Somerville Speakup Line: Demolition Review Ordinance – A Wolf in Sheeps Clothing

Dear Billy T and Somerville Speakup Line,

Please share my letter to the Somerville Board of Aldermen regarding their proposed Demolition Review Ordinance aka “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”

Dear Board of Alderman (cc The Somerville News and Zone Smart Somerville),

Thank you in advance for your time and attention.

My name is Dr. Mouhab Z. Rizkallah, and I read excerpts of my attached letter to you at the Zoning Overhaul Public Hearing.

My letter was published on the front page of the Somerville News Weekly that same day…..headlined as “A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing.”

In my letter & at the hearing, I specifically requested that you EACH have a neighborhood meeting to discuss the content of my attached letter.

My request at this time is that you identify your agreement to organize this meeting (in your advertisement of the meeting, please include my letter, so that people are not tricked into believing the ordinance is about demolition, since it is mostly not)

Please each respond with your willingness to have this neighborhood meeting, and please identify a date of your neighborhood meeting…..I will personally attend each ward meeting to make sure that everyone understands the magnitude of the impact of this proposed Demolition Review Ordinance… is more powerful that the entire zoning overhaul!

Please respond to all with a date of your specific ward meeting.

The Somerville News will publish this email and  your responses (or lack of responses)on April 24th, so please provide a date before that.

I look forward to your responses to this very significant matter…..for the protection of Somerville.


Mouhab Z. Rizkallah


Letter response to Ward 5 Alderman Mark Niedergang:

Mark (cc The Somerville News Weekly),

Hmmm…..your response is suspicious.

What you are essentially saying is that you have been made aware that this is a deceptive ordinance, and you think previous public meetings (which only two people attended by the way), is ok?

But clearly people did not know what this ordinance really is…… because it is deceptively misnamed in advertisements.  

It is actually the largest power grab in the history of this City……and you think only two people showing up is logical?

“FOR THE RECORD” QUESTION:  Are you saying this misrepresentation is ok to you?

You should reply:  “Absolutely not… is not ok to do that.  A public official is obligated to make sure the public is properly informed!”

We all look forward to your careful “for the record” answer to this question Alderman Niedergang.


Mouhab Z. Rizkallah


My original letter from March 11, 2018:

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

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