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About AllianceViews

This blog is a place for dialogue on issues and actions relating to Boston's unique built environment and the preservation and continuing evolution of historic resources within it. My goal, as the Executive Director of the Boston Preservation Alliance, is to post timely, relevant and thought-provoking intelligence, ideas, and insights that will engage conversations, inform our actions, and broaden perspectives on preservation.

We want to hear from you — so start a conversation, share a thought or comment, and let us know what you think.

Greg Galer, Executive Director, Boston Preservation Alliance

GREG GALER
Executive Director

AllianceViews Blog

Access + Beacon Hill Shouldn’t = Conflict, Should = Compromise

September 3rd, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Beacon Hill

 

The recent, and well-publicized, debate in Beacon Hill regarding accessibility ramps highlights the inherent tensions that come part and parcel with historic preservation.  The work we do is always about compromise one way or another. Anyone who thinks even our most well “preserved” and “authentically” historic sites come to us unchanged from their original state, unfiltered by generations of interpretation and adjusted by the morals, judgments, and standards of the day in which they were made is simply naive. Would George Washington recognize Mount Vernon? Would Thomas Jefferson say that Monticello matches his well-planned home? Would Paul Revere feel comfortable in “his” house we all know so well?

Every day at the Alliance, at the Boston Landmarks Commission, at the Massachusetts Historical Commission, at Historic New England, at the National Park Service we agree and support change and alteration.  And preservationists have been doing so from the very beginning of the field.  Most of our most iconic properties were “brought back” – redesigned to a look from a previous time in a process of trying to unwind the clock. But brought back to an appearance often poorly documented and in many cases for which the evidence of details was slim or non-existent. Staff, architects and specialist consultants had to make thousands of assumptions about how things looked and worked, starting of course with trying to select a time period to which one was restoring.  Let’s not forget that historic buildings and landscapes are organic both on their own and with the hand of man. They change over time, evolving nearly constantly.

Add to these uncertainties and challenges the necessity to modify these places to meet our modern needs. Today we wouldn’t argue about the need for fire protection, despite the challenges they introduce for historic interiors, but that was a major point of debate not all that long ago.  What about heating and air conditioning? Bathrooms? Electricity and lighting?  The list goes on and on. And with each property the discussion varies, but each modern modification requires compromise of the historic site.

At the Alliance we often deal with adaptive reuse projects — historic buildings finding new, economically viable, and productive uses in our city. Warehouses in Fort Point turned into offices, hotels, and living spaces. Abandoned churches converted to housing. Of course change is required. Even projects that look back to original plans of the designing architect as the root of their new design recognize change is inevitable – original designs failed, new  and better performing materials are available and our demands and expectations are different. The recently restored Filene’s Building is a case in point. The Millennium team started with Daniel Burnham’s original drawings, then asked what needed to be changed, then justified those changes with the Boston Landmarks Commission, who worked with the Millennium team to give us the amazing results we see today. Change — yes? Preservation — yes.  These are certainly not mutually exclusive demands. There are tensions, but the needs need not be mutually exclusive. Give and take are necessary as is a mutual respect that change and preservation both hold validity and the best result is somewhere between.

So, back to Beacon Hill. Accommodations to modern needs are part and parcel of the preservation business. And the folks at Beacon Hill have clearly said they are open to change to enhance access to their streets and sidewalks. Their debate (as is often the case) is how much change and the details. The devil is always in the details. The sticking point is when those details effectively block the entire project.

We often look at some key issues when in the heat of these debates.  Is the change proposed reversible or will we will be stuck with it forever?  I would say on the city side of the debate, the changes are reversible. At some point down the road if/when a new methodology develops something else can be done. Another common thought process is to step back and determine if we are overly focusing on a detail and “losing the forest for the trees.” So, is the accessibility ramp really the issue?  There are a variety of broader access challenges in Beacon Hill that need to be addressed – the sidewalks themselves are an impediment – many too narrow or with terribly uneven surfaces. Trees limiting sidewalk access are an impediment as well.

These additional challenges are part of the Beacon Hill concern, for as the city plowed their way to get the ramps will they do the same to address these additional access issues? It’s that precedent argument. Allow  the ramps, than what next? To me these bigger issues are where we should all be focusing, and what should have been the focus from the beginning. Ramps don’t solve the problem, really. So why the big fight there?  What a distraction this has been from the real issue – how to improve access to the district as a whole and how to do so in a way that strikes an appropriate compromise between change to meet modern needs and respect for and preservation of an essential element of the character that makes Boston the place we love. But instead we get sucked down the rabbit hole debating details of materials and polarized to the class battles that have been used to characterize Beacon Hill for generations.

You may wonder why the Alliance has not weighed in publicly on this issue.  We’ve had several behind the scenes discussions. And, believe me, it’s not that we haven’t considered nor discussed how to make a statement that would be helpful.  I’ve written various versions of letters to the editor of the Globe several times, but always end up setting them aside for fear of fanning the flames. If we can’t be helpful and productive there is no sense adding to the cacophony.

So what to do? We need to all:

a) Acknowledge that there is some level of validity on both sides

b) Recognize that change is a part of preservation

c) Agree that Beacon Hill is one of the most important historic districts in the nation and an essential part of the character of the city (no disrespect to other historic districts in the city)

d) Step back and focus on the bigger issues of access – the ramps only being one piece

e) Support the fact that local historic district commissions play an important and legal role in managing the preservation and, yes, the change in their districts and work to improve the process rather than gut their authority.

