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February 21, 2008

Comments

Jered

Congratulations; we complain incessantly about the lack of affordable housing in Somerville, yet block all efforts to increase the amount of available housing. Supply and demand means that as long as availability is constrained, prices will be high.

I'm in favor of clearly written regulations that hold new construction to be visually consistent with the character of a neighborhood, but blocking development for the sake of development is hypocritical and disingenuous.

Kate

Maybe it's me, but I don't call $450,000 condos 'affordable housing'.

JPM

Kate, Jered is not implying that $450,000 is affordable....I don't think. He is making the general point that when you constrain the supply of housing, the price of housing in general will go up. It is simple supply and demand.

JPM

Were the legal wranglings and thousands of dollars spent all about saving one tree?? Come off it. Referecnes are made to "complaints about the development,"...but the article does not articulate exactly what those complaints or concerns are.

Dr. Mohammed Hanif Butt, I am sure does not want a building site next to his house for a year. But that is not a legitmate reason for stopping a development. Does an empty lot really benefit Somerville??

If as I suspect there is a hint of jealousy that some yuppies are moving into nice $450,000 condos, well that is not a valid reason either. Gerwitz is well known for her dislike of gentrification...I have not doubt that this is the unspoken reason for aopposing this plan.

Finally, the wrod "developers" has become a dirty word...like "drug companies" ( you know the ones who make drugs that save lives).....developers are for profit businesses that provide decent paying jobs to blue tradesmen...something people like Gerwitz should presumably be in favor of!!

affordable shmousing

First, the article described the condos as "luxury condos", so they wouldn't be adding any affordable housing. Second, Somerville is already the most densely populated city in the state. Did this condo have plans for offstreet parking? Or were they just planning on adding about 28 new cars to the street? Offstreet parking is already impossible. We don't need this.

JPM

Affordable schmousing, nobody has suggested that the developers were trying to build affordable housing. The were not, as you say they are expensive condos.

The question remains..what do we do with the lot? I run past it every night. It is an eyesore and a waste of space.

huge fee

I have a great way to make housing affordable......earn more money! Unfortunately this has the downside that you migth actuallu have to work more than 9-5pm or go back to school. It's probably easier just to moan that some developer should give you an apratment at below cost. I can't afford to live in beacon Hill....maybe I should ask them to build me an apartment overlooking Boston Commone for $150,000??

huge fee

I have a great way to make housing affordable......earn more money! Unfortunately this has the downside that you migth actuallu have to work more than 9-5pm or go back to school. It's probably easier just to moan that some developer should give you an apratment at below cost. I can't afford to live in beacon Hill....maybe I should ask them to build me an apartment overlooking Boston Commone for $150,000??

Kate

"He is making the general point that when you constrain the supply of housing, the price of housing in general will go up. It is simple supply and demand."

I agree with that, but this particular case and the issue of affordable housing in Somerville are 2 separate arguments.

JPM

Kate, I disagree with you. The article purports to be about the neighbors saving a lovely tree from those nasty developers. However, the unstated undercurrent going on here is a dislike of building "yuppie" condos in Somerville....which is necessarily linked to the issue of affordable housing.

You can bet that if someone wanted to build "affordable housing" on that empty lot, the tree would have been chopped down 5 years ago. The tree is a red herring!

Nancy

Folks, You seem to feel very strongly about subjects associated with development in Somerville, but you have no understanding of the issues behind this particular development. They are almost not to be beleived. I also live next door to the site, have been witness first hand to the situation for over seven years and assure you that your comments indicate you don't know the facts on this one.

If you want to learn about this situtation, please pop down to city hall and review the file - the neighborhood concerns have nothing to do w/ affordable housing issues or gentrification or people against development. There are major safety concerns here (too numerous and ghastly to list). This developer has so many people suing them and has so many liens on them for bad jobs throughout our city and others (a wall fell down at their last project, a new condo owner had to spend $40K for a new roof in less than a year), plus there are violations in their plans plus much much more. They have ruined their own reputation and other buildings of theirs not selling. People don't like their work and aren't going to invest.

