Letter: City needs better preservation rules

Thank you for covering the advocacy of the Friends of Historic Mission Hill for saving and reusing our historic buildings. (“Local history group keeps fighting for landmarks,” Feb. 7.) Fortunately, we are not alone in these efforts. When interviewed for your articles, our mention of others in Mission Hill who support and work for preservation of housing, quality of life and local history in Mission Hill did not make the cut for the Gazette, but they need to be appreciatively thanked and recognized. These include: Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services, Back of the Hill CDC, Friends of the Parker Hill Library, the Mission Church Restoration Fund, Mission Hill Main Streets and Discover Roxbury. Other advocates include the residents from the Triangle area who actively organized for their Architectural Conservation District in 1985, and the Citizens Advisory Committee that reviewed development proposals for 80, 90, and 100 Smith St. in the Mission Church complex and recommended maximum preservation.

To clarify some inaccuracies, the Smith Street buildings are not exactly saved. Yes, the original grammar school at 90 Smith has been rehabbed and is under long-term lease for occupancy by the Harvard School of Public Health. The future for St Alphonsus Hall and the former convent at 80 and 100 Smith is in limbo; both can be demolished, according to the terms of the landmark designation in 2005. Although the six-building Mission Church complex was identified as unique in the city, the designation was an ambiguous victory at best.

Honoring Mission Hill’s history and sense of place can take many forms. Regulations that support a respect for the neighborhood and its history are certainly helpful. For example, clarifying the definition of demolition and rewriting Boston’s demolition delay rules would substantially contribute to citizens’ efforts. Our 90-day demolition delay period is one of the shortest in the Commonwealth.

The unexpected demolition last week of the circa 1926 former tavern on Huntington Avenue and the nearly complete loss of the 19th century wood-frame farmhouse at 721-723 Parker St. are cases in point; both were legally permitted without community review. The process cries out for well-written policies that consider neighborhood impacts as well as the significance of the standing structure. Historic preservation as well as appropriate new development cannot be taken for granted in Boston.

Alison Pultinas and Lois Regestein

Friends of Historic Mission Hill

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