I plead with everyone to step back, take a deep breath, and re-engage in a productive dialog. The Alliance offers itself as common ground to have a respectful discussion that moves us forward as preservationists have from the beginning — accepting and managing change while preserving the essential aspects of the city we love.

 

Character Supersedes Density in Kenmore Square Project

July 10th, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The Rat

 

We often hear that what the city needs is more density.  Bigger and taller are better, density brings more residential units and that’s what we need.  While these things can be true, they aren’t always. Bigger, taller, and denser without more thoughtful planning about the context and the use of these new structures only gets us so far.  What about the character not just of these new buildings themselves, but the character of their surroundings – how they affect their immediately adjacent neighborhoods and the broader city they impact with increasing demands on city services, with their potentially huge shadows and wind impacts and on the character of the city, and the way in which they alter neighborhoods – for the better? for the worse? And, a growing question – do they support the diversity (social and economic diversity) we all want in Boston? I’m fine with change — some change. Evolution is what keeps our city alive, and high end housing is one component, but we always need to examine the calculus of the pros and cons of change.  Each project has positive and negative aspects, and we need to be honest with ourselves as we examine both.

What made me think of these issues?  First was an article in the Boston Globe the other day by Shirley Leung   about the old Howard Johnson’s near Fenway Park.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/08/leung/OjKat9ZeNpldSuLcdNnoKI/story.html

http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/07/08/leung/OjKat9ZeNpldSuLcdNnoKI/picture.html

There Stephen Samuels re-thought his gut reaction to demolish and go as big and dense as possible and realized that the character of the neighborhood really needed something else. And what a brilliant idea he had with homage to the Kenmore Square of my younger days, a place where Punk and New Wave music got its grounding in clubs like the Rat and fine dining establishments like the Pizza Pad.  Who else remembers that Kenmore Square of days past?

“All along, it was supposed to be another cookie-cutter hotel/apartment complex, on the site of the Howard Johnson in the Fenway. Raze the squat and outdated motel, and then build as high as possible to make the most money.”

“Samuels had a vision for how they could take advantage of the memories connected to the HoJo. His thinking: Amid a sea of new towers, including some he built, preserving the old 94-room motel would add character to one of Boston’s hottest new neighborhoods.”

So… Change and evolution of the city?  Yes, of course!  I keep saying some of the most exciting places in the city are where old and new come together. Knee-jerk change for the sake of change? Knee-jerk height and density as a simplistic solution to challenges such as housing? No!  Take a look at “Older, Smaller, Better,” a National Trust Preservation Green Lab Study: http://tinyurl.com/qhddl3l

And see how many older neighborhoods meet many of our goals and challenges.

 

A Plethora of Data Show Preservation Works

June 13th, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

 

One Example of Metrics in Historic Neighborhoods (in this case in Seattle)

One Example of Metrics in Historic Neighborhoods (in this case in Washington, DC)

The benefits of our historic resources are many, and those of you reading this blog are likely mostly “the converted,” people who recognize and support efforts to preserve and enhance the historic character of cities like Boston for the many wonderful things such work brings to a city’s vitality and economic success. We have for decades been extoling the virtues of historic cities, historic neighborhoods and landscapes, and individual buildings. While we’ve had much anecdotal data to report, and many great examples to which we can point and say, “See, look, right there, see all those restaurants and people? See those successful businesses? See the people living in this neighborhood and making an active community,” we have at times struggled to point to real data – real numbers that support our claims about the many benefits that follow a preservation-minded ethos for urban planning and development. And this lack of metrics is a challenge for us, living in a data-focused society and, perhaps more significantly, a data-focused political world.

If we want to be convincing, if we want to have a seat at the table, we need numbers to back up both our anecdotal information and our emotional connections. Sure, preserving our history is about as “Motherhood and apple pie” as one can get. Who is going to argue with the feel-good aspect of saving places intimately connected with our past? But the reality is that emotional ties will only get us so far. When people ask “where are the numbers”? We need to have answers.

The Boston Preservation Alliance dipped our toe into this issue with our AllianceForum2014:  Preservonomics 101- The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation last March. If you missed it you can still watch on our web site: http://www.bostonpreservation.org/ (bottom left). There Donovan Rypkema, an expert on preservation economics, wowed the audience with statistic after statistic of the many economic and environmental benefits of our historic neighborhoods and building stock.

Now, however, there are some recent reports, all readily available online, that are worthy of examination. They each provide arrows to our quiver as we promote our cause.  And, it is important to remind you (as my last blog posting was focused), that the Federal Historic tax credit remains under threat.  Data such as noted here is essential to our success.

So, take a look at these reports– skim or read in detail, but I request that from each you pull out some facts and figures that motivate you, and share them. Share them with your friends and neighbors, with your community, with your workplace colleagues over the water cooler. Pick up the phone or your keyboard and contact your representatives locally and in Washington and tell them how much the historic character of the city matters to you AND how there is data to prove  with dollars and cents it should matter to them as well.

 

Arts Boston recently released “The Arts Factor 2014: Measureable Impact. Boundless Possibilities,” a study showing the economic Impact of “Arts and Culture” and the historic fabric of the city is an important part of its cultural success.

Did you know: 18 Million people are welcomed by Boston Arts every year – that’s enough to sell out Fenway Park 488 times!  That arts and culture generate $1billion in direct spending.

The report points to the critical identity, vitality, innovation, and transformation brought by Arts and Culture to the city of Boston.

Take a look at some remarkable numbers: http://www.artsboston.org/page/artsfactor

 

The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently published “Older Smaller Better: Measuring how the character of buildings and blocks influence Urban Activity”

This study uses innovative statistical analysis to test the long-cited work of Jane Jacobs’ 1961 book, The Death and Life of the Great American City. Jacobs argued that urban renewal sucked the energy and vitality from urban centers, where instead historic neighborhoods with their diversity of buildings and spaces fostered a healthy mix of local businesses. Using a variety of metrics the study concludes that older neighborhoods and their buildings support many of the characteristics we now recognize as desirable for social, economic, and environmental reasons.  They are walkable, embraced by young people, active with nightlife, provide affordable and flexible space for entrepreneurs, foster a creative and local economy, and support a desirable density but in a way that is hidden and contextual with stats like high jobs per commercial square foot.

Check it out:

http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/sustainable-communities/green-lab/oldersmallerbetter

 

Each year the National Park Service analyzes the impact of Federal Tax Incentives of Rehabilitating Historic Buildings. The report for the Fiscal Year 2013 clearly demonstrates the tremendous success of this program.  For example, in 2013 there were 1,155 projects and $6.73 billion of rehab. work approved and $3.39 billion in projects completed.  This work created nearly 63,000 jobs and over 7,000 units of low and moderate income.

Take a look for yourself:

http://www.novoco.com/historic/resource_files/research/nps_annual_report_2013_031014.pdf

 

 

 

 

Historic Preservation Under Threat in Washington, DC

March 9th, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

 

The Massachusetts Contingent at Washington: (L to R) Greg Galer (Boston Preservation Alliance), Albert Rex (MacRostie Historic Advisors), Erin Kelly & Jim Igoe (Preservation Massachusetts)The Massachusetts Contingent at Washington: (L to R) Greg Galer (Boston Preservation Alliance), Albert Rex (MacRostie Historic Advisors), Erin Kelly & Jim Igoe (Preservation Massachusetts)

Last past week I took time out of the Alliance office to join preservationists from around the country who gather in Washington, DC each year for “Preservation Advocacy Week.” Organized by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Preservation Action (a national preservation-focused lobbying group), the National Council of State Historic Preservation Officers, and others, the activities are centered around making the needs and concerns of the preservation community heard by our federal representatives in Washington. This is the first time I’ve been involved in lobbying on such a direct level, and it was a gratifying and educational experience for me.

Before walking the halls of the Congressional and Senate Office Buildings, the group gathered at various sessions to learn of the current pressing issues and strategies for speaking with Congressmen, Senators, and their staffs. The timing of the visit, became quite prescient, when House Ways and Means Committee Chairman, Rep. Camp of Michigan released a 1,000+ page proposal for major tax reform at the end of the preceeding week.  Included in his plan is the elimination of the Federal Historic Tax Credit (HTC) as well as the reduction in the Affordable Housing Tax Credit, which is often paired with the Historic Credit to make historic rehabilitation projects financially viable. While we heard universally from the lobbying and policy experts, Congressional staffers, Congressmen, and Senators with whom we met that Camp’s proposal is going nowhere – getting no traction on either side of the aisle, the preservation community is greatly concerned that the proposal marks a new day for us. This is a  “Shot Across the Bow” if you will, that the credit which has been so vital to our successes since its beginning in 1976, is in the cross-hairs of those aggressively pushing tax reform. With the drumbeat of a major tax overhaul growing ever stronger, although Camp’s proposal may be DOA, it will likely significantly influence  a new starting point for discussion when tax reform begins to get serious attention. While the chorus of tax reform may not rise fully above the din in this Congress, it will likely become a tune many more in Congress are singing in 2015 and into 2016. Now is the time to get our message clarified and to strengthen our coalition. 

Preservationists can no longer remain complacent that this critical program will continue. We must now build our campaign and spread the message about how important the Historic Preservation Tax Credit is for the work we all do and our cities, towns, and neighborhoods . So, for all of you interested in the many benefits of historic preservation to your community – it’s essential nature to the character of our towns in cities, its dramatically positive effect in the revitalization of neighborhoods and Main Streets, and its straight-up clear economic benefit – for all of you who support historic preservation, now is the time to get involved, share your ideas and support for preservation efforts, and let your government representatives know how you feel.

There is much data already available to demonstrate why continuing the HTC makes complete sense.  I’ll share a few key facts below as well as some links to additional data and supporting resources.

  • The HTC is revenue positive, putting more tax dollars into the Federal coffers than it takes out :
  • The cumulative $21 billlion of cost of this program since its inception has been more than offset by the $26.6 billion in federal tax receipts generated and the $109 billion in private investment nationwide.
  • The HTC leverages private investment at a rate of $5 of private investment for every $1 of federal funding.
  • The HTC creates skilled, high-paying jobs, 2.4 million jobs in over 39,000 buildings rehabiliated across the country since the HTC began.
  • The HTC is a bi-partisan, nationwide issue positively impacting the full spectrum of communities across all 50 states from big cities to small towns.
  • The HTC is economically stimulative. The catalytic effect on economically challenged neighborhoods, towns, and cities has been proven, where historic buildings are rehabilitated and given new, viable uses that trigger private investment in the same neighborhood. Without the HTC these early projects which set the wheels of economic change in motion would simply not happen.
  • The HTC has been the single-most effective tool in historic preservation in the United States.

