A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:Don’t Be Fooled and Let Somerville Properties Fall Under New Disguised Demolition Review Ordinance aka Historic Ordinance Overhaul

By William Tauro

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.


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

9 thoughts on “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing:Don’t Be Fooled and Let Somerville Properties Fall Under New Disguised Demolition Review Ordinance aka Historic Ordinance Overhaul”

  1. How did I not know about this? Looking at the text on the city site & looks like it basically makes you have to wait 2 years if you want to knock down a house (or a big chunk of it), which would mostly only be something that affects these scumbag tear-down developers who swoop in, rip down a house, and squeeze something nasty into a nice neighborhood, since 2 years means a lot more to them than me. I don’t see anything about calling my house historic – just says historic committee gets to make the call on whether your house matters enough.

    I honestly don’t know what the good Dr. is griping about – suspect he owns property around town and thinks this will get in the way of his screwing neighborhoods to make a buck. I guess if I wanted to knock down a big chunk of my house I might be bummed to wait 2 years if they don’t think I should, but eventually I win. In the meantime it’ll slow down these ugly POS teardowns you see all over. Think about it.

  2. Whether the Doctors information is accurate or not I believe the BOA, Mayor and staff need to provide factual clarification to the residents and most importantly the homeowners of Somerville.

    1. You’re correct, zoning should be done by ordinance which is the correct tool. An explanation in writing from the city board of alderman is required, and home owners are entitled to receive this. It’s important to get it in written format and not to accept it verbally. It should then be reviewed by an attorney who is not working for or affiliated with the city of Somerville.

  3. The idea of implementing the Transfer Tax came up at a meeting about 5 years ago where residents strongly suggested the BUYER pay the full amount of the transfer tax.

    There was an immediate negative reaction by some of the realtors close to the administration who pushed back and complained about losing thousands on commissions if the transfer tax was enforced.

    The theory behind it was to help to slow down gentrification.

    Out of town speculators were buying and flipping every 6 months to 1-2 years, pulling hundreds of thousands out of equity to use as down payments for homes in Lexington and other surrounding suburbs.

    A resident attending a meeting in Ward 7, over PHCS, learned this at a daycare center in Somerville while picking up her child. Another mother, so overjoyed with her news — couldn’t resist sharing with all of the parents.

    She said, “My husband and I just sold our house in Somerville for $300k more than we paid and buying a house in Lexington where we want to raise our kids and prefer the school system. “SEE YOU IN 3 YEARS!”

    It’s obvious now looking back, they created a hot bed feeding ground for speculators without protecting local homeowners.

    There were definitely measures they could have taken to slow it down and hault this out right thievery so don’t believe this is about progress – it’s not.

    It’s about people with powerful friends who are unconscionable and so loathsome, they actually believe what they are doing to homeowners is their right, and that it’s all in the name of progress.

    Well, progress by definition does not equate to handing over property to those who refuse to work for it— just because someone earns a degree, which is not actually that difficult by the way— (especially when you have been put in a classroom since diapers) and has a trust fund and rich parents—- it does not give them the right to take someone’s property.

    It’s about stripping the rights of homeowners and obviously in such desperation I’m worried there is much more going on here than we are being told.

    It feels like a hostile invasion and one that must be stopped in its tracks if we have any hope of seeing whatever is left, saved.

  4. There are 3 proposed changes in the city. We have the transfer tax, the right of first refusal, and the zoning change proposals.

    How many new city jobs will these create and how will those positions be funded?

    On the zoning change idea if the city is tying up things for months there should be NO property taxes charged to the owner. That might make things go a tad faster.

    I see that all of the proposals are for more spending. I do not see any comments about the city reducing spending. The water / sewer bill hike was slid in there a few mos ago. Does anyone know of a link to see how solvent the city really is? And that would include the generous retirement packages for former city employees.

    1. They do not study spending reductions in politics school. Only spending more. And much of it we do not need or want. And if they had real employment they would be out on the streets looking fro a job.

  5. This letter is from a developer who has repeatedly bought buildings, skated by existing codes, and evicted decades-long tenants. I wouldn’t trust one word he says.

  6. Wheres does housing stability director stand on the downzoning, the voluntary forefeiture of thousands of rental units that could be added to rental housing stock. Ellen Shachter – why doesn’t the city incentivize 2 family owners in RB zoning to add/build on a rental unit. Is there not a housing crisis? There are 4266 homes in RB zones (up to 3 units currently) that have 2 units, 1 units, or 0. 58% of 6282 RB lots have potential to create housing. Numbers are taken from the RB/RA Report. See page 45. https://www.jefftk.com/ra-rb-report-final-web.pdf
    Ready-to-build units are right here, right now. The City should offer owners no cost loans to create more units to satisify the ever growing demand. To build on existing homes, there is no ‘acquisition’ cost, creating more affordable units. There is no rationale for downzoning these rental units out of existance. Building additional living area would provide income to the city – in the form of building permits, higher assessments and permanent tax revenue. The BOA is saying they will allow, by special permit, a 3rd unit – very misleading. The restrictions are: no 3rd level, and limited to the same footprint – which equates to dividing up current space that is already existing. This is counter productive and creates no additional living area. Owners in RB with 2 families have never been notified. The City is damaging property values of these properties across the City and hurting property owners and renters alike. NYC UPzoned as a means of addressing the housing crisis.

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