Wetlands parcel sale draws concern

May 11, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH

LONGFELLOW AREA—A controversial vacant lot—sited on a planned but unbuilt “paper” street next to a protected wetland—is up for sale with a suggested development plan attached, setting off a new wave of neighborhood concerns.

“I would have very strong reservations and very strong concerns about any development in that area,” said City Councilor Rob Consalvo about the lot known as 29 Morrison St. “We’re watching it very closely.”

“This [development] threat remains of paramount concern,” says the web site of the Roslindale Wetlands Task Force, a subcommittee of the Longfellow Area Neighborhood Association. Task Force head Jim Taff declined to comment on the record for this article.

Consalvo and the Task Force were key participants in major efforts in 2003 and 2005 that turned many private lots into city-protected wetlands in the area surrounded by Coniston Road and Weld and Walter streets. About 11 parcels, including the one up for sale, remain privately owned.

“The existing lots have permanent preservation restrictions all around them,” Consalvo said. “The most obvious fit would be to turn the remaining parcels over to the [Boston] Conservation Commission.”

But there’s a wrinkle in making such a pitch. It’s unclear who the current owner is because 29 Morrison doesn’t show up in record searches of the city’s assessing department and the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds. The real estate agent offering the property for sale, Harriet McDonald at Century 21 Elizabeth Roberts Realty in Dedham, did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Some residents apparently believe that 29 is a renumbering of a lot in the same area known as 34 Morrison St. However, it is unclear if they are the same parcel or different ones.

Both addresses have had a Maria Dorta identified as an owner in recent years. Based on property records and similar signatures on them, that appears to be the same Maria Dorta who runs Roslindale’s Astar Realty. She did not return a Gazette message left on her cell phone.

Property records show that 34 Morrison was sold last November by Maria Dorta to a Troy T. Strother, who was tied to addresses in Florida and Connecticut. The Gazette was unable to reach Strother.

The 29 Morrison address first came up in 2005, when Dorta proposed building a single-family house on the landlocked lot and constructing part of the planned but never built Morrison Street to access it, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). The proposal apparently did not require zoning variances, but still needed BRA approval under Roslindale’s ongoing Interim Planning Overlay District (IPOD) rezoning process. At least 60 residents wrote letters objecting to the development, which never happened, according to the Task Force.

The Century 21 web site listing for 29 Morrison includes plans for a single-family house that appears similar to the one Dorta proposed in 2005. The listing includes a $199,000 asking price and the following sales pitch: “Arboretum area! Great location on the West Roxbury line. Minutes to Faulkner Hospital. Current owner has done nearly all of the ‘Prep work’ and it will be available to you—site map, house plans, deed, variance not required. Buyer is responsible for obtaining necessary permits. Lots of activity on this property—don’t take a nap!”

“The ads we have seen do not refer to the urban wild, attendant permitting issues, the lot’s presently landlocked state, or the climate at City Hall or in the community with regard to this matter,” says the Task Force web site about the listing.

The listing also appears on the web site ZipRealty.com, which reports that the property was put on the market March 1 and about three weeks later had its price reduced from $214,900.

History and owners
The Task Force formed in 2003 over concern that 37 private parcels apparently divided up more than a century ago could be developed in the wetlands area. The development would have included building two paper streets—Morrison, planned as connecting Weld and Coniston, and an extension of Selwyn Street that would meet Morrison near Weld.

Mayor Thomas Menino’s office, along with Consalvo and the Task Force, worked to transfer 26 of the parcels to Boston Conservation Commission ownership, mostly through seizures for unpaid taxes. The move created a 9.5-acre urban wild.

“That was a great victory,” Consalvo said.

Many of the parcels were soggy wetland ill-suited for development. There is even a local legend—or perhaps wishful thinking—about entire old buildings having disappeared into the swamp.

However, some of the remaining privately owned parcels are on higher ground, sitting behind houses that front on real streets. According to the Task Force web site, 29 Morrison is one of them, sitting behind 178 Walter St. To be accessed, at least part of Morrison would have to be built. It is planned as intersecting with Weld between house numbers 10 and 16. That could open up other privately owned parcels to possible development.

That was the concern when Maria J. Dorta went to the IPOD in August, 2005 with an as-of-right proposal for a house at 29 Morrison. According to IPOD records, she proposed a two-and-a-half-story, single-family house with three bedrooms and a front-facing, ground-floor garage. The plan “requires the opening and construction of a portion of Morrison Street,” the IPOD record says.

The proposal never moved forward, and that appears to be the last anyone in the community heard about the address until its current offer for sale. It is unclear why 29 does not appear in city and county records available online. The city press office did not return a Gazette phone for this article.

Suffolk County records document various property transfers involving a Maria Dorta, formerly known as Maria Parrilla, and a Maria J. Dorta. Some properties show up under both names, suggesting they are the same person or closely related people. Also, signatures for both names on various documents look very similar.

Astar Realty’s office building in Roslindale is owned by Maria Dorta as a trustee of a real estate trust.

Both names show up in property records for 34 Morrison. Maria Dorta bought that lot in February, 2006 for $32,000 following some legal action related to a former owner who had died without a will, according to Suffolk County records.

That was some time after the 29 Morrison house proposal, so it seems unlikely that they are the same lot, unless Dorta had some earlier claim to the property. The 29 and 34 lots appear to be the same size, but at least one other vacant lot in that area is also the same size.

In April, 2006, Maria Dorta sold 34 Morrison for $1 to a real estate trust that included Maria J. Dorta as a trustee, according to Suffolk County records.

The latest transfer of the property was in November, 2006, when Maria J. Dorta (with no mention of the trust) sold it to Troy T. Strother for $105,000, according to Suffolk County records.

The quitclaim deed gives an address for Strother that the Gazette found to be a UPS Store in Palm Beach, Fla. that rents mailboxes to the public.

The address also included two numbers that appear to be two different mailbox numbers. The Gazette located a real estate company, Martha A. Gottfried, Inc., that lists the first mailbox number as one of its addresses. A woman who answered the phone at that company said that no Troy Strother works there.

The second mailbox number could not be attached to any business or person. There is no phone listing for Troy Strother in Palm Beach.

The quitclaim deed also had a handwritten notation giving a “return address” for Strother in East Haddam, Conn. There is no phone listing for Troy Strother in that town, either.