Harvest Street home owner loses bid to add attic dormers

The Zoning Board of Appeal on Tuesday denied a request from the owner of a house on Harvest Street to add dormers to her attic so she could build a master bedroom there and move in - after neighbors, the local civic association and several elected officials opposed her proposal.

At issue with Brenda Liu's request for 8 Harvest St. was not so much the dormers themselves as the way she has kept up - or failed to keep up - the property in recent years and what one neighbor said was a confusing series of proposals she's made related to the number of bedrooms in the house.

The board voted to deny Liu's request without prejudice, which means she can come back before the board with a new proposal, if she can get neighbors to agree. Acting board Chairman Mark Erlich told Liu he "strongly" suggests Liu talk to neighbors before going forward with any new plans.

Liu, who has owned the house for 32 years, said she wanted to move into it because "I'm divorced, so I need a place to live." She said the house's current bedrooms are tiny and that the attic is now just empty space - she doesn't even use it for storage.

But after she made her case, representatives of Mayor Walsh and city councilors Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Annissa Essaibi George (at large) said they opposed the dormers because of concerns from the neighborhood, which included a fear she really wanted to turn the house into a boarding house.

"This has been a problem property over the years and continues to be," Harvest Street resident Brian Heger said. For example, he said the sidewalk out front is never shoveled after snow storms.

Heger was about to sit down after that, when Erlich called him back to the microphone to explain the issue in more detail, because he was puzzled by the strong opposition to dormers, normally not a controversial matter. "It seems like a fairly de minimis proposal and yet it seems it has universal opposition," Erlich noted, adding that there's nothing the board can do about snow shoveling, but he wanted to hear more about zoning issues.

Heger said that over the years, Liu has presented the McCormack Civic Association with upgrade plans that left other residents wondering just how many bedrooms she planned to put in the house and whether her real goal was to open a boarding house. He then repeated his concern about continued neglect of the property.

Liu denied that she ever wanted to open a boarding house and said all she originally wanted to do was to split the house into two separate apartments, but she noted the zoning board had earlier rejected her request for that.

But after noting the longstanding issues between Liu and her neighbors, Erlich moved to deny the request. "I think it would probably make sense for us to heed voices of the opposition," he said. He told Liu he strongly suggests she come up with "a redesign that could speak to the interests of the neighborhood" - and to meet with her neighbors to assuage their concerns.

Watch the hearing: