The Historic District Commission continues its frenetic summer pace this Wed, Aug. 13, 6:30 pm, causing skeptics to ask “What’s the rush?” Coming up this week: an HDC work session on 275 Islington Street, where developers want to demolish existing structures to put up several multifamily buildings. (The HDC agenda posted online on the city website says the new plan is for two multifamily buildings, but the Portsmouth Herald reports the number as five, and the city confirms that five is correct. Why should unpaid residents have to contact City Hall to double-check?)
The latest take on 275 Islington
So far, the process involving this project has been less adversarial than many due to a dialogue between residents, the developer, the local Islington Creek Neighborhood Association and some style changes made to the project at their urging. But some find the latest plan too large, (see the Herald) and a sticking point: the request to tear down a modest, unkempt New Englander. Some say it adds to a side street’s sense of place, so allowing the teardown would set poor HDC precedent.
Another Maplewood Ave project coming up
Also coming up: an HDC work session on the massive three-and-a-half to five-story development by 30 Maplewood Ave, LLC.
You can email the HDC via firstname.lastname@example.org
ARCHITECTURAL ACCOUNTABILITY VS. THE REAL ANARCHISTS’ MENU: ARCHITECTURAL JUNK FOOD
Contrary to a lawyer’s jab at critics of the contested 111 Maplewood Ave project as “architectural anarchists,” residents alarmed by a tsunami of huge, architecturally tedious buildings say architectural anarchy is what Portsmouth has now.
The local lawyer fighting for this project calls folks appealing its HDC approval “architectural anarchists”
The local lawyer fighting for this project recently called folks appealing its HDC approval “architectural anarchists.”
But critics don’t buy it. “We need architectural accountability, transparency, and a return to rules that respect what’s left of the city’s character before it’s too late,” opined one local, amused by the attack. “What’s being foisted on us by the real architectural anarchists is a bit like junk food– a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips. Portsmouth, whose face made its fortune, will lose out in the long run if we don’t get smart fast.”
Former City Attorney Peter Loughlin, a City Hall insider who has shepherded big developers’ projects before judges and land use boards for decades, reportedly (Portsmouth Herald) characterized critics last week as likeable “architectural anarchists” during a court appeal hearing, evoking images of the Wild West.
Notables buried in one of two cemeteries across from 111 Maplewood, include Prince Whipple, one of the few enslaved Africans who unsuccessfully petitioned for their freedom from the legislature in the 1700s but was freed by William Whipple
Critics, represented by an unpaid volunteer lawyer, opine that the Wild West is what Portsmouth has now at the behest of lax land use boards, an approval process gone awry, and a city that rolled out the red carpet for developers and their high-paid, usually-local legal talent pushing their projects through. Folks concerned about the city’s fragile mien worry that the 111 Maplewood Ave behemoth will overwhelm nearby historic cemeteries and houses at a gateway to downtown.
Portsmouth attorney Duncan MacCallum has donated 100 to 200 unremunerated hours to the cause. He says the HDC broke its own rules okaying the project, which some say will loom larger than each part of Portwalk, a Boston developers’ project whose bulk and style triggered widespread alarm. (Got ideas for how to create a meaningful legal fund? Contact email@example.com)
HDC CHAIR HARSHLY CUTS OFF RESIDENT CITING PLEASANT ST CONDO PROJECT AS CASE-STUDY OF PROCESS GONE AWRY (TALK ABOUT ANARCHY!)
Regular folks have somewhat better access to the HDC now that they can comment during work sessions. Still, some see room for improvement. During the Aug. 6 HDC meeting, HDC chairman Joseph Almeida abruptly (some say rudely) cut off a resident in the midst of opining that the 428 Pleasant Street condo project exemplifies everything wrong with Portsmouth development. After waiting about four hours to speak, former deputy Portsmouth City Manager Ted Jankowski was finally airing his view that the project is a case study for everything that’s wrong with the Portsmouth land-use approval process. The longtime former Planning Board-member was in the midst of saying that the staff, city administration and boards are all responsible for failing to protect citizens in their neighborhoods when suddenly, Almeida ordered him to “stick to the point.” Then Almeida let HDC-member John Wyckoff expound ad nauseum on unrelated matters, including a long, rambling tirade on his backyard projects.
Some abutters say they saw the “pink house” largely replaced without a demolition permit required for an over 50% teardown of the the original 1804 federal house
Here’s what the interrupted former city official maintains went wrong with the 428 Pleasant St project:
1) The city unquestioningly accepted the developers’ reliance on erroneous assessing records to claim that the single-family home at 428 Pleasant St had four dwelling units. However, state law clearly defines a dwelling unit by the number of bathrooms. The house had only two bathrooms, and had been owned and lived in by one extended family for 40 years. 2) Claiming it was a four-unit building, the developer was then allowed to appear magnanimous by offering to reduce it to three. 3) The land use boards allowed the expansion of a nonconforming use, which is technically illegal. 4) The land use boards also permitted a parking scheme based on three units that almost fills the backyard with double-stacked cars, using a tiny side lane off a dead-end street as egress. This is sure to disrupt the tiny car-choked neighborhood. 5) The HDC approval certificate spelled out that the main house was to be restored and the addition replaced, but the roof, second and third floors of the historic building were demolished despite neighbors multiple complaints to the city that this was going on. Removing more than 50% of an original structure constitutes a demolition under the International Building Code (IBC). The request for this demolition should have formally gone to the HDC at the very least before the work was done. Why didn’t it? And what role did city staff play when it did not require it to go before the HDC despite numerous complaints to City Hall at all levels? 6) One of two chimneys was torn down and neighbors and expert masons say inappropriately rebuilt largely out of soft interior brick, resulting in a checkerboard look instead of an historic restoration of an old chimney. 7) An unsightly, rusted chain-link fence between the property and the one behind it will be replaced by an inexplicably low wooden fence only 42 inches tall when abutters facing the view say a much higher fence is needed to screen out stray night light, redefine the street after the developer chopped down eight full-grown trees, and to hide the sight of raised electric meters from the very public square below. (Many privacy fences in the neighborhood are much higher). The result: far from being restored, an 1804 federal-period house at a key gateway to Portsmouth’s historic district has been all but replaced by three brand-new, non-historic condos.
The developer of the “pink house” won retroactive approval of changes to this chimney (shown under construction), despite experts’ objections that it was inappropriately rebuilt. Over neighbors’ objections, the HDC granted retroactive approval of other changes too
During last week’s HDC meeting, neighbors asking the HDC to have the chimney rebuilt right were rebuffed. Almeida said that would be harassment; HDC-member Wyckoff praised the developer for not rebuilding it with plywood faced with fake brick, suggesting he would have approved that. The HDC also refused neighbors’ request for a higher fence. Only two HDC-members, City Councilor Esther Kennedy and Reagan Ruedig, voted against retroactively approving the changes to the project, including the chimney. One HDC-member, Planning Board-member William Gladhill, voted for the change to the chimney even though he publicly admitted he hadn’t seen it.
“How can someone vote on something sight-unseen?,” asked an indignant abutter, ruminating about the vote several days later. “Who are the real anarchists here?”