In a continuation from July 2018 and April 2019, applicant Josh Federman returned before the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) on May 7 with another proposal to demolish the existing building at 587 Albany St. and construct a six-unit residential building in its place. The proposal ended up being fairly controversial, and the SELDC ended up denying the application without prejudice.
“We appreciate all of your time to date,” Federman told the Commission. Commissioners had gone to the property to examine it themselves, as well as listened to what a structural engineer (hired by the applicants) had to say about the deteriorating building. Senior Preservation Planner Nicholas Armata said that this building is especially significant as it is one o the last remaining warehouses in the district, and was designed as a rug beating factory. Armata said this building was a “direct correlation to the bay, which is what the neighborhood was developed for.”
Commissioner John Freeman said that there is deterioration of the piles under the building, as well as a “dangerous” failing chimney and fire escapes. The building also has not been shored for public safety.
Federman said that they are trying to follow the guidelines of the structural engineer. “We hope that we are able to move forward with the plan,” he said, and design something that is historically appropriate.
Another twist for the commissioners came when a man who said he was the current owner of the building asked to speak. Federman and his team currently have a purchase and sale agreement for the building, but the current owner said that he had a “kind request” for the commission: the building is currently the subject of litigation, so he asked that they “hold off” on doing anything until after the litigation. The owner is trying to prevent the applicants from officially purchasing the building.
“This is something you need to work on the building department with,” Armata told him. “As far as we’re concerned, it’s settled.” Armata said he has spoken to city attorneys, and the applicants for this proposal are in the process of owning the property, so he said that the commission should treat the proposal as if they already own it.
“We have the building under agreement to purchase,” Federman said. He said that any suring of the building would be done by the seller of the building. “We’re not in a position to make any temporary repairs,” he added. “Any work done today would have to be done by the current owner.”
“This is complicated,” said Commissioner Catherine Hunt. She wanted to know why the building was not shored.
“The purchase and sale agreement is null and void,” the current owner said. “We are the legal owners and just like Mr. Federman said, the owner should be suring the building.” He said the reason they have not done it is because they have $200,000 in legal fees to fight the potential buyer, “so funds are kind of limited now.” He said that it can be fixed, however, as there is no debt on the building right now. He said he could borrow one million dollars to fix that building—to shore it and renovate it.
“This is complicated, as you said, Catherine, and we have been instructed to look at the application that is in front of us,” said Commissioner John Amodeo. “The building has a possible alternative fate here. It’s a preferably preserved building. In situations like this we want to be cautious and demolition is final. Even without an ownership dispute, the building is preferably preserved. Airing on the side of preservation would be something I would advise.”
“I feel much the same way,” said Commissioner Peter Sanborn. “No doubt that the building has severe deterioration.” Amodeo added that after visiting the site, he was conflicted about what to do.
“I will say that at the end of the site meeting, I was prepared to allow the demolition,” Freeman said. He said he felt this way because if they allowed the demolition, the Commission would have full review of the new construction and “could require anything we thought was appropriate.”
However, “I think the appropriate finding tonight is to air on the side of preservation and you can’t help but understand that there is an ownership dispute.”
“I just want to emphasize the unique use of this building,” Hunt said. She said it adds to the significance and is representative of a special type of building, and suggested that portions of it may be able to be repurposed or rebuilt, as the “essence of the building should be preserved.”
After some more discussion, the Commission decided to deny the application without prejudice, meaning the applicants can come back at a later date with a different proposal, but they are not allowed to demolish the entire building as it was most recently proposed.