By William Tauro
A wolf in sheep’s clothing is an idiom of Biblical origin used to describe those playing a role contrary to their real character with whom contact is dangerous, particularly false teachers.
The confusion has arisen from the similarity of the theme with fables of Aesop concerning wolves that are mistakenly trusted by shepherds; the moral drawn from these is that one’s basic nature eventually shows through the disguise.
So please read this letter below by Dr. Mouhab Z. Rizkallah and try to really comprehend the importance of this and the major blindsiding that is taking place here in Somerville concerning your properties that are over a certain age that may become unknowingly deemed HISTORICAL” forever by our Board of Aldermen.
FROM THE DESK OF
Dr. Mouhab Z. Rizkallah
March 11, 2018
RE: A Disguised Ordinance: A Disservice to Somerville.
Dear Board of Alderman,
I am writing this letter to publicize the greatest change that is about to occur in Somerville’s property rights arena…..and it is not the Zoning Overhaul!
Unfortunately, flying under the radar is a change to the “Demolition Review Ordinance.”
While many may think this change has to do with demolition, they would be wrong. This has to do with construction, which should be reserved for a zoning ordinance.
While the Zoning Ordinance changes should be the only changes that control access to a building permit……the “Demolition Review Ordinance” is about to become a “lock and key” that stops access to our new Zoning Ordinance…..and most people focused on the Zoning Overhaul have not even heard of it, and certainly do not know it’s impacts. This is not right.
Shockingly, no one knows that the changes to the Demolition Review Ordinance includes that it:
1. Is going to make every home in Somerville effectively “Historic until deemed otherwise.”
2. Is actually going to convert the “Demolition Permit” ordinance (meaning a property-owner filed for a permit to completely demolish a building) into a “Building Permit” access ordinance (meaning someone simply filed for even a by-right building permit), by quietly changing the definition of demolition to include a construction permit that alters more than 25% of the surface of the house (that would even include the flat roof of a triple decker).
3. Is disguised as a Demolition Ordinance assumed to be controlling demolition only, but mostly would control Construction Permits that involve little to no demolition. It is deceptive.
4. Will effectively create a city wide historic district (thereby controlling every building over 75 years old, which is basically the whole city).
5. Tolls the 75-year historic designation so that a building that is 74 years old today, will “automatically be historically protected” next year, without informing the owner, as required by state law. This will consume even the few properties that don’t already fall into the 75-year historic demarcation until all of Somerville is under historic protection.
6. Will allow a 24 month delay to get even a by-right building permit (that should take only 30 days to get by state law) if more than 25% of the building surface changes over the course of 5 years…..even if it is by-right according to the zoning ordinance.
7. Will allow a 24 month delay to get a special permit or variance.
8. Will steal the zoning rights of property owners for 24 months, unless the owner negotiates with City Officials (who have the “upper hand” in the negotiations by holding the property hostage for 24 months). They will say, “if you do what we want you to do, we can release you from your delay.”
9. Will put the power of property changes in the hands of an opinionated Historic officer, that is not subject to the rigid State Laws that protect property rights (MGL 40A), instead of leaving the power with the zoning ordinance and/or the zoning board, which are the rightful controllers.
10. Is attempting to control property areas not “visible from a public way” at all, in violation of the State’s Historic standard that Historic Designation can only control areas visible from a public way (MGL 40C).
11. Is disguising itself as a Historic ordinance, but is actually an attempt by City Officials (including certain alderman, who are frustrated that they often cannot get their way with the zoning board) to gain control of projects (by the 24-month delay), forcing financially bleeding property owners to negotiate with Alderman who have the “upper hand” in the negotiation.
12. Creates a pathway for City Official Corruption, where the official can hold even a by-right project (on a non-historic property) hostage for 24 months, unless the property owner negotiates to change the by-right project to appease the official.
In Summary, I request the following of the Board of Alderman:
1. We should leave the control of “Building Permits” to the ZONING ordinance, and not try to seize control of property owners rights through deceitful ordinances.
2. We should leave property control to our Zoning Board (a historically wise board, that must respect state laws), instead of a Historic Officer (who has no requirement other than his/ her subjective opinion, and can therefore be pressured by even well-meaning City Officials).
3. The “Demolition” Review Ordinance should be renamed to “The Building Permit” Review Ordinance, since it is currently deceptive.
4. Every single home owner should be informed (as required in MGL 40A) that their home will be deemed “Historic, until determined otherwise.”
5. Every Ward should have a neighborhood meeting on this proposed ordinance, to get feedback from each homeowner on their desire to have their property deemed historic.
6. The Historic Commission should specifically identify properties that have historic value (we need to protect those truly historic properties fervently), instead of being lazy and saying that “everything is historic, until deemed otherwise.” That approach is irresponsible and disrespectful of property owners rights and time.
I do hope that you understand that my letter is entirely relevant to the Zoning Ordinance Overhaul, because property owners will not have access to their Zoning Rights by adopting the disguised Demolition Review Ordinance, which becomes the “lock and key” of the zoning ordinance.
Dr. Mouhab Z. Rizkallah