House demo plan questioned

April 15, 2011
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Gazette Photo by John Ruch
The house at 207 Chestnut Ave.

A developer’s plan to demolish a vacant house and build four new units on Chestnut Avenue is drawing enough community concern to spur the formation of the new Glenvale Park Neighborhood Association (GPNA).

Pat McKenna of Brighton aims to replace the 207 Chestnut Ave. house with two two-family houses on a subdivision of the 15,000-square-foot lot. He presented the plan to about 30 residents on April 6 at the Nate Smith House in a meeting specifically addressing the historical value of the house.

Many residents questioned the demolition plan, especially because new construction would involve drilling foundations into the local Roxbury puddingstone, which can crack easily and potentially damage nearby houses. McKenna said he would hire specialists to avoid that problem.

McKenna said the house is “structurally unsound” and has to be demolished. But he also acknowledged that he bought the house with the intent of tearing it down. Two residents who had prior interest in developing the property said their tour of the house showed the house is stable.

Rehab “would be the best for the neighborhood, but it’s unfeasible,” McKenna said, citing an engineer’s report that the house is being partly held up by old tree limbs in the basement.

But Paul Donelan, a local resident who heads Donelan Contracting, said the house looked OK when he inspected it for another development four to six months ago. “It looked pretty structurally sound,” Donelan said.

“None of those guys have [engineering] reports. That’s all personal opinion,” McKenna told the Gazette after the meeting.

The meeting was required by the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) as part of its review of the demolition due to the house’s age—reportedly about a century old—and its location in a special zoning district that requires city design review of projects to make sure they fit the local character.

That zoning district is called Glenvale Park, which inspired the name of the GPNA, recently formed by resident Sara Warren.

The BLC requires that developers present specific sorts of information at such meetings, some of which McKenna provided and some of which he did not. Missing information included a presentation on the house’s history and a full discussion of why alternatives to demolition are not financially or physically possible.

The meeting grew heated at times over process issues. Warren and other residents criticized McKenna for not following the BLC’s meeting guidelines, but most of them did not know the guidelines themselves, and Warren declined to tell McKenna what they are. McKenna said the BLC did not inform him of all of the requirements.

“You’re treating me like a child,” McKenna complained at one point. “I know what I’m doing.” He pledged to be honest and open with the neighbors.

Residents expressed other concerns, including the possible loss of large trees on the property and the handling of any asbestos-containing materials during demolition. Both of those issues came up in another of McKenna’s developments at 22-24 Custer St. in 2007, as the Gazette reported at the time.

In that project, McKenna controversially cut down several large trees, saying that they turned out to be unhealthy. And, McKenna told the Gazette at the time, the project was briefly stopped by the city because workers were removing asbestos tiles from an old house without having special licenses. Work resumed when McKenna hired asbestos professionals.

McKenna has built several condo projects in JP in recent years involving combinations of demolition and rehabs. His latest project, which he suggested that neighbors take a look at, is at 84 Sheridan St. in Hyde Square.

The GPNA, which has yet to hold a formal meeting, covers the stretches of Chestnut Avenue and Lamartine and Rockview streets between Green Street and Spring Park Avenue. For more information, residents can e-mail glenvalepark@gmail.com.