ZBA blasts firm for debris mound

John Ruch

Gazette Photo By David Bechle
The contraversial mound of construction debris on the Todesca Equipment company site at 19 Lanesville Terrace.

FOREST HILLS—A top city construction firm has created a gigantic mound of debris at 19 Lanesville Terrace in violation of several previously mandated conditions, according to residents and city officials who scolded the company at a Feb. 10 city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) hearing.

Todesca Equipment Company of Hyde Park now has until April 7 to prove it is in compliance on a series of provisos attached to a 2005 ZBA decision that let it store construction materials and equipment at the site as a zoning variance. Its permission to store the material there technically expired on Feb. 8.

The mound of dirt, concrete, bricks and other material is about 200 feet long and 15 feet high, easily visible from nearby homes.

“You’re not going to believe you live less than a mile away from this,” said Stephen Lussier, a member of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Zoning Committee, in a Gazette interview after the committee early this month denied Todesca’s permit renewal request. He suggested jokingly that the owners’ faces be carved Mount Rushmore-style into the “mountain of debris.”

“I’m really disturbed to hear that something in my neighborhood was approved by this board [with conditions] a few years ago and there has been no compliance,” said ZBA chair Robert Shortsleeve, a Jamaica Plain resident, at the hearing.

Joe Consalvo of Hyde Park’s Union Contracting, who is acting as a consultant on the permitting process for Todesca, said he believes the firm is in compliance on many provisos. But he and Tom Russo of Todesca indicated that work will be done between now and April 7 to meet all of the necessary conditions. The company requested and received a ZBA deferral to meet further with the community.

The debris mound is the latest chapter in nearly 20 years of controversy over the site, which sits on a small road off Washington Street south of the Forest Hills T Station. It abuts houses on Arboretum Road and is just across South Street from Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum.

Todesca Equipment is part of the Todesca Companies, a major street construction firm frequently contracted by the City of Boston. In 1995, Todesca handled the reconstruction of Washington Street in JP.

In 1991, Todesca horrified the community with a proposal to build an asphalt plant on the site. The prospect of a plant producing 250 tons of asphalt per day, along with all of the truck traffic to move it, drew 200 residents to oppose it at a public meeting.

The opponents included Mayor Thomas Menino, then a Boston city councilor. He told the Gazette at the time that it was the type of facility that should be “put out in the wilderness” and could operate there only if “they bring in their asphalt trucks by helicopter.”

Despite the opposition and a denial by the ZBA, Todesca kept pushing for the asphalt plant for at least several more months until finally dropping it.

“Once people hear the name Todesca surface again, they will become quite anxious and vigilant,” said Dick McDonough, then chair of the JPNC Zoning Committee, at the time.

It appears the site was empty during the asphalt plan controversy. In 1998, Todesca got ZBA approval for on-site storage, which is a violation under its light industrial use. The approval always came with an expiration date, and Consalvo said he was under the impression that regular renewal was a “mere formality.”

Russo told the Gazette that the site is used to “stockpile material for construction—street work for the City of Boston.”

It is unclear who exactly manages the site. A contact phone number posted at the site is that of the Todesca Companies. Consalvo indicated to the ZBA that he has been running the site for Todesca since 1998. But Russo told the Gazette that Consalvo does not work for Todesca and was brought in as a consultant on the zoning variance renewal. “He’s familiar with these processes,” Russo said.

Joe Consalvo told the Gazette that he is a cousin of City Councilor Rob Consalvo. Councilor Consalvo confirmed that and clarified that the Todesca site is not in his district.

“I have no relation or role in Joe’s business,” Councilor Consalvo said. “I don’t get involved in his business and he doesn’t get involved in my business.”

At some point, the ZBA attached provisos to the 1998 storage permission for the site—conditions that have to be met for the zoning variance to be allowed. The 11 provisos include such items as hiding any debris behind a fence; properly securing the site; using a maximum of 25 percent of the site for storage; and controlling dust from blowing off of the land.

The Gazette recently found the gigantic mound to be easily visible and its fence wide open. Lussier said neighbors complained to the JPNC Zoning Committee about illegal dumping and dust blowing off the debris.

“Most of the provisos were not met,” said Colleen Keller, the JP Neighborhood Coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, in ZBA testimony.

“They have not in any way complied with the provisos…and seem at best indifferent to the concerns of abutters,” said JPNC Zoning Committee member Marie Turley at the ZBA hearing. After the hearing, she complained in the hallway to Consalvo about his not showing up at a previous Zoning Committee hearing in January.

Shortsleeve complained about what he said is a pattern of industrial property owners making promises to protect residential neighbors, then not following through. He said the ZBA often approves such projects with provisos and a requirement for design review by Boston Redevelopment Authority architects.

“And often we find they come back three years later…[and] they put up a cyclone fence and painted a curb red,” Shortsleeve said. “There’s no enforcement for compliance.”

He said his preference would be denying Todesca’s request because it appears to be in violation. He also suggested that the ZBA require a plan for screening and buffering the property from neighbors before considering anything else.

The ZBA ultimately chose to defer a decision until April 7. But ZBA member Anthony Pisani made it clear that the board will expect solid evidence that each proviso is fulfilled—including a complete list and photos.

“We have to see there has been a level of compliance,” Pisani said. “It’s not sufficient to take a Xerox of past plans.”

In a hallway discussion after the ZBA hearing, Consalvo pointed out that the site has never been cited by city inspectors. He argued that Todesca is actually in compliance on some provisos, and also that it is being given little time to shape up on others.

“The thing is, you’re supposed to be in compliance [from the beginning],” Turley said.

Asked whether Todesca can get everything fixed in time for the next ZBA hearing, Russo told the Gazette, “We have to do what we have to do.”

Corrected version: The print version of this article incorrectly identified Jay Walsh, the head of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, as a cousin of Joe Consalvo. Consalvo had pointed out Walsh to a Gazette reporter, identified himself as a cousin of Walsh and confirmed the identification. But there is no such family relationship, according to the Mayor’s Press Office and one of Joe Consalvo’s actual cousins, City Councilor Rob Consalvo.

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