Landmarks Commission future unclear

March 14, 2014
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With the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) involvement in a controversy last summer in Jamaica Plain, the Gazette reached out to Mayor Martin Walsh’s administration to see whether the commission will undergo any changes moving forward.

But the Mayor’s Office and the BLC did not respond to requests for comment.

Meanwhile, an architectural historian who is a member of a local historic group said the BLC needs to be “modernized” and that with the right changes, historic preservation could be a “hallmark” of the Walsh administration. He also said that the demolition delay ordinance should be strengthened, which was at the heart of the aforementioned controversy.

The demolition delay ordinance, which is Article 85 of the zoning code, requires an automatic delay of 90 days in issuing a demolition permit for a building more than 50 years of age while the BLC reviews possible historic preservation.

The ordinance was thrust into the spotlight last summer with the partial demolition at 6 Peter Parley Road, which is the former home of the pioneer physician Dr. Marie Zakrzewska. The City said that only total demolitions fall under Article 85, as the Gazette reported at that time.

Steve Jerome, an architectural historian and member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society, said in an email to the Gazette that the duration of the demolition delay should be lengthened to allow for other preservation options to be considered.

“Six months to a year is the standard benchmark for demolition delay not only in the Commonwealth, but nationally,” he said.

Jerome said that the BLC needs to be modernized, as well as its website.

“The BLC website should be redesigned to be more transparent and user-friendly,” he said. “BLC and historic district meeting minutes, committee reports, demolition review cases (with photos, maps and other data) and other commission activities should be accessible to the public on the website.”

Along with modernizing its office, Jerome said that the BLC should update its surveys of the city’s neighborhoods and that they should be reviewed every five years.

“Inaction by the BLC in Jamaica Plain alone has resulted in heartbreaking losses (including breweries and the Dr. Marie Zakrzewska House) and places many more of the neighborhood’s historic resources at risk,” he said.

Jerome remarked that Boston’s historic past makes it “unlike most North American cities” and said that “comprehensive preservation planning and expanded landmark protections can be hallmarks of the Walsh Administration.”

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