Without the HTC these many positive efforts would go away.  Private investors would take on a minuscule portion of the projects they do today, historic buildings would continue to lay fallow to not only further deteriorate themselves but to continue to be a drag on the local community, dissuading private investment, minimally contributing to the local tax base and not leveraging further investment and tax payments as they do today.

For additional information see:  http://tinyurl.com/nxfocc6

 

 

What can  you do? 

Contact your local Congressmen and Senators and let them know you oppose any efforts to reduce the HTC. Tell them that you believe historic preservation is essential to the economic success and livability of your community. Remind them that while you realize the Camp proposal is unlikely to move forward today you want your representatives in Washington to begin now to send the message to their colleagues that Historic Preservation is an important effort for our nation – important to our character, to our educational system, to our sense of communities and their livability, to our efforts to be “green,” and yes, too our economic success. 

Please urge your representative to contact Speaker of the House John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor with the message that repealing the historic tax credit would eliminate an incentive that has a proven track record of revitalizing communities and creating jobs.

 

More than ever before, now is the time to speak up for the historic tax credit. Now is the time to rally the troops and make our voices louder than the poorly informed who lump the HTC in with revenue negative tax credits.

 

And, to learn more about the Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation, attend the upcoming Alliance event, “Preservonomics 101: The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation” March 20, 6pm at the Modern Theatre. 

http://www.bostonpreservation.org/programs/documents/AllianceForumposter.pdf

 

The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation Demonstrated Again and Again – Learn More!

February 18th, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Several recent items in print support the argument preservationists have been making for years, that reuse of existing building stock is not only important for preserving community character, but it makes good economic sense.  A recent article in the Providence Journal and a study by Virginia Commonwealth University demonstrate the tremendous economic power of historic tax credits – how public investment through federal and state tax credit programs for adaptive use of existing structures leverage far more dollars than these programs cost. A recent study by the Department of Defense takes a long, complex analysis (it’s the DOD, of course it’s long and complex!) – “Demonstrating the Environmental & Economic Cost-Benefits of Reusing DoD’s Pre-World War II Buildings.”

The Providence Journal editorial by Valerie Talmage, the executive director of Preserve Rhode Island and Scott Wolf, the executive director of Grow Smart Rhode Island notes:

The program [RI state historic tax credit program] has an outstanding track record. Everybody watched as, from 2002 to 2008, it generated $1.3 billion in new private investment in Rhode Island’s real-estate economy: leveraging of private investment; 22,000 construction jobs; 6,000 permanent jobs; total wages over $800 million; and increased property-tax revenue for cities and towns.”

And in Virginia, the study there concludes: “During the 17-year period, nearly $1 billion in tax credits leveraged almost $3 billion in private investment, resulting in the rehabilitation of 2,375 buildings—ranging from warehouses, hotels, theaters and even part of a prison complex to private residences. Expenses of $3.97 billion for these rehabilitation projects serves as a catalyst on sectors of the economy to stimulate an additional estimated $3.9 billion in activity, adding to the state’s overall economic well being.”   

The RI study also notes, “Significantly, most of the rehabilitation projects completed during the years covered by the study would never have been undertaken without the incentives offered to developers and property owners through the state and federal tax credits.”  And that tax credit projects “reliably attracted private investment in rehabilitation projects that kept many carpenters, electricians, and other skilled trades people working, when very little new construction was under way. During those years [2007-2009], there was only “a moderate decline in historic rehabilitation activity,” according to the VCU report. 

The full RI study is available here: http://www.providencejournal.com/opinion/commentary/20140213-valerie-talmage-and-scott-wolf-say-yes-to-historic-tax-credit-and-grants.ece

The 51-page Virginia study is available as a downloadable PDF: http://preservationvirginia.org/preserve/economic-impact.

 The DOD 125 page report, “Demonstrating the Environmental & Economic Cost-Benefits of Reusing DoD’s Pre-World War II Buildings” is available online as well: http://www.serdp.org/Program-Areas/Energy-and-Water/Energy/Conservation-and-Efficiency/EW-200931/EW-200931

It concludes:

Renovation of Pre-War Buildings can be cost effective compared to new construction on a life-cycle cost basis, both with and without factoring in the monetized value of GHG [Green house gas] emissions.” Among the report’s recommendations are to “Place more emphasis on existing buildings as viable project alternatives to meet mission requirements and DoD’s energy reduction targets.”  And to “improve the MILCON [military construction] procurement process to ensure that construction contractors and design and engineering professionals with historic preservation experience are engaged to ensure that DoD has capacity to effectively evaluate its inventory of historic and other older, existing buildings.

 

Next month you have a chance to learn more about the many ways Historic Preservation generate economic success:

Join us for a unique opportunity to learn more about the positive economic aspects of preservation.

On Thursday, March 20 at 6PM at The Modern Theatre (525 Washington Street) join the Boston Preservation Alliance for an engaging program on “The Economic Benefits of Historic Preservation.” 

This AllianceForum-2014 features experts in the field.  Keynote speaker Donovan Rypkema, a recognized leader in the economics of preserving historic structures in the U.S. and abroad (www.placeeconomics.com), will be joined by panelists:

Lawrence Curtis, President and Managing Partner of Winn Development, a major national developer with deep experience in historic redevelopment;

Rebecca Lee, Partner at the law firm of Edwards Wildman Palmer who has extensive experience on legal preservation issues and is also former Chief of Staff and Special Counsel to the Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority; and

Jerold Kayden, the Frank Backus Williams Professor of Urban Planning and Design at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, who is principal constitutional counsel to the National Trust for Historic Preservation and has extensive national and international experience in urban planning and land development. 

