Embattled developer's housing plans stalled

By his own account, developer and Boston firefighter Timothy O'Callaghan's finances are spread out a bit too thin these days. At a number of his Dorchester construction sites, unfinished plywood paneling bleaches in the sun and weeds grow up through tire ruts where construction vehicles once roamed. He said he has a plan to find the funds to start work again, but considering the cost of a good attorney, this may take a while.

O'Callaghan is battling a former business partner in housing court over several developments in South Boston, the city is hauling him into the criminal division of the same court for a zoning violation in the Neponset area, and another of his dormant projects was foreclosed upon in February. But then again, trouble is not new to O'Callaghan. He has been cited for dozens of zoning violations over the years.

In 1999, the city ordered him to close an illegal rooming house that lacked smoke detectors and safe exits. At the time he was working at Ladder 18 in South Boston, according to the Boston Globe.

In 2002, O'Callaghan demolished a 14-unit building at 58 Wheatland Ave. without a permit. Then Inspectional Services commissioner Kevin Joyce told the Globe he feared asbestos in the building wasn't properly accounted for.

In 2003, O'Callaghan reportedly built a three-family house on 1400 Columbia Road, but he had only taken out a permit for a single-family. The city halted construction, and today the building is listed on the tax rolls as a one-family with three floors and three bathrooms.

His history makes it all the more difficult for abutters to swallow the fact that O'Callaghan has been given approval for some of his more recent work. A long list of O'Callaghan's donations to the Dorchester Day parade, to local parochial schools and other institutions falls upon deaf ears on Pierce Avenue.

"It's very sad what he's doing to this neighborhood," said an abutter to 109 and 111 Pierce Avenue who preferred not to give a name, "and it's not just this neighborhood.

That abutter lives at one of two households on Plain Street that pooled resources last year to hire a surveyor, who quickly discovered that O'Callaghan's workers had excavated a hill nearly 17 feet into their property, putting a retaining wall in instead and thus threatening a garage's foundation. The half-constructed house at 109 Pierce turned out to be only a few feet from the property line, seven feet too short of the setback needed to meet zoning code.

"He didn't have sufficient land to build this," said the abutter. "From day one we've stated that to the city. They wouldn't deal with us at all. The city just said 'Right to build.'"

The Mayor's press office has not returned multiple phone calls for this article.

O'Callaghan said this week that his engineer made a mistake and the house may need to be razed, a solution he said he might accept. He already moved the retaining wall back toward his property, added fill dirt and new trees, but the neighbors are not satisfied with the those solutions and both parties say the geo-grade of the new wall is not up to code.

The city's building department, which declined to comment for this article, has opened a criminal case against O'Callaghan, accusing him of willfully, knowingly or repeatedly breaking the zoning code at the Pierce Avenue development. The arraignment in that case is set for June 30.

Meanwhile, both unfinished houses sit silent, unfinished, and only recently boarded up. And according to O'Callaghan, the Pierce Avenue fiasco is the prime reason his financial reason are tapped.

"This has ruined my position," he said in a phone interview this week. "If there was any way I could have rectified this somehow I would have done it. It's legitimately a disaster what happened with the surveying. It's ridiculous. It's something I didn't realize was out of place."

The financial woes, he said, are also why a much larger project of his, one block over at 35-45 Coffey Street, is dormant. The one-story former nursing home on the site is only partially demolished, and two unfinished three-story buildings comprising around 36 units have lain dormant for over six months, according to neighbors. The walls, roof, windows and other necessities are incomplete. O'Callaghan said he is selling another of his property holdings to get funds to restart this project.

But he is also embroiled in another legal battle, this one a civil case brought by his former business partner Bob Raimondi Sr. of Dorchester Avenue's R & R Sales.

In the case, Raimondi is claiming that O'Callaghan blocked sales of certain properties among several he and O'Callaghan were developing around West Third and Bolton streets in South Boston, and that O'Callaghan's partner John McCormack didn't release the funds from other sales, among a variety of other complaints. O'Callaghan counters that Raimondi neglected to pay him for construction work and wouldn't share key business decisions. Each man denies the other's charges.

The properties were put into receivership in February, with orders to a trustee to finish construction and sell them in a timely manner. The latest action in the case was the appointment of an accountant last month to go over the financial history of the partnership in an attempt to untangle the dispute.

Tossed in with the South Boston business deal was 5-15 Holbrook Ave., a row of unfinished townhouses in Neponset owned by O'Callaghan that have sat dormant for over a year, according to people who work in the area. Raimondi managed to foreclose on that property in February.

Raimondi said that development would move forward again, as soon as permits and financing are lined up.

"We're probably looking at 30 to 45 day before things will be going along," he said last week. "The ownership is solidified."

Asked about his former partner's business methods, Raimondi declined to speculate. Instead he quoted a radio program from his youth called The Shadow.

"Who knows what lurks in the hearts and minds of men."