Benton Road project rejected again

by Tom Nash on March 4, 2011

An unpopular proposal to subdivide the yard of a historic home to build three condo units was rejected for a second time by the city Wednesday, leaving a lawsuit as the developer’s only hope of following through on the project.

MLM Realty Trust is attempting to subdivide 1 Benton Road, which includes a Victorian era home known as the Giobbe house that was recently converted into three condos, in order to build three more units in a new building.

Neighbors have been vocal in their opposition to the project, both because the company dismantled historic features of the home and the environmental and traffic impact the subdivision would have on the area.

Wednesday’s unanimous Zoning Board of Appeals vote not to overturn the city’s earlier decision to deny a building permit was preceded by testimony from residents who have been fighting the project for more than a year.

A plea for support sent to Somerville residents living in homes on the historic registry resulted in 207 letters opposing the project. An online petition had gathered 20 signatures by the night of the meeting.

John Pijewski, who circulated the letter, was among a handful of neighbors who told the board the project would set a precedent in favor of disregarding historic property and squeezing too much development into already crowded neighborhoods.

“(The developer) took advantage of all the hard work and effort we put into our houses,” Pijewski told the board, calling the possible subdivision “a black eye on the neighborhood.”

Ward 3 Alderman Tom Taylor, who has had heated arguments with the developer at past meetings, joined Alderman-at-Large Bill White in speaking against the project.

“We want to get the message across that this project does not belong in the neighborhood,” Taylor told the board. “It never has, and it never will.”

MLM attorneys Rich Di Girolamo and Tom Reiley, a former attorney general, told the ZBA that the neighbors’ refusal to meet with the developer for mediation, which the city attempted to organize with the Cambridge-based Consensus Building Institute, amounted to unwillingness to compromise.

“They wouldn’t even dignify us with the chance to talk about our differences,” Reilly said. “I thought it was an insult, quite frankly, to this board.”

Both attorneys say MLM has the right to build on the property. Reilly said the opposition the company faced leading up to the earlier Planning Board decision against the project and the opposition from the neighbors was “surreal.”

Before voting to affirm the earlier denial, the board took differing views on whether the tone of the opposition was appropriate. While clerk Susan Fontano praised the group of neighbors for their passion, alternate member Josh Safdie said he took exception to many of their arguments. He said the references to the amount of money spent on their homes did not win him over.

“I find their smugness and elitism difficult,” Safdie said.

After the meeting, Di Girolamo said MLM Realty will initiate a lawsuit against the city.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ward3Guy March 8, 2011 at 1:37 PM

I am appalled at Safdie’s comments. He should be thrown off the ZBA. The neighbors are elite and smug because they enhanced the value of their properties and the development would have slashed the value they helped enhance?!

The Planning Board was spot on in their denial of this project, and the ZBA rightfully followed suit. Both the neighbors and the members of the Planning Board who spoke out against this project should be lauded.

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