City: Debris mound not allowed

April 17, 2009
By

John Ruch

FOREST HILLS—The gigantic mound of construction debris at 19 Lanesville Terrace will have to go after the property owner was slammed by residents and city officials earlier this month for ongoing problems.

Todesca Equipment Company of Hyde Park was storing the debris under a special zoning exemption that included various provisos about dealing with the debris. Todesca officials have acknowledged they did not meet most of the provisos.

Todesca made some efforts to tidy up the site since its conditional use expired in February. But the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee this month rejected Todesca’s plans, expressing outrage at a lack of community outreach—including flyers about the Zoning Committee meeting being handed out only the day before.

“I’m just amazed,” Zoning Committee member Kevin Leary said at the April 2 meeting about Todesca’s lack of outreach. “Something is being taken for granted here that is just not right.”

Todesca then withdrew its application before the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA). The ZBA automatically denied the application at its April 7 hearing. That essentially revoked the right to store debris there. The company’s storage permit expired Feb. 8.

“Their permit has expired and they don’t have the conditional use they had before,” Colleen Keller, the Jamaica Plain coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, told the Gazette. “That means they must cease operation.”

The ZBA in February gave Todesca a deferral so the company could meet the provisos and talk with the community. While the ZBA’s denial still allows Todesca to reapply later if it wants, ZBA member Anthony Pisani expressed his unhappiness with the company’s behavior.

“They’re taking an easy way out,” Pisani said at the ZBA hearing. He complained that Todesca did not want to show evidence about being in compliance with the provisos, and said he wanted to figure out a way to get Todesca before the ZBA to explain itself.

Keller and ZBA chair Robert Shortsleeve said that ISD will be asked to inspect the site. ISD’s press office did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Tom Russo, a general manager for Todesca who has headed the company’s appeals process, did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Provisos and process

The site on Lanesville Terrace—a small street running parallel to Washington Street—has been controversial for at least 15 years, starting with a Todesca’s proposal to build an asphalt plant there. Massive community opposition killed that plan.

Todesca, which specializes in building streets and sidewalks, said it has been storing debris and other materials on the site since 1998. That use has been controversial as well, but Todesca was able to secure regular zoning exemptions for it. The most recent was in 2005, when the ZBA attached the list of provisos—conditions that Todesca had to meet for the storage to be legal.

Those provisos included limits on the height and visibility of the debris mound, which had grown to be roughly 200 feet long and over 15 feet high. Todesca officials originally said the company was in compliance on all or most of the provisos, but more recently acknowledged that was not true.

Asked at the Zoning Committee meeting by member Jamie Seagal whether Todesca was previously in violation of the provisos, Russo said, “We were.”

Russo displayed photos of recent improvements to the site, which included plowing off the top of the mound so it was no more than 15 feet high. He also pledged to do anything “within reason” to gain approval, including posting a bond for compliance.

But the Zoning Committee unanimously rejected the appeal, citing shock over the lack of outreach and general mistrust.

Russo submitted a form to the Zoning Committee showing the names of people who got flyers for the meeting, with the flyering done the day before. But resident Richard Padden said that the neighborhood had not been flyered.

“This is two months this has been an active issue. Yesterday?!” exclaimed Zoning Committee chair David Baron about Todesca’s flyering. “This is a community issue, and you didn’t reach out to the community.”

“You were telling us flatly last time that you weren’t [in violation],” said committee member Red Burrows, referring to Todesca’s appearance at a February Zoning Committee meeting.

Seagal agreed with the issue of trust. “Why should we approve what you’re doing…when you were violating the provisos?” he asked. “Why should we think you’re going to comply with your provisos going forward?”

“It’s basically trying to fit a square in a circle or a circle in a square, and it’s just not working,” said member Stephanie Bode Ward of the site. “It was a forbidden use for a reason.”

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