I am writing to you as a concerned Citizen of the City of Somerville.
I live next to a very quaint house which at one point was a single family converted into a small two family. The house has been sold and is currently being renovated. At first I thought it would be nice to renovate the house and still keep the character of the home. Construction started with renovation to the basement and an addition of a cement wall on the back of the house. Then the second floor completely gutted which included the roof taken off. One day I came home to see an enormous wall on top of the roof. The Contractor is adding another floor to the house as a loft in this very small lot. I fear the garden I have always had will no longer be possible with this wall blocking the Sun in my yard. So much for our vegetable garden…
I was very upset and sent an e-mail to Mayor Curtatone. I expressed my concern of the permanent change to the neighborhood and asked why the neighbors, the abutters, were NOT notified of this dramatic change. I received a response from his Deputy Director of Communication letting me know that this project is “By-Right” and if it is done “By-Right” the Developer does not need to notify the Abutters. She also informed me there is a change to the Zoning Laws coming this Spring. I expressed my appreciation for the pending change because hopefully it will be for the betterment of all of Somerville. I then asked what I could do about it now? Her response was, to put it in layman’s terms, tough luck.
I also reached out to two other City Officials, Alderman Sullivan was one of them. He has been most helpful. He tells me the property is for a two-family renovation. I said but there is a third floor. Is the Loft considered a third floor? He told me that if it has a kitchen and bathroom it is a third floor. He too indicated that this property was “By-Right” and never went to the Board. I don’t understand how a two-family that has been transformed into a 3-story structure with the height and the shape change in the neighborhood never had to go to the Board?
The definition I found on my own of what “By-Right” means:
“By-Right” development is the right of the property owner to reuse existing buildings on his property without the need of new environmental review or public hearing as long as such new is consistent with the property’s General Plan and Zoning”
Somerville Zoning ordinances
The Planning Board shall give due notice of the date, time and place of public hearing in Accordance with the specific procedures set for in Chapter 40A, Section of the Massachusetts General Law and in accordance with the Somerville Zoning Ordinance (SZO) by:
(3) Mailing notice to all Abutters and Abutters-to-Abutters within (300) feet of the legal boundaries of the subject property.
My property is Zone 11- RB
Section 5.5 Variance. 6.1.2 RB – Residence Districts
Purpose. To establish and preserve medium density neighborhoods of one-, two-, and three-family homes, free from other uses except, those which are both compatible to the residents of such districts.
Further, the purpose of the planning board is to encourage and assist building owners to restore and rehabilitate existing buildings in a cost effective sensitive manor and in such a way as to be compatible with the surrounding neiborhood.
I am concerned with the parking situation. Some neighbors do not have driveways and depending on the “street parking” to park their cars. The neighbors have been living most of their lives in the same house, paying taxes to the City all these years and now might not be able to park in front of their houses because the City allowed new additions to the neighbor. Where are they going to park?
According to the Zoning Ordinances and Section 9.5.2. Existing 1 and 2 family residences shall provide one (1) parking space per additional (e.g. newly created) dwelling unit.
Somerville is already the most densely populated City in the Massachusetts and 16th in the Country.
I am afraid my driveway privilege is going to be taken away. I am concerned my driveway will be a “drop off” area. It’s already happening now, the construction truck blocks my driveway. I have to wait until the truck is moved out of my driveway entrance so that I can leave for work. There is no extra space for parking.
I asked one of the city officials if the Developer can go that high with the building. He told me that they got the permit so they can. I asked the City Official if they check on the height of the building. I asked if the inspector was coming out to measure the height of the building to make sure it is within the height limit as permitted. His response was that they can’t watch them all the time. On the other hand, Alderman Sullivan has promised to have the height of the building inspected.
.3 story structures permitted between 50 feet and 100 of an RA and RB district, to a maximum of 35 feet in height.
I found out the house is being renovated by Mattos Construction, LLC, owned by a Brazilian developer who lives in New Hampshire. He also renovated the 199 Pearl Street house as well turning them into condominiums by a company calling themselves 199Pearl.com. Apparently, he has and/or is renovating 25 properties in Somerville. He is having issues with the next door neighbor. This Developer is claiming the neighbor’s house is on his property that he recently purchased and renovated. He is claiming 1/5 of her house is on his land. My neighbor’s family has owned the property since 1952, passed down through three generations. The design of the house has never changed. In addition, he built a 6-foot fence against her porches. Its’ exactly 13 inches between the fence and her porches. The average shovel is 18 inches. My neighbor cannot shovel the snow. The damage to the trim on their porches was done by the construction before they put up the fence.
This is a call to all residents of Somerville to get involved with the City Zoning Laws. I am sure you would not want this type of situation to happen in your neighborhood.
I am very disappointment and sad that the City officials are allowing this to happened to my neighborhood and yours could be next.