Please learn the facts before you spin it out of control here. You also may not care for Alderman Gewirtz, and that is your perogative, but the fact is she has actually done a good job on a tough project here, I haven't noticed a secret motive. The reason this remains a problem is because of selfish misrepresenation by the previous Alderman and we can see how these things get stuck in a beaureaucratic process.

thanks.

Ron Newman

When I've heard about this case in the past, one big issue was that the proposed development comes right up to Dr. Butt's property line, and could not be built without the developer digging on Dr. Butt's property. I can understand him not wanting that.

JPM

Appeals Court of Massachusetts.
Mohamed Hanif BUTT,
v.
ZONING BOARD OF APPEALS OF SOMERVILLE & others.FN1

FN1. Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and Emerald Development Group, Inc. Among the defendants, only Emerald Development Group, Inc., filed a brief.

No. 05-P-1721.

Jan. 10, 2007.


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER PURSUANT TO RULE 1:28


*1 The appeal arises with respect to the grant of a special permit by defendant zoning board of appeals of the city of Somerville (board), to defendant Emerald Development Group, Inc. (Emerald), authorizing the construction of a four-story, fourteen-unit residential condominium building on a 16,800 square-foot site located on Summer Street in a district zoned for commercial use. The site in question is vacant except for a vent shaft with a diameter of fifty-five feet owned and operated by defendant Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The plaintiff, Mohamed Hanif Butt, is the owner of abutting real estate containing attached buildings reaching a height of two and one-half stories, which he uses as his residence, as an office for his orthodontic practice, and as residential rental units.FN2 Pursuant to G.L. c. 40A, § 17, the plaintiff appealed and, following a trial, a judge of the Superior Court affirmed the board's decision. The plaintiff's timely appeal from that judgment brings the case here.


FN2. The residential uses are apparently authorized as non-conforming uses.


In his memorandum of decision, the judge considered Emerald's challenge to the rebuttable presumption of the plaintiff's standing as an abutter, see Watros v. Greater Lynn Mental Health & Retardation Assn., 421 Mass. 106, 111 (1995); Marashlian v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Newburyport, 421 Mass. 719, 721 (1996), and concluded that “Emerald has offered evidence that this Court finds to be credible in addition to the [board's] findings sufficient to defeat the rebuttable presumption of standing that [the plaintiff] had.” He then determined that the plaintiff had failed to come forward with evidence of harm that was not speculative or unsubstantiated. However, instead of dismissing the appeal on the basis that the plaintiff lacked standing to pursue it, the judge proceeded to examine the merits; decided that the board's treatment was permissible; and affirmed the decision to grant the special permit.


With respect to the question of standing, we accept the plaintiff's contention that his claims regarding interference with views, blockage of sunlight, insufficiency of setbacks, size of adjacent buildings, visual impact, and overcrowding of the area reflect concerns that underlie the governing zoning ordinance, see Standerwick v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Andover, 447 Mass. 20, 27-28 (2006), and that his concerns differ from those of the community in general. See Barvenik v. Board of Aldermen of Newton, 33 Mass.App.Ct. 129, 132 (1992). We agree also that a finding that, as a matter of right, Emerald could erect a commercial building of the same size as the building at issue (a finding contested by the plaintiff), does not by itself resolve the standing question, although it is a factor that can properly be considered. See Marashlian, supra at 724. Nevertheless, standing is not conferred merely by an identification of relevant concerns. “[T]he plaintiff[ ] must put forth credible evidence to substantiate claims of injury to [his] legal rights.” Id. at 723.


*2 We agree with the judge that the plaintiff has not satisfied his burden to offer evidence that he may suffer harm from the granting of the special permit that is real and not merely speculative. See Barvenik, supra. The plaintiff offered no evidence other than his own unsubstantiated concerns that the structure authorized by the special permit will create a fire hazard, damage the foundation of his building, or bring about a drainage problem on his property. The plaintiff's lack of emergency access from his building is preexisting and self-inflicted, and does not result from issuance of the special permit (except that the construction undertaken is likely to interfere with the plaintiff's apparent practice of obtaining egress from the rear of his building by trespassing on Emerald's property). The judge could reasonably find that potential interference with views and sunlight would be less than what would materialize if Emerald exercised its right to construct commercial improvements on the locus. Any effect on the plaintiff's ability to improve his property is a product of the fact that he operates pursuant to a nonconforming use, not the result of lawful development by an abutting owner.


