House plan raises rock-cracking fears

June 10, 2011
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PARKSIDE—A plan to build a house on a rocky lot at the end of Park Lane has neighbors concerned that their foundations or aging retaining walls might crack. The lot’s location atop a high ridge could affect several nearby streets.

But the would-be developers of 17 Park Place—Gary Martell and Bob Reissfelder—have promised to use a drill-and-split method that should not cause vibrations in the rock ledge. The method was suggested by the neighbors. The duo is also minimizing the amount of rock removed in the plan.

Neighbors and the developers appeared close to agreement on that issue and design details at a special meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Zoning Committee held June 6 at the Farnsworth House.

The developers are seeking to build the single-family house without zoning variances. The property falls under the Walnut/Sigourney Neighborhood Design Overlay District, which means the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) will review the design to make sure it fits in with the historic neighborhood. The BRA’s public comment period ends today.

Zoning Committee chair David Baron noted the odd fact that the lot was sold to its current owners about 30 years ago by the City of Boston for only $500. That was apparently part of a program that sells lots that can’t be developed to abutters for bigger yard space. Baron said that suggests the lot was considered too rocky to build on.

The owners are James and Leslie Leath, according to city and county property records. They did not attend the meeting and do not have a listed phone number.

The committee voted to recommend design approval, as long as the developers and neighbors reached an agreement.

Resident Connie Cecil warned that even if there is an agreement, Martell has a controversial history in the neighborhood, including allegedly violating parts of such agreements. Martell and Reissfelder and their attorney, Anthony Ross, did not respond to those remarks. Martell declined to comment on the project to the Gazette.

About six years ago, Martell was long involved in a failed condo development on Brookley Road, where neighbors accused him of not following parts of a development agreement. But those issues were finally settled. In 2007, Martell drew fire for destroying a historic rock outcropping and trees on a Bynner Street project. But he also gained praise for historic preservation work on a house there. At the June 6 meeting, he cited that  project as an example of his experience removing rock ledge without causing problems for neighbors.

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