Editorial: Close the historic review loophole

June 7, 2013
By

Whether the 120-year-old former home of Dr. Marie Zakrzewska—founder of today’s Dimock Community Health Center and a member of Boston’s historic feminist and abolitionist circles—should have been saved for posterity is debatable. The problem is, we are only having that discussion after most of the building was demolished thanks to a giant loophole in Boston’s crucial historic preservation review.

The Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) exists to identify and preserve Boston’s historic structures and landscapes, and it does an outstanding job. The quality of advice and resources it offers to property owners is high. The BLC also wields the significant power to “landmark” a building, preventing changes to its entire exterior without BLC approval.

Yet current City development review allows a potentially landmark-worthy property such as the Zakrzewska house to have its entire exterior stripped away without the BLC even hearing about it. That bureaucratic paradox should be erased.

Right now, the demolition of any building that is 50 or more years old is automatically reviewed by the BLC, which requires a community meeting to discuss the project and possible preservation before demolition can go forward. It is a mild and reasonable process.

The zoning code should be amended to expand the automatic delay and review to partial demolition as well. Otherwise, we are demolishing the manifest spirit and intent of having the BLC in the first place.