Editorial: A city-mandated pause could benefit Lower Mills project

A controversial plan to build a four-story condo complex with first-floor retail space along Washington Street in Lower Mills will be delayed for at least a few months after a city board ruled last week that the three existing properties on the site are historically significant.

The ruling is no doubt a disappointment to the development team that has been planning the project for about four years now. But, for other stakeholders in the immediate neighborhood, it’s a welcome pause that can, and should, allow for a better final product.

The Boston Landmarks Commission, which monitors historically significant properties in the city, invoked a 90-day demolition delay at its meeting last Tuesday, stalling movement — at least temporarily— on the site, which once included the former Molloy’s funeral parlor, for a proposed residential building with 57 condo units.

A development team led by John Sambucci of the Newton-based City Point Center, LLC ,would prefer to raze the three buildings to clear the site and make room for the building, which would back up to a block of businesses along Dorchester Avenue.

But Rosanne Foley, the executive director of the Landmarks Commission, said that their research found that all three buildings “that make up that section of the historic streetscape in Lower Mills, kind of representing from 1750 to the 1870s,” are important.

“They represent a timeline of architectural styles and what Lower Mills used to look like, so there was a lot of focus [in the Landmarks meeting] on thinking about the historic streetscape,” added Foley, who said the middle building is among the oldest 30 structures in the whole city of Boston.

How all of this might impact the ongoing Boston Planning and Development Agency’s review of the project is not yet fully clear. At a February meeting hosted by the BPDA, the City Point developers showed attendees alternative plans for building on the site in case the three houses stay on the lot.

In a statement on Tuesday, BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin said, “The project remains under review, and we continue to work with the Landmarks Commission and all other city departments while reviewing the public comments received during the initial the Project Notification Form (PNF).” 

Members of the Landmarks Commission, Foley said, hope the developers will “try really, really hard to find a configuration that would save at least the oldest building and try to preserve the feeling of the historic streetscape in the area.”

“We hope that during the 90 days that they will spend some time rethinking the design of the building,” Foley added. A faux-historic mansard on the design is a component they have been asked to reconsider. “If they come up with some alternatives, then we could possibly wave the demo delay. They did leave that door open...  for the developers to rethink the project, and we’re hopeful.”

We hope that the city will re-convene its own Impact Advisory Group – an all-volunteer team of neighbors who have been asked to advise the BPDA in its review work – to re-group. There should be at least one more full community meeting before the BPDA board is asked to make any hard and fast decisions on this important project.

– Bill Forry