Dear Billy T and Somerville Speakup Line,
Please share this email to Ward 5 City Councilor Mark Niedergang regarding Demolition Delay/Historic Ordinance
Dear Mark (With great attention to Alderman Ballantyne, Rossetti, and Scott – Who ask great and careful questions on this topic),
Thank you for sending the Flowchart showing the timeline delay of the Demo Review ordinance (for NON-Historic buildings)
My attachment shows three corrections (RED TEXT):
I. The timeline is actually longer than the flowchart indicates.
II. The flowchart does not account for a third scenario (Building work commences and over 50% alteration is hit during construction)
III. There is no flowchart reference to a Special Permit Process when the permit also triggers the Demo Review Ordinance (how do the processes inter-relate?)
I. TIMELINE: MUST ADD TIME DELAYS
A. The Building permit review (30 day requirement)
B. Neighborhood Meeting Delays (Developers are often forced to “forfeit” the time limit requirement so that neighbors have “ample” opportunity to discuss the matter). And the neighbors love to harm the developer with this technique (unknown delay period – 15 to 60 days perhaps – I have personally had it last for years before).
So actually, the timeline you are proposing is:
1. Waiver of Determination (120 Days – if no neighborhood meeting delays) – 4 months Minimum from application.
2. No Waiver of Determination (210 Days – if no neighborhood meeting delays) – 7 months Minimum from application.
II. NEW TRIGGER SCENARIO : MUST BE CONSIDERED
What happens when the building work “grows during construction” due to discovered structural weaknesses? (See my flowchart changes in RED TEXT)
This is precisely what happened at 21 Cherry Street, which was dishonestly presented to the Board of Alderman last Demo Review Meeting as an example of a developer “intentionally” extending their work beyond initial plans – NOT TRUE!.
At that meeting, Alderman Ballantyne wisely asked how often a “construction” project is actually a well-concealed “demolition project”….to avoid the 100% demolition oversight. The answer given by Sarah White (whom I genuinely love) was about 5% of the time, and she then proceeded to show pictures to the Board of 21 Cherry Street as an example. I’m sure it looked like that building was significantly dismantled…..and it was!
But what was left out was the fact that the builder had two options: Either replace the weakened second floor walls (IDENTICAL to Old walls) before adding the third story, or keep the weak walls and try to “improve them.” The builder felt it would be a safer, and more durable structure if the warped 2×4 was changed to 2×6 (which would also allow better insulation space and meet the Energy Efficiency Stretch Code).
So if 21 Cherry Street IS THE 5% PROBLEM that causes us to want a City Wide “50% of structure” demolition review ordinance, then we really need to recognize that all this ordinance will do is persuade the builder to simply “improve” the structural problems instead of “eliminating” them. Is that what we want in Somerville?
Or do we want well-built, durable, energy efficient homes?
III. SPECIAL PERMIT (ZONING) PROCESS MISSING
I have always felt that the control of building permits is at the Zoning Board (21 Cherry Street was approved by the Zoning Board and is being built to approved plans).
Where the Special Permit is filed, can the Zoning Board even hear the matter and meet the State law statutory timelines if a Demo Review with a 50% Partial Demo trigger has not been determined?
What if the 24 month delay is invoked by the opinionated Historic officer (on a non-historic building I might add)….then what?
The Historic officer has more power than the Zoning Board?
I do hope the BOA will discuss these three oversights tonight.
Mouhab Z. Rizkallah