Accordingly, we conclude that the judge correctly determined that Emerald had successfully rebutted the presumption that the plaintiff has standing to challenge the issuance of the special permit.FN3 Thus, the court was without jurisdiction to hear the appeal, and the complaint should have been dismissed. Nevertheless, we review briefly the judge's rulings on the merits, which we also deem to be correct.


FN3. Neither the judge's decision nor our agreement with it is based on alleged violations by the plaintiff with respect to the use of his property.


The board engaged in no unlawful delegation of its decision-making authority by leaving to the appropriate municipal agencies approval of certain aspects of the project once the decision to issue a special permit authorizing the proposed project was made. See Tebo v. Board of Appeals of Shrewsbury, 22 Mass.App.Ct. 618, 625 (1986) (proper to delegate “working out of details peripheral from the central question” of whether project should be authorized). Chambers v. Building Inspector of Peabody, 40 Mass.App.Ct. 762, 766-767 (1996), where a decision regarding the size and location of a proposed building was effectively delegated to the city's development department, is not to the contrary.


We agree with the judge that the board's statement that Emerald “shall attempt to increase the building setback from the lot line on the east side where possible” is not a finding that the project will have an adverse effect on the plaintiff's property, nor is it an unlawful delegation of the board's authority to Emerald. In our view, the language means what it says, i.e., that the board expects Emerald to explore a possible setback increase if that can be accomplished from a practical perspective (meaning that the project plan is not materially altered). The judge's finding that Emerald in fact attempted to do so is supported by the evidence. Furthermore, the board's findings are adequate, particularly given their incorporation of the findings of the planning board; the board's interpretation of the ordinance regarding the rear lot line setback is reasonable and entitled to deference; and the judge correctly concluded that approval of the project as “an appropriate transitional use” between a business zone and a residential district was neither arbitrary nor capricious.


*3 The judgment affirming the decision of the board is vacated. A new judgment shall enter dismissing the complaint seeking judicial review under G.L. c. 40A, § 17. See Denneny v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Seekonk, 59 Mass.App.Ct. 208, 216 (2003).


So ordered.


Mass.App.Ct.,2007.
Butt v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Somerville
68 Mass.App.Ct. 1102, 860 N.E.2d 48 (Table), 2007 WL 63719 (Mass.App.Ct.)
Unpublished Disposition

Nancy

Yes, would you like a 5 story building 0 feet from your wall? That's ridiculous. The city should have done a much keener job on too many issues here (zoning requirements not being met, application process not done right, outstanding tax liens, Boards listening to the numerous neighborhood petitions over one self serving aldmerman, MBTA safety concerns, lack of a fire lane, serious drainaige issues....)

Not sure who in their right mind would think this is a good development when the city could have a lot problems and lawsuits from the safety problems and bad construction record plus the neighbordhood is unanimously against this plan. So, why build that plan? Just make it something every one could be happy with. What's the big deal? The developer refuses to work nicely with the city or the neighbors. All they want is their money.

JPM

What is interesting about the Appeals Court decision is:
1) Saving a tree isn't mentioned...hardly surprising as this was not about a tree;
2) that Mr. Butt does not conform to the commercial zoning of the area either;
3) as the developer could put up a commercial property of equal size, it should be noted that "potential interference with views and sunlight would be less than what would materialize if Emerald exercised its right to construct commercial improvements on the locus."
4) Any effect on the plaintiff's ability to improve his property is a product of the fact that he operates pursuant to a nonconforming use, not the result of lawful development by an abutting owner. ie. he is suing the propery for non commercial use!!!!