The event is free and all are encouraged to attend and take part in the dialog.

Which is “lazier” demolition or preservation?

January 31st, 2014  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

 

Berkshire Hathaway Mill Demolition Has Begun

Berkshire Hathaway Mill Demolition Has Begun

Two recent stories in major Boston business and real estate industry publications highlight the diverse perspectives on preservation and the fact that every historic property comes with its own set of benefits and challenges. This variety is one of the things I love about the work we do at the Alliance: every project is like its own puzzle with a unique solution and path to resolution different from any other. We draw on our cumulative experienced of many projects from the past, but no two preservation challenges are the same. That’s what excites me about coming to work every day.

The Boston Business Journal and Banker and Tradesman each recently published articles about adaptive use of historic mill buildings. Given that I entered the preservation world through an interest in old industrial sites, this coverage caught my attention. The Banker & Tradesman hails the benefits of adaptive use of industrial properties: “Converted Mills Find Second Life as Offices, Housing,” Steve Adams, 1-26-14 –   : http://www.bankerandtradesman.com/news158193.html

“The cavernous structures lend themselves to the open floor plans and flexible layouts favored among tech-oriented companies.  … Dozens of creative firms have gravitated to the distinctive brick-and-beam architecture and historic bona fides of mill properties”

On the other hand , the BBJ, heralds the decision to demolish the old Berkshire Hathaway Mill in New Bedford: “Wrecking ball is best for Berkshire Hathaway mill in New Bedford,” Matthew L. Brown, 1-14-14 — http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/bottom_line/2014/01/wrecking-ball-is-best-for-berkshire.html). Criticizing “ those who make a fetish of historic preservation,”  Brown notes: 

“There’s something hollow, lazy and crass about preserving what was once a place of back-breaking work … For every history buff and industrial-revolution fetishist who just can’t bear to see another 150-year-old sweatshop torn down, there’s a loom operator’s son or daughter who’d be happy to demolish the place himself and spit on the rubble when he’s done.”

Brown makes a valid point that preservation doesn’t always make sense, isn’t viable in every case. Preservation isn’t always a solution, and no one is suggesting that we try to freeze our communities in time and change nothing.  The Alliance promotes and supports evolution of our communities.  But, the question is where does the default lie?  Do we assume everything we now see will be demolished except for few particularly special cases or would we rather our communities retain the essence of their character and suggest that preservation of existing building stock is the normative result?  That demolitions are the exception? That we should justify why to demolish over why to save?

Maybe the preservation of the New Bedford Mill wasn’t economically viable. I wasn’t involved and can’t say.  But to deride those who seek to preserve these buildings is simply wrong. In my decades of experience I’ve found there are more people who take pride in their family histories in these buildings, who want them preserved than those who want them destroyed.

These dramatically divergent takes on industrial sites capture one of the challenges each of us who promote the many benefits of adaptive use of historic sites face. There are two ways to look at them: as burdens or as assets.  Historic preservation is certainly not a panacea, and not the right solution all the time, but it is a route to positive outcome in far more instances than people realize, and it is important that we change that perspective because it will lead to even greater success.

Let me explain.  A property owner or developer or community who looks at an historic building and sees it as nothing but a collection of insurmountable challenges and sees none of the amazing possibilities and benefits inherent within it will have neither the focus nor fortitude to pursue a preservation alternative. They will often blind themselves to the fact that preservation projects often can drive higher revenue, avail themselves of tax credits, are environmentally friendly, and are often embraced by the community for the secondary benefits of supporting neighborhood character.  Instead, though, owners often focus on the challenges of a building that may on the surface appear run down and long past its useful life.  (Why should we be surprised that a building poorly maintained for decades if not over a century “shows” poorly?) Demolition, I would argue, is the lazy route.

We need to look past the warts and see the inner beauty that can return to an outer beauty as well.  We don’t build buildings like they used to with details, materials, and craftsmanship rarely seen in today’s production-like building systems, and far too expensive to replicate in new construction.  We need to see that the efforts put into older building stock often gives better results than new construction. Studies have clearly shown that energy-wise old buildings rehabilitated meet or surpass energy demands of today, that reuse of historic buildings is a win win for the environment (remember that embodied energy lost when a building is demolished never mind the energy required to demolish and replace it).  We need more developers to recognize that historic tax credits available on the state and federal level, literally bring millions of dollars to projects, allowing them to move forward.  Did you know that the historic portion of the downtown Millennium/Filenes project allowed the new construction to happen, that historic preservation is leveraging a skyscraper?

Let’s all get on the same page and recognize that preservationists are not radicals, fetishists or crazies who want to see every historic building stay in place.  We are people who recognize that historic character has been critical to the economic and social success of many of our communities.  We can demonstrate that preservation works socially and economically – not in every case but in far more cases than some may assume. Give preservation a try over demolition. We think you’ll be pleasantly rewarded. 

Recent preservation-related news , City Council, the BRA, and looking forward

December 30th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

As 2013 has drawn to a close there has been rise in the coverage of historic preservation and preservation-related development issues in the press, particularly in the Boston Globe. These articles represent successes, challenges and failures, and helpful thoughts as we enter 2013 with a new administration at the helm.

Preservationists throughout the city appreciate the Globe’s recent editorial supporting our dismay of City Council decision to overturn the landmarking of Savin Hill’s Kehew-Wright House which I discussed in my last blog post.  ( http://tinyurl.com/qzdgkg7)

The Globe, as did we, questioned the reason behind the vote: “City Council engages in some landmark shenanigans” (12/26)  (http://tinyurl.com/mn8jjru)

This  loss for preservation at City Council gives rise to the question of how we move forward. Coupled with the opportunity of a new administration and calls of the Mayor Elect during the campaign to make major changes at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), one wonders “Ok, then what next?  How do we move forward in a positive way?”

Clearly the functions of the BRA – planning, economic development, and the management of the city’s growth need to continue. Call it whatever you want, BRA or otherwise. It’s not like these things shouldn’t occur. The question is how to make them function better. How to balance community needs and desires with the things developers and investors need to keep the city evolving and moving forward. How to limit politicization of the process, how to reduce unneeded delays and red tape without excluding neighborhood and advocate voices?

The Boston Globe has recently run several articles challenging the BRA process and highlighting several issues needing correction, including the rubber-stamp nature of the BRA board. We need a candid assessment of how the many public meetings truly affect the outcome, given that project proponents negotiate with the BRA for months and years to hone and make deals about a project long before public filings and notifications are made. By the time advocates and the community weigh into the process developer and city are already tired negotiation and compromise and feel like their deal is largely in place. This scenario typically leaves largely only scraps and minor adjustments open for change, and this is one reason why these community meetings  ultimately have limited impact and the community feels excluded.

See “BRA cuts deals at expense of affordable housing” by Sean Murphy (Globe 12/22) (http://tinyurl.com/n8ql97m)

Also see this letter in response “Forum after forum public left with feeling agency is not listening” (Globe 12/29) represents the opinion of many that the hearings have little if any impact on the end result.  (http://tinyurl.com/kfjnjnt)

James G. Kostaras’ editorial “Planning for a new day: Don’t throw out the BRA — use it to create a blueprint for Boston’s future” (Globe 12/18) (http://tinyurl.com/ns2wn9v) makes an on-target recommendation. The city needs more large-thinking planning.  He notes Boston hasn’t had a master plan update since 1965!  The Alliance supports efforts to reduce the project-by-project approval which is driven by the lack of up-to-date zoning, the lack of comprehensive planning, the lack of pre-identification of sensitive areas and properties. Without a plan and proper zoning each and every project is open for debate, dealing, and opportunities for too much political influence.  And it also leads to the long-drawn-out process over which everyone complains.

The Alliance joins its voice to those calling for more active, more comprehensive and more productive planning. In our case that means working with the new administration to identify historic buildings and landscapes of importance before they are proposed for change. The more we can highlight areas of concern in advance the fewer surprises and battles there will be and the process can move more efficiently forward. We also need new tools to cover the spectrum of historic resources. There are those for which the highest level of regulation of change is in order (think the Old State House or Faneuil Hall) and those for which a light touch of design guidelines allowing maximum flexibility make sense and of course there are many, many projects for which historical issues are irrelevant.

Let us enter 2013 with a promise to address these issues in a way that works better for all  and works better for the future of Boston.

City Council Overrules Boston Landmarks Commission – Tough Decision, Bad Precedent

December 19th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

Despite the efforts of many in Boston’s preservation community, yesterday the Boston City Council unanimously overruled the vote of the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) to designate a Boston Landmark, the first time in the last 20 years they have taken this very rare step. The property in question was the Kehew-Wright House at 24 Grampian Way in the Savin Hill section of Dorchester, once the home of George Wright, a Baseball Hall of Famer who captained the Boston Red Stockings, the forerunner of the Boston, now Atlanta Braves and helped popularize many sports nationally. The 1871 mansard-roofed mansion, which sits high atop Savin Hill with extraordinary views to downtown Boston and the harbor, is in tough shape after years of disinvestment and neglect. But if there’s anything preservationists know well, it’s that today’s sow’s ear can become tomorrow’s cherished silk purse once proper care is taken  especially in a popular neighborhood like Savin Hill where property values are rising.

The City Council does have a role to play in the landmark process. Once a building is designated by the Landmarks Commission and receives the mayor’s approval, the City Council has 30 days to overturn this decision by a two-thirds majority. While the initial decision is expertise-driven, the Council’s role exists to provide political input, in addition to that provided by the citizen-generated petition that initiates this process and the ample opportunity for public input at multiple hearings held at every stage. In the case of the Kehew-Wright House, the building was thoroughly studied and the landmark process took over a year to complete.

However, despite the efforts of the Landmark Commission staff and the Alliance to engage them, the property owners of the Kehew-Wright House, the Tomasini family, were dead set against the landmark designation and were able to rally substantial political influence against it. Although it is well known that landmarking confers long-term financial advantage once a building is restored, regrettably the Council chose to back the short-term advantage to the property owner who seeks the widest possible market for an empty lot (they have already successfully petitioned ISD to allow them to take down a carriage house contemporary to the house). In doing this they dissed not only the expertise and hard work of the Commission and its staff, they undermined the neighborhood’s overall quality of life.

What’s most disappointing about this vote to actively reject the decision of the Landmarks Commission is that it opens the door to weaken the City’s strongest tool for protecting historic resources. With Landmark Designation the BLC is empowered to protect the historic character of the city over the objections of property owners. The guidelines recommended by a landmark study allow for a variety of levels of control and protection, as preservationists understand that viable economic use is an important part of preservation. Creative adaptive use and rehabilitation of historic buildings, often with modifications and new construction allowed by the Landmark Guidelines, are frequently a win-win for both property owners and the city. A project that incorporates an historic structure is almost always ultimately more lucrative than a tear down and maximum modern build-out and it improves the community by maintaining the attractive character of our neighborhoods. And claims that such regulations are a violation of property rights have been soundly rejected by the courts (See the US Supreme Court’s Penn Central case:

http://www.preservationnation.org/information-center/law-and-policy/legal-resources/preservation-law-101/resources/The-Penn-Central-Decision.pdf).

