January 15, 2009
Neighborhood residents and developers are closer to agreement over plans for housing and demolition near Neponset Circle.
By a show of hands, more than 20 members of the Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association (PHNA) decided Jan. 6 against trying to block the demolition of a wood-frame house dating from the early 19th century. Currently located on Holbrook Avenue, behind the Neponset Health Center, the vacant building is said to have been part of the Holbrook Tavern, which also included one of Dorchester's earliest carriage houses. Developers Robert A. Raimondi and Ray Muise want to use the site for eight units of new housing.
The surviving section of the old tavern was moved back from its original site on Neponset Avenue to make way for the Minot School. The school was later demolished and replaced by the health center.
But the tavern remnant is more familiar as the back of an abandoned building hung with ads facing traffic at Neponset Circle. While residents at the meeting sometimes called the building historic, they more frequently called it an eyesore.
"The building's a dump. I'm not opposed to putting something better in there," said one resident of Neponset Avenue.
In recent years, the Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association has tried to save older buildings that were facing demolition by other developers of new housing. But PHNA president Philip J. Carver said those buildings were more significant and in better condition.
The city has a process for demolition to be delayed or even blocked. The president of the Dorchester Historical Society, Earl Taylor, said a delay for the building on Holbrook Avenue would be unlikely without strong support from the community.
"It's one small piece of Dorchester history, so it may not be the one to fight for," said Taylor.
"I would love to save it," he said, "but I doubt I could argue economically for that."
Muise said the building was "in serious disrepair" and would cost "in excess of $600,000 to refurbish."
"That building is just not salvageable," he said. "It's been sitting there for 20 years vacant."
Muise said plans also call for at least 21 parking spaces.
During the same meeting at the Neponset VFW Post, neighbors learned the developers had withdrawn a plan to subdivide four renovated townhouse condominiums nearby, at 5-8 Holbrook Ave.
Raimondi said this week that a previous contractor had begun work on the subdivision without getting the necessary permit. He said the building also lacked the proper egress for additional units.
"It was just kind of a mess," said Raimondi, "so we decided to keep it as a single-family."
At the meeting, Muise said the development team would try to sell the units. And he told residents demolition of the old tavern building would be put off for 90 days. Muise also answered questions about plans for new construction, but Carver said he wanted the PHNA to consider those plans in a separate process.
Four other townhouse units forming part of the original development, at 1-4 Holbrook Ave, were sold in August and October of 2006. All of them ran into mortgage trouble, and three have since been resold. Raimondi says all eight units renovated so far have three bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and about 2,000 square feet - which he says amounts to a "whole house."
Records show the units sold in 2006 for $435,000 apiece. Two buyers each bought two units, and foreclosure petitions were filed on all their mortgages between March, 2007 and January, 2008. After foreclosure, three units were resold for as little as $220,000. The most recent unit sale was finalized last Friday, for $270,000.
"They got themselves one hell of a deal," said Raimondi, "because they bought it for $100,000 less than the market."