideration of demolition delay by the BLC involves assessing whether or not the building is "preferably preserved" based on:
  • the building's historic, architectural, and urban design significance;
  • whether the building is one of the last remaining examples of its kind in the neighborhood, the City, or the region; and
  • the building's condition.
If the BLC votes for a 90-day demolition delay, then they subsequently discuss if there are feasible alternatives to demolition based on:
  • the outcome of the community meeting held prior to the hearing.
  • the cost of stabilizing, repairing, rehabilitating, or re-using the building;
  • any definite plans for the re-use of the property if the proposed demolition is carried out, and the effects such plans would have on the architectural, social, aesthetic, historic, and urban design character of the surrounding area, as well as on the economy of the area of the City as a whole;
  • any conditions the Applicant proposes to accept for the redevelopment of the site that would mitigate the loss of the building;
  • the availability of other sites for the Applicant's intended purpose or use.
In evaluating alternatives to demolition, the BLC may consider such possibilities as the incorporation of the building into the future development of the site.

BLC Hearing on Proposed Development at 332 Chestnut Hill Avenue

Also on the agenda for the July 22nd meeting is a design review meeting regarding the proposed demolition of the gas station at 332 Chestnut Hill Avenue and construction of a five-story residential building with retail on the first floor. The design review application will be considered at 3:30-4:00 pm, and then discussed by the BLC and voted on at 5:30 pm.

Note that the July 22nd meeting of the BC Task Force was postponed to July 29th in order to allow people to attend the BLC hearing.

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