Additionally, the route by which the City Council overturned the BLC decisions raises some questions. The Council’s Committee on Economic Development and Planning held a hearing last week at which six people testified, all in support of the landmark. Only two Council members attended and only the chair stayed for the full hearing. Not a single piece of testimony was provided opposing the landmarking beyond comments of the two councilors. Come time for the full City Council meeting yesterday this item was not listed specifically on the agenda, but was discussed as a Committee Report (they called it a “Green Sheet”). When the Chair of the Committee was recognized and rose to report that a hearing had been held, he simply recommended that the landmarking be overruled with little more than a brief few sentences of rationale – no mention of testimony taken, no mention of overwhelming constituent calls to make such a hasty move. The motion was seconded. There was no – zero – discussion or questions and a unanimous vote (1 abstention).  Does this seem right to you?

Bad decision, bad precedent, disappointment in city policy and process.  A colleague suggested “coal lumps in their Christmas stockings.” Something to consider, I suppose, for those who celebrate Christmas!

But soon it will be a new year – and a new mayoral administration – and there is an important lesson for Boston’s preservation community here:  advocating for and teaching people (especially our elected officials) the worth of historic resources never ends, and it is our shared responsibility to speak up, show our strength and protect good public policy.

Let it be our new year’s resolution to re-engage our political leadership on historic preservation as an important tool for economic development and neighborhood pride,

 

 

 


 

Your help IMMEDIATELY NEEDED

December 16th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

The creation of a Boston City Landmark follows a rigorous process.  A petition for a landmark must be filed with at least 10 Boston resident signatures.  Once accepted the Landmark’s Commission completes, or hires a professional historian to complete, a study report which fully analyzes the history of the building and makes a recommendation to staff regarding the significance of the property and if it meets the criteria of the Landmarking regulations. Staff reviews and ultimately makes a recommendation to the 14 member Commission. There are public hearings and opportunities for comment from the public, property owner, and anyone  else who wishes to be heard by oral testimony or written comment.  If approved by the Landmarks Commission, the listing goes onto the Mayor for signature.

City Council then has 30 days to veto a nomination. Such a veto has never occurred, but such a vote is expected to take place at this week’s city Council meeting.  A property owner, opposed to the landmarking, who wants to tear down a property which was unanimously voted worthy of landmarking, has lobbied City Council and is lining up votes to veto, and undermine the expert opinion of the Landmarks Commission.

The Landmarking process is transparent and provides an important tool for protection of Boston’s historic resources. However, it is important to point out that a landmark listing does not prevent a property from alteration or change. Each listing includes detailed guidelines that set out what is acceptable and what is not, what is under Landmarks Commission review after listing and what is not. Many, many properties which are landmarks have undergone significant and successful redevelopment.  In fact, landmarking often increases the value of a property, recognizing its importance and significance.

It is unfortunate that a current, pending landmark at 24 Grampian Way in Dorchester’s Savin Hill Neighborhood is being opposed through pressure to Council when the owner was unsuccessful in swaying the Landmarks Commission.

 

Here are details and how YOU can help!

Tell City Council not to override the approved Landmarking of 24 Grampian Way in Dorchester before their meeting this Wednesday, December 18 at noon!

The Alliance is gravely concerned about the implications of a City Council veto of a unanimous decision made by the Landmarks Commission.

After a year and a half of research and deliberations, the designation of 24 Grampian Way on Savin Hill has come nearly to the end of the Landmarks designation process. Following the unanimous vote of the Boston Landmarks Commissioners in favor of the designation, the recommendation has gone to Mayor Menino, who approved it. The Boston City Council now has the opportunity to consider the proposal. If they do not act, the property will become a Boston Landmark. If the Council does consider the issue, they can vote to approve the recommendation or vote to override the Commission’s recommendation.

A committee of the Council heard testimony last Thursday at City Hall  and will be reporting to the full Council and ask for a vote on Wednesday, December 18.

HOW CAN YOU HELP?

Please call the city councilor who represents your area as well as all at-large councilors and ask to speak with the liaison person for 24 Grampian Way in regard to Landmarks designation.  Then tell them that you are in favor of the designation.  You could make the point that the preservation of the architectural heritage and character of our city is important.  You might also emphasize the thorough investigation conducted by the Landmarks Commission in regard to the historical significance of the property.  The property is valuable for its architecture and for its association with George Wright, a famous sports personality. In testimony before the City Council’s Economic Development & Planning Committee Alliance last week I noted, “George Wright was a significant figure who played a major role in the common sports we take for granted to be activities of play and public participation today. The fact that he chose to live in this house, in this neighborhood, in this location is an important part of the story of Boston and its development and should be preserved as recommended by the Landmarks Commission.” The two independent consultants for the property both concluded that the property fully meets all the criteria for Landmarks designation and that the significance is national in scope.

The full details of the studies are available on the City of Boston’s website.

