Local Government and Politics, News

Swampscott Historical Commission lifts the demolition delay on White Court

The decision will allow developers to move forward with their plans to redevelop the property into 18 oceanfront condominiums in September. (Courtesy Image)

SWAMPSCOTT — The Swampscott Historical Commission has opted to lift the demolition delay on White Court, which will allow developers to move forward with their plans to redevelop the property into 18 oceanfront condominiums in September.

The unanimous decision on Tuesday night to reduce the nine-month demolition delay on the former Marian Court College marks the first time in the town’s history that a delay has been reduced or lifted, according to the