By David Taber
Hours before he was scheduled to chair a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen’s Land Use Committee and the Planning Board to discuss the rezoning of the Max Pak site, Ward 5 Alderman Sean T. O’Donovan was advised by the city solicitor to recuse himself from the proceedings.
In mid-December, O’Donovan finalized the purchase of a house at 30 Warwick Street, directly abutting the property in question. KSS Realty Partners Inc. owns the property, and they are advocating for the rezoning in the hopes of building a 199-unit condominium development on the site.
In letter dated March 1, addressed to O’Donovan, City Solicitor John Gannon wrote, “The conflict of interest statute establishes that a property owner is generally presumed to have a financial interest in matters affecting abutting and nearby property.”
“Thus,” Gannon concluded, “unless you can clearly demonstrate that you do not have a financial interest, as a public employee you should not take any action in your official capacity on matters affecting property that is near or directly abuts your own property.”
Gannon said he could not remember the exact date O’Donovan sought his opinion on the matter, but it was within a week before the hearing.
O’Donovan confirmed that it was he who originally introduced the zoning amendment at a meeting of the Board of Aldermen in September, and then reintroduced it in January, setting the matter he has recused himself from in motion.
Additionally he played a role in negotiating the current version of a covenant between the city and KSS, which establishes a set of guidelines the developers must adhere to in the course of construction.
Citing the fact that the City of Somerville is his client, Gannon refused to comment on whether these actions might constitute violations of the law.
O’Donovan did not return calls to The News by press time.
Gannon said O’Donovan is not legally barred from participating in any public meetings on issues around the re-zoning of the proposed development, or from commenting on them as a private citizen.
“He can still engage in the democratic process like any other citizen,” Gannon said