The study itself can be viewed at: http://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Wright%20Hs%20study%20rept%20final%20revised%20(text)_tcm3-41755.pdf

The further study (the response to comments on the first study) can be viewed at:https://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Response%20to%20Comments%2011-12-13_tcm3-41756.pdf

The time-line of the process can be viewed at:

http://www.cityofboston.gov/images_documents/Kehew-Wright%20House%20Timeline_tcm3-42296.pdf

At-Large

Stephen J. Murphy President     617 635-4376

Felix G. Arroyo                         617 635-4205

John R. Connolly                      617 635-3115

Ayanna Pressley                       617 635-4217

Districts

D1 Salvatore LaMattina           617 635-3200

D2 Bill Linehan                        617 635-3203

D3 Frank Baker                        617 635-3040

D4 Charles C. Yancey              617 635-3131

D5  Robert Consalvo                617 635-3040

            D6 Matt O’Malley                     617 635-3040

D7 Tito Jackson                        617 635-3040

D8 Michael P. Ross                  617 635-4225

D9 Mark Ciommo                     617 635-3113

Showing Landscape Architects from Around the Nation the Many Tools of Preservation

November 17th, 2013  |  Posted by: Greg Galer

H.H. Richardson’s Ames Gate Lodge (1880-1881)
Courtesy of Wikipedia

The ASLA (the Association of Landscape Architects) was in Boston late last week for their national conference.  I was asked to host a group heading south of the city to North Easton, a community I have been studying and working for its preservation for over 15 years. It’s also the historic, industrial community upon which my doctoral dissertation is based. The overall theme of the tour was the various tools and methodologies required to successfully preserve communities. Easton is blessed with a unique collection of historic resources including five buildings designed by famed Boston architect H.H. Richardson, landscapes by equally renowned landscape architect F.L. Olmsted, fine art by stained glass luminary John LeFarge …. and the list goes on and on.  Easton has been described by some as a museum of 19th century architecture and of a 19th century industrial community.  The remarkable roots of this material culture are found in the Ames family which came to Easton in 1803. Oliver Ames and his children turned a small, bankrupt nail-making shop into the world’s largest maker of shovels. (Yes, shovels!). By the 1850s Ames was selling shovels as far as away as Australia (for the Australian Gold Rush), but here in the U.S. Ames shovels literally built American (think basics like farm fields, foundations and wells; consider nation-changers like the Erie Canal and many other canals carrying cargo and waterpower and late railroad; remember the central role of shovels in building cities and in mining including the California Gold Rush and the coal mines of Pennsylvania; don’t forget in the days before mechanization what had to be transported by shovels) By the late 19th century the shop in Easton and associated factories in nearby towns and what grew to a company with plants in several states made 2/3 of the world’s shovels.

While the industrial history is quite fascinating (waterpower, early steam engines, transformation from artisan to industrialist, early labor and worker issues such as the need to build worker housing, balancing production within a fledgling economy still trying how to even out the boom-bust cycles, the challenges of growing markets from local to regional to national…..) the point of the tour I want to focus on here is the challenges of preserving treasured concentrations of historical resources in places like Easton, or for that matter Boston.  Easton has had remarkable success in preserving not only individual structures and landscapes but the context of these resources.  Individual resources speak far more powerfully when they speak to each other – worker housing clearly adjacent to mill complex, mill adjacent to historic waterpower source, the progression of owner/manager housing from nearby the factory to further away over generations, the community church and associate cemetery right there.

Easton has a long history and culture of preservation. About 20% of the town is preserved open space and Easton was one of the first communities to adopt the Community Preservation Act.  The CPA has been a remarkably successful tool, allowing the town to fund projects that stabilize deteriorating resources (like Olmsted’s “Rockery,” a memorial cairn to Civil War veterans), restore a 19th century garden once overgrown and now available once again for the public including as a performance space (this garden and its outdoor stage once hosted the likes of Broadway’s greatest of the 1920s thanks to its builder, playwrite/producer Winthrop Ames).  The most successful project, now in its final stages of construction, has been the preservation of the Ames Shovel Works itself, a multi-building complex of stone buildings that was on the precipice of demolition several years ago.  After local, regional, and national efforts (the site was listed on the National Trust’s Most Endangered resource list in 2009).  Now 117 units of housing are nearly complete in a project that utilizes historic preservation tax credits, affordable housing tax credits, and a significant loan from the town’s CPA fund.

Meanwhile other sites are preserved with a variety of mechanisms. Ames family property is preserved in some cases still under private, family control.  Historic farming property, long left for simple hay production is now an active community-supported farm with about 250 CSA subscribers.  The Trustees of Reservations recently purchased the Governor Ames Estate (yes, Governor of MA Oliver Ames!).  Stonehill College is located in another former Ames Estate and the National Resources Trust, formed in the late 1960s, runs educational programs while preserving the vast open spaces of the former “Sheep Pasture” Estate.  The Easton Town offices occupy the Guy Lowell- designed Wayside estate.  Historic New England now holds a preservation restriction of Richardson’s Ames Gate Lodge, and Trustees of the Reservation recently obtained restrictions on the view-shed for the lodge. The list goes on and on.

The point is though – multiple and varied tools are required for preservation success. This is not a one-tool-fits all business.  We need to be open-minded, flexible, and creative when thinking of preservation. We also need to be mindful of the need to fill our toolbox with as many options as possible. Many tools make light and successful work. And Easton is a great example.  Easton and Boston are of course very different, but Boston should take a lesson in both the value of CPA and the importance of having many preservation strategies and mechanisms at our disposal.  Take a drive down to Easton and look around sometime. You’ll be surprised by what you find!