Design overlay district proposed

April 16, 2010
By

David Taber


Gazette Photo by Lori DeSantis Possible development of this lot at 53 Louder’s Lane has inspired an application to the City of Boston to make the Moss Hill area a design overlay district.

JAMAICA HILLS—Talk of a new house being built on Louder’s Lane has some residents pushing for a better community review process, and politically connected nearby homeowner Peter Welsh has taken action.

Welsh told the Gazette he filed a request with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) to have Jamaica Hills designated as a design overlay district (DOD) after his wife went out one morning to find workers digging holes across the street from the Welsh’s 48 Louder’s Lane home.

“They told my wife, ‘We are here to build a house across the street from you.’ I said, ‘This is not the way things should work,’” said Welsh, who headed the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) under Mayor Ray Flynn and served for a time as current Mayor Thomas Menino’s chief of staff.

DODs are part of the zoning code and are designated based on neighborhoods’ historic significance. They mean exterior construction plans are subject to community review and BRA design approval to make sure they are in keeping with the character of the neighborhood.

The BRA is currently reviewing Welsh’s application, BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker told the Gazette.

A Gazette search of the ISD online permits database found that the property in question—53 Louder’s Lane—has recently been subdivided, creating a new parcel where a house could be built. It is unclear if any building permits have been issued for the new property, though. That means that, if the owner submits plans that require zoning variances, there still could be a community review process independent of DOD design review.

ISD spokesperson Lisa Timberlake and the owner of the lot and house at 53 Louder’s Lane, Angel Guadaloupe, both did not return Gazette phone calls by press time.

The DOD application—a copy of which was forwarded to the Gazette by Welsh—makes a detailed case for the area’s historic significance, and outlines the remaining visual reminders of bygone eras: “…[S]ome significant homes…built in the mid-18th century and mid-19th century are still there today. In some cases the homes still reign as they did, in other instances the solid stone walls that measured the boundaries stand and, in some cases the beautiful pathways with blossoms of trees and shrubs that magically led through the landscape can still be discovered,” it says.

DOD designation is meant to ensure that a neighborhood’s historic character is maintained, Welsh said. “I think we have made a pretty good case.”

Allowing construction without enough community notification and review “is not helpful to a neighborhood that is trying to remain cohesive and friendly,” he said. “In the end it is not good for the person who is trying to build.”

A building permit would be required before work was to begin on a new house, but a Gazette search of ISD’s online building permit database indicates that no permits have been issued for 53 Louder’s since the March, 2009 subdivision, which lists Guadaloupe as the owner. ISD does not have any permits posted on line for 51 Louder’s, likely the address for the subdivided lot.

Having a neighborhood designated as a design overlay district means that all exterior construction plans get filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), Colleen Keller from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services told the Gazette. The BRA then presents them for review to the local neighborhood council or another neighborhood group and accepts public comment on the project for two weeks. If the proposed project is larger than 750 square feet, the owner is obliged to notify abutters and the local city councilor, she said.

The Jamaica Hills Association (JHA) would likely review local projects if that neighborhood is designated as a DOD.

David Baron, head of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Zoning Committee, said DOD review is generally used “to make sure the owner is not making a terrible mistake…It’s to make sure people don’t hate the design because it is just ugly or doesn’t fit with the rest of the community,” he said.

JP already has seven areas with DOD designations: Glenvale Park, Green Street, Hyde Square, Monument Square, Sumner Hill, Walnut/Sigourney and Williams Street. The JPNC often ends up reviewing construction plans in those districts.

State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez, who lives in Moss Hill, told the Gazette he supports Welsh’s petition. “I have no problem supporting an overlay district in a historic neighborhood like Moss Hill with all those historic houses up there,” he said.

Louder’s Lane in particular is “like a country road in the middle of the city,” the state rep. said.

Sánchez said he has spoken to Guadaloupe. “I told him he needs to make sure he has engaged the neighbors,” Sánchez said.

Polly Selkoe, head of the JHA, declined to comment on the DOD proposal, which she said she had not heard about until after it was filed. The JHA zoning committee planned to review the proposal at a meeting last Tuesday, and the JHA board will also review it at a future meeting, she said.