JPM

nancy given that the Zonign Board of Appeals, the Superior Court and the Appeals Court have ruled against Mr. Hanif Butt, and both sides have been given a chance to put forth relevant evidence to support their claims...it looks like the developer actually has a pretty strong case. This makes the original article a little silly.....you have to dig a little deeper.
Believe me, I am no fan of Zoning Boards, the are often filled with developers and political hacks looking to do favors. But that is why any person aggrived by a zoning decision can appeal, first to a judge at the Superior court, and then to the Appeals court, and all the way to the SJC! The Boards decision was appealed here twice and Hanif Butt lost twice. I am not sure how the mayor has the ower to come in and shut down the developer....

Ron Newman

By far the best solution would be for the developer to sell to someone else, who will work with the neighborhood instead of against it when designing a new proposal for this land.

JPM

As a lawyer what is interesting is that both the Suoperior court and Appeals court concluded that Mr. hanif Butt did not even have the right to bring the lawsuit as he was not conforming to the proper zoning use for his own property!!!

Ron Newman

A non-conforming use is not an illegal use; it just means that the use predates the current zoning for that property.

JPM

If you actually take the time to read the Appeals court decision I posted above it pretty much blows Mr. Butt's arguments out of the water. Basiccally, just because he or the neighbors don't want the property to be built...that is not a legit reason to stop it. They didn't put up any credible evidence...period.

Ron Newman

Can it be built without digging under Dr. Butt's property?

JPM

Well Ron, the decision states that his concerns were sepcualtive and he did not produce credible evdidence that his foundation would be screwed up. See below. So i think that answers your question

"We agree with the judge that the plaintiff has not satisfied his burden to offer evidence that he may suffer harm from the granting of the special permit that is real and not merely speculative. See Barvenik, supra. The plaintiff offered no evidence other than his own unsubstantiated concerns that the structure authorized by the special permit will create a fire hazard, damage the foundation of his building, or bring about a drainage problem on his property."

Nancy

No, Ron, that plan cannot be built w/o digging under Butt's property.

JPM

Really Nancy? Both the Superior Court and the Appeals Court found that charge to be "speculative." You cannot merely say "if the developer builds XY and Z will happen to my property." You have to offer EVIDENCE in court that proves your point. Mr. Butt doesn't have any evidence that that is the case. If he did he would have presented it in court by using an expert such as a structural engineer or builder to testify that it could not be built without going udner his foundations. Your mere assertion doesn't make it true either.

Nancy

JPM you seem quite mean spirited, I'm not sure I understand why you keep harping on the same thing over and over. Any one involved in the case has long been aware of that court ruling and the arguments surrounding it.

I am simply responding to Ron's question because I have seen these plans and they would need to dig under Butt's property. I am not interpreting the law or the case or any other cases.

You know that court cases are lost and won for various reasons - not always because they are right or correct.

JPM

nancy, true courts are fallible. I am merely pointing out that Mr. Butt has lost THREE times....perhaps you could lose once due to a court error. But three times in a row? Doubtful. We need more housing in Somerville, not NIMBYISM from homeowners who have already gor their house and want to pull up the draw bridge for the rest of us.

JPM

Nancy, uou say "I have seen these plans and they would need to dig under Butt's property."

On what do you base your conclusion?

JPM

Mr. Butt even appealed the Appeals court decision to the highest court in Mass. the SJC. Even the Supreme Judicial Court refused to hear the case, thus affirming the appeals court decision, which is an implicit assertion by the SJC that the decision was correct.

448 Mass. 1105, 862 N.E.2d 379 (Table)

(The Court's decision is referenced in a “Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts Further Appellate Review” table in the North Eastern Reporter.)


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts.
Mohamed Hanif Butt
v.
Zoning Board of Appeals of Somerville

March 01, 2007


Appeal From: 68 Mass.App.Ct. 1102, 860 N.E.2d 48. Justice Cowin did not participate.

DENIED.


Mass. 2007.
Butt v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Somerville
448 Mass. 1105, 862 N.E.2d 379 (Table)

END OF DOCUMENT

JPM

"I am not interpreting the law or the case or any other cases."

Neither am I....I am just commenting on the facts of this case as found by a court that heard the evidence, and an appeals court that reviewed the record.

Mike Davis

Why is stopping the condos from being built a good thing? People live in them and pay taxes...in fact at $450,000 a pop that will be quite alot of taxes. It is just a vacant lot right now.

Ron Newman

I'm not saying that stopping them is a good thing. I am saying that if the developer were willing to cooperate with the neighbors (or sell to someone else who was), something could be built that would satisfy everyone.

Who is this guy kidding?

On one hand the mayor call Somerville a tree city. On the other hand he strong armed Dakota Development to allow them to put a police sub station in one of their recent developements for just $1 dollar a month. This whole issue did nothing but put the tree in jeapordy! I'd rather have 14 units in davis sq rather than a vacant lot where vagrants hide out. What has this city come too? On one hand the mayor wants xy and z from Dakota Development and on the other hand he stiffs them. What a joke!

JPM

10:24pm...
The article presents him as an ordinary joe fighting to save the environment.
As is usually the case with these zoning things...there is more to the story than meets the eye.
Just google his name, he is a wealthy man with three practices. He also declared for the Second Middlesex State Senate Race in 2005 as a Democrat. See http://www.dfacambridge.org/Candidates/SMI05

Perhaps he is a connected Democrat who got on the hotline to the Mayor who did him a favor?
I think we should be told.
See http://www.somervillechamber.org/commercepedia_directory1.php?Show=D&ID=120


"From 1985 to 1986 Dr. Butt was a Research Fellow at the Department of Orthodontics in Indiana University. Later, from 1986 to 1988 he was a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Department of Orthodontics in the Harvard School of Dental Medicine. In 1988 he was awarded a Certificate in Orthodontics from Harvard School of Dental Medicine and Forsyth Dental Center. In 1991 he graduated Magna Cum Laude in D.M.D. from Tufts University School of Dental Medicine. In the same year, he started a private practice in Marshfield, Massachusetts. In 2001 he opened a second practice in Somerville, followed by a third practice in Yarmouth, MA in 2003."

What has the orthodondist, done for the community?

What has the orthodontist done for the community? Name one sports team or fundraiser that he's donated to locally. If people really think/believe this is all about a tree, their crazy. This guy could care less about that tree. This city is all about reverse discrimination!! If you research his property people would realize he has numerous violations regarding codes and conforming issues. I could care less about dakota developement. As far as I am concerned their all about $$$$. Lets not make this tree and orthodontist to be the next big thing since sliced bread!

cabbie

As is often the case with stories in the News this leaves many unanswered questions. First, how is it that our zoning allows someone to build right up to the property line? How is it that, at least in this case, the finally decision as to whether or not to remove a tree - a single tree - is placed directly on the Mayor. Joe, the damn near $40,000 annually in property taxes the property would generate could plant a hell of a lot of trees. This all leads me to believe there's more to the story, much more to the story.

And by the way, I'm impressed that no one has chimed in with a Dr. Butt joke. Really, he's Dr. Butt. That kicks ass. Pun intended.


joey cakes reverse discriminates

joey cakes loves african americans and muslims! I have never seen a mayor reverse discriminate more than this guy. If your a minority, apply for a city job. If your a white american resident, look elsewhere! Skip diddy do da dandy! If Joey cakes coached you in football, APPLY NOW, NEED NOT WAIT!

JPM

This is a classic example about how you should never take a news article at face value. Look what wehave uncovered with a little digging.

First of this guy went to the Zoning board and lost, appealed to the superior court and lost, appealed to the SJC and was denied a hearing. Let me tell you this guyhas serious buck because you have to pay a hell of a lot of legal fees to take a case from the zoning board to the SJC.

I woud be interested to hear from the person who wrote the article who did not disclose any of the information we have uncovered. It was a puff piece.

JPM

This guy is up to his ears in zoning and land issues. Does an ordianry Joe attending meetings like this one below? "Dr. Hanif Butt and Nancy Iappini spoke in favor of the proposal."

November 29, 2007
REPORT OF THE COMMITTEE ON LAND USE
MEETING IN JOINT SESSION WITH THE PLANNING BOARD

http://www.somervillema.gov/CoS_Content/documents/minutes/Committee%20Report%20-%20Land%20Use%20-%2011-29-07.pdf

another neighbor

I live on the block as well and wanted to weigh in.

I think everyone agrees that something ought to be done on that vacant lot. Nobody is arguing in favor of keeping the weed-filled, rat-infested lot. Similarly, I don't think anyone is disputing the developer's right to build on their property. The neighborhood is not demanding a park, and we're not afraid of a little construction noise. We're not hypocritical NIMBY-ish people.

I want to call attention to the fact that the set of plans in question calls for a 59-foot tall building built with narrow setbacks (0-foot in some places). The site is embedded in a neighborhood of 2.5-story residential homes, typically 30-40 feet high. A height of 59 feet would make it one of the tallest buildings in Davis Square if not THE tallest. And it's definitely not affordable housing. The developer was required to put in two affordable units (which will be built off-site), the rest are luxury condos.

The point is that we don't live in a world of black and white where the only two alternatives available are (1) a crappy vacant lot that brings in no tax revenue and (2) a 59-foot tall monstrosity that towers over every other house in the neighborhood. Opposing the current set of plans is not equivalent to opposing development in general or opposing affordable housing. If the developer put forward a decent set of plans for a structure(s) that conformed to the other houses in the neighborhood then I don't think there would be any problem getting it built.

By the way, neighborhood opposition to the proposed development is overwhelming. 135 neighbors signed a petition to call on city govt to block the plans. It's not about one or two abutters who object to a building site next to their property.

Finally, JPM -- just because you spent 15 minutes on google or lexis/nexis doesn't mean that you are an expert on this case, so please stop representing yourself as such. As Nancy said, the court documents do not tell even 20% of the story here. How you feel entitled to make statements like "They didn't put up any credible evidence...period" just astonishes me.

Ron Newman

There is a citywide 50-foot height limit. How can a 59-foot building conform to that? Or is there some dispute over how to measure the height?

JPM

"How you feel entitled to make statements like "They didn't put up any credible evidence...period" just astonishes me."

Er not sure why you are astonished...maybe that is because that is what the supererior court and the appeals court stated. He didn't present any evidence, it was all speculation.

JPM

What is clear is that Mr. Butt is a wealthy, politically active Democrat, who spent over $100,000 in legal fees, and got the mayor to overturn what the zoning board and three courts had decided was perfectly acceptable.

But that is typical Massachusetts......

somebody

JPM: I'm not familiar with the issues surrounding the case. Everything I know is from the article and the comments here. My question to you is what does Dr. Butt's income have to do with anything? You don't really know what his income situation is, but even if you did and he was a millionaire, who cares?

JPM

Somebody.
I think is a pretty logical inference that Mr. Butt has money. He runs three private dental practices in Marshfield, Somerville, and Yarmouth. He can afford to drop over a $100,000 in legal fees in taking a case from the zoning board to the SJC. I think that is a pretty fair deduction that he has money.

Why is that relevant? I think it is relevant because it shows that when you are rich and conected you can circumvent the process that everyone else has to go through.


The whole decision of the Mayor aboslutely stinks to high heaven...in the meantime the City of Somerville is being denied thousands of dollars in tax revenue as the lot sits vacant for months on end.

JPM

I should add that I am not criticising Mr. Butt for being a success. He is clearly highly educated and has done well. Good luck to him.

I am criticising the process in this case.

Mike Davis

I understand that the community wants a smaller development. Having read the initial article and then the comments, I think it is fair to say that there is more to this case than meets the eye.....at least, more than saving one tree. As a previous commenter stated, the new tax revenue could pay for the planting of a lot more trees!!

Ron Newman

I do not see how Dr. Butt's financial situation, or that of his businesses, has any relevance to this matter.

it *is* funny

Another neighbor ... thanks for weighing in here. I appreciate hearing the various sides of the story, and if there was the level of neighborhood opposition that you state, I'm glad the Developer needs to go back to the drawing board. Leaving aside the shoddy reputation the Developer has made for himself, 59 feet luxury condos aren't right for that spot, period.

another neighbor

JPM -- you're obviously entitled to your opinions, but your command of the relevant facts here is clearly very poor. I think your version of reality is that the ZBA, courts, city, George W Bush, our founding fathers, the United Nations, and God are all in favor of this worthy project but some wealthy, politically-connected neighbor decided to sidestep the political process and coax the mayor into fabricating some ludicrous reason to block the developer.

Here's what actually happened: the developer is trying to push through a project that the entire neighborhood (again: 135 signatures) is opposed to. As stated before, the plan is way out of scale with the rest of the neighborhood. For reasons unclear, the ZBA grants them a special permit to build. But this is not a ZBA endorsement of the project. Far from it, the permit identifies 15 major issues that the developer will have to address in order to secure permission to build.

The special permit was granted in 2002 and the neighborhood has been fighting this ever since, both in court and in city hall. First let's talk about the court battle. Despite the widespread opposition of neighbors, Dr Butt was the only neighbor who challenged the permit in court on the grounds that it (among other things) involved excavating under his house. This court case failed. I wasn't involved and am not sure what happened, but the decision was not an endorsement of the project by the court system, it was nothing more than a statement that Dr Butt's objections were not sufficient grounds to overturn the permit. This court case was very specific to Dr Butt's personal grievance related to his own property, and it really had nothing to do with the objections of the rest of the neighborhood or the worthiness of this project.

In the meantime, Jack Connolly (who is as far as I know the only backer of this project within city govt) is voted out as ward alderman. And the neighbors successfully petition the ZBA and the board of aldermen to change the zoning of the property to a more restrictive category. (It is now rezoned residential A, which provides for 1-2 family homes). The proposed development would violate the new zoning but the developer was grandfathered in under the previous zoning (central business district).

At this point, the developer is moving ahead and trying to meet the conditions of the special permit. One such condition involves creating a fire lane. The developer's plan called for a structure that occupied virtually the entire area of the lot; the only space for a fire lane was in the parking lot on the property next door. In order to build a fire lane there the developer would need the permission of the lot owners and would also need to cut down a public shade tree.

At a special hearing, many neighbors turned out to oppose removing the tree. The whole premise of the meeting was peculiar as the developer had (intentionally or not) selected the wrong tree and scheduled the hearing for two days before thanksgiving. The only notice that neighbors received of this hearing was a single sign tacked on the wrong tree one day before the hearing. Fortunately neighbors were alerted to the meeting by one of the aldermen and so many people turned up to show their opposition. By Somerville process, as long as just one resident objects to the removal of the tree the matter has to go before the mayor, who has rejected the request.

To suggest that this decision was because of some alleged political influence exerted by Dr Butt is just completely off-base. The proposition that the mayor is overstepping his authority to obstruct a worthy project is also totally wrong. The city is standing up to a developer who throughout this process has been trying to push the neighborhood and the city around.

Please recall that the city didn't endorse this project, it just issued a special permit to the developer stating that if they found a way to address some major difficulties then they would be allowed to build. The burden of overcoming these hurdles is borne by the developer alone. The developer (and apparently some of you on this thread) seem to feel that the city has some obligation to solve these issues for the developer. I don't see why that should be the case. The developer was told they had to put in a fire lane, they boxed themselves in with plans that required chopping down city trees to comply, and then they pursued the regular, stated process for petitioning for the tree removal ... and they lost. Not because of Dr Butt. Because of widespread opposition to the plan on the part of neighbors.

So why should the city go to bat for a developer who has shown nothing but disrespect for the neighborhood and the city at large? They've created a proposal that the entire neighborhood objects to and then made no effort to address concerns of abutters/neighbors. They make no effort to reach out to neighbors and skip all of the community meetings on the topic. They haven't paid their taxes on the property and are now significantly in arrears. And they've sued the city and ward alderman to boot. The developer is solely responsible for the shortcomings in their plans (like the lack of adequate space for a fire lane) so why should the city bend over backwards to compensate for these weaknesses?

If this project were allowed to go through it would be a complete travesty.

somebody

another neighbor: Thanks for the details.

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