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Boston Architectural Photos

  • 28 Roslin Street
    Photos of Boston buildings and neighborhoods. Click any photo to enlarge.

First Parish Church in Dorchester Steeple Removal

  • Airborne1
    Photos of the removal of the steeple lantern at First Parish Church in Dorchester, 24 November 2006

Required Reading


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There's a story in the Globe's City Weekly today about the same sort of issue cropping up in Jamaica Plain - the BRA now wants design oversight even on buildings that would otherwise be allowed by right (but with no enforcement powers except to suggest to ISD that it not grant a building permit, which, I dunno, seems like a recipe for a whole lot of lawsuits).

Philip J. Carver

City's preservation policies should go further
I enjoyed reading the recent posts pertaining to neighborhood development. In response to the cries of community activists eager to preserve the architectural integrity of their community the City of Boston is launching an initiative to identify preservable properties as well as strengthening Article 85 of the City's zoning code The retooling of this article may prove to be the lynchpin of Mayor Menino's ongoing housing plan. In 2004, Mayor Menino announced an ambitious four-year plan that would, among other things, ultimately add 10,000 new units of housing in the city. A midterm grade of A+ should be awarded to the City, as they recently announced that at the halfway point of the plan they have already permitted 5,420 new units of housing. This already puts the city more than 400 units ahead of schedule, and further strengthens the Mayor's title of "Urban Mechanic."
However, like the old saying goes, "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction." While the creation of new housing is a worthy goal, the city must be diligent in its efforts to guarantee that all new housing units are built with smart growth in mind. Neighborhood density and symmetry as well as a community's character and other various infrastructure concerns must not be compromised by unimpeded development. Currently Boston's historic preservation initiatives fail to integrate preservation issues with broader zoning decisions. Preservation, zoning, planning and growth management must be viewed cohesively. While the city's attempts to satiate the overwhelming demand for housing are admirable, they must be equally diligent in their efforts to simultaneously protect the many cultural, educational, aesthetic and environmental amenities that make our neighborhoods and our city so desirable in the first place.
The fortification of Article 85 in conjunction with the historic property survey is a great start; however it is just a start. For those of you may be unfamiliar with the city's zoning code, Article 85 of the code regulates the demolition of existing properties. All demolition proposals in the city require a permit and the demolition application triggers an automatic review by the City of Boston Landmarks Commission. The commission has 10 days from the date of the application to decide whether a demolition permit will be issued or a hearing will be required.. If a public hearing is required, it would occur within thirty days offering people the chance to argue for and against demolition of the property in question after which a determination would be made regarding demolition. If the Landmarks Commission determines that the property is "significant" the Commissioner of Inspectional Services is notified not to issue a demolition permit until ninety (90) days have elapsed. It is this point in the process where the interpretation of Article 85 becomes problematic. After the demolition delay has been enacted the developers are supposed to seek alternatives to demolition such as adaptive re-use, rehabilitation or even relocation. If, based on its evaluation of the proposed alternatives, the Landmarks Commission deems that there is no feasible alternative to demolition; the commission will authorize the issuance of a demolition permit. To encapsulate, if the developer wishes to raze a "significant" property within the city limits all he must do is be patient.
For a case in point of Article 85's failure, one need look no further than the former stately and recently demolished Frost Mansion (Mulry's Funeral Home) on Neponset Avenue. This beautiful old home was purchased by developers' intent on razing the existing structure and erecting three duplexes in its place regardless of the community's sentiment. The demolition permit application triggered the Article 85 process and ultimately the City of Boston's Landmark Commission agreed with the community and evoked the 90 day delay in order to evaluate alternatives. In a perfect world developers would work with the community to find mutually acceptable preservation alternatives. However, as we know, the world is far from perfect and the prospect of a tidy profit far outweighs the community's preservation goals. The difference between a developer and a preservationist is far from subtle; the former is driven by profit margins while the later is interested in preserving a part of our past before it disappears forever. Developers that are well versed in the City's Zoning Code realize that the Article 85 demolition delay amounts to nothing more than a bump in the road. They are cognizant of the fact that the Article is a toothless tiger with no disincentive or negative consequence associated with it. From a developers' perspective it is simply more profitable to knock a house down and max the site out with housing units than it would be to preserve the property. However, if there were penalties or at the very least sizeable obstacles associated with the tearing down of "significant" properties, presumably most developers would steer clear of those preservable properties.
Boston, although celebrating its 375th birthday, continues to grow. As a city we are constantly striving to meet the needs of today's residents while trying to maintain tangible aspects of our historic past. The term "historic" must not be limited to things like Old Ironsides, or places like the Faneuil Hall Marketplace. We need to be mindful of older buildings and homes in our individual neighborhoods or even a piece of landscape that is worth saving because our communities would be less interesting, less visually appealing without them. The essence of preservation is knowing what is worth saving and what is not. Here are a few ideas that may prove effective in strengthening Article 85:
-If the Landmarks Commission views a property as "significant" they should be authorized to delay demolition for up to 365 days from the date of the finding to provide adequate time to find real alternatives to demolition.
-Creating an "Alternate Usage Team" within the office of the Landmarks Commissions that would be empowered to work with the property owner to review all alternatives including alternative development sites, reuse of the existing building, relocation of the existing building or resale of the property to a developer who is committed to preservation.
-Demolition disincentives: If all avenues of preservation are exhausted and the developer is intent on proceeding with demolition of anything over 10 percent of the total building square footage, they must pay a $5,000 Historic Demolition Permit Fee to the "Historic Preservation Needs Fund" of the City of Boston's Landmarks Commission.
-Provide tax abatement to "significant" property homeowners who rehabilitate the property according to appropriate standards.
-Provide tax exemptions for income producing historic properties.
-Lobby the state Legislature to fund more preservation projects through one-time discretionary appropriations. Grants are currently available to nonprofits and municipalities
-Form a Community Preservation Committee to study the needs of the city's residential neighborhoods. Utilize the Community Preservation Act: Funded through a $25 million annual appropriation and surcharge (up to 3 percent) on property tax levy. Passed in September 2000. Provides funding to local governments for the conservation of open space, preservation of historic resources, and creation of low-cost housing.
The City of Boston has continuously been the victim of urbanization and sadly our neighborhoods have lost many of the most tangible glimpses into our past for no other reason than lining some developers' pockets. Most Developers do not care about neighborhood symmetry and are not bound by a community's architectural integrity. Where you and I as residents see streetscapes and open space, developers see nothing but "developmental opportunities" and dollar signs. The city needs to integrate smart growth policies with an eye on historic preservation.
There is no universal solution, but most successful communities have one common denominator and that is a vision of where they want to go and of what things they truly value in their community. The City of Boston's plans for development should above all else reflect these values.
-Philip J. Carver
Pope's Hill

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