Historic houses face demolition

August 15, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH


photo by Bernard Gillespie LaRosa Development Corporation has already built foundations for two new houses on Larch Place. LaRosa plans to demolish the 1896-era house standing behind them, as well as a second house on Hyde Park Avenue.

WOODBOURNE—Two century-old houses on Hyde Park Avenue are facing demolition at the hands of Joseph LaRosa, one of the city’s most controversial developers. One house has already been damaged by construction work, according to the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC).

LaRosa has already started building new houses on an adjacent Larch Place site. Police halted worked on the first house about six months ago because LaRosa appeared to have no building permits, according to neighbor Bernard Gillespie.

LaRosa did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

LaRosa does not yet have permission to tear down the houses at 381 and 387 Hyde Park Ave. He infuriated BLC members by failing to appear at a hearing this week to consider the issue. He reportedly told a BLC staff member he was nearby and trying to find a parking space, but never showed up.

Meanwhile, representatives of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services and the Boston Preservation Alliance testified about their concerns for the future of the property, the lack of community process and LaRosa’s reputation.

The BLC tabled the demolition issue at its Aug. 12 hearing, meaning LaRosa will have to attend a future hearing if he still wants to tear down the houses. At the “demolition delay” hearing, the BLC will have the power to postpone any teardown for 90 days.

“If these houses are demolished without permits, this commission can vote on a two-year moratorium on any construction,” BLC Executive Director Ellen Lipsey said.

LaRosa previously told the BLC that, while he wants to tear down the houses, he has no plans for their sites “for the foreseeable future,” Lipsey said.

LaRosa and his Norwood-based LaRosa Development Corporation have frequently stirred controversy by building houses quickly on small lots. In 2005, the Boston City Council held a hearing about LaRosa, alleging poor construction and unpermitted work, among other issues.

As the Gazette previously reported, the solid-looking Hyde Park Avenue houses were marketed last year by Jamaica Plain’s Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage as “teardowns.” The idea was that denser redevelopment of the property could take advantage of the forthcoming redevelopment of nearby parcels around the Forest Hills T Station.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is leading a community planning process for the T station-area parcels. BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker previously said that inspiring people to sell off and tear down their homes is not what the city had in mind.

The Hyde Park Avenue houses were sold along with empty lots along Larch Place, a tiny street that runs alongside 381 between Hyde Park Avenue and the Southwest Corridor train tracks.

LaRosa has already built one house there. Gillespie, who lives on Larch Place, said that he got work delayed for two weeks because there was no sign of a building permit.

“I went and got the police and they shut him down,” Gillespie told the BLC.

In recent weeks, LaRosa cleared a thickly wooded area on Larch Place and has started work on two more houses. Gillespie said permits have been posted for that work.

The permits are in the names of a former owner who is now dead, according to Gillespie and the son of the former owners of 387. Martha Magoch originally owned both houses, then reportedly left the property to Paul and Marie McDonough when she died. The McDonoughs then sold it to LaRosa. But Magoch’s name, not LaRosa’s, appears on a building permit notification list on the web site of the city’s Inspectional Services Department. The city’s Assessing Department also continues to list Magoch as the owner of 381.

Lipsey said that both Hyde Park Avenue houses appear to be in “good condition.” The 381 house dates to around 1896. The 387 house was built around 1905-1924.

The front porch of 381 appeared to have been damaged by LaRosa’s construction work, possibly by a tree that fell during clear-cutting on the site, Lipsey said, repeating information from the Mayor’s Office.

She said LaRosa did not submit information required for the BLC hearing, including an engineer’s report on the condition of the houses and evidence of a community meeting about the proposed demolition. Gillespie said there has been no community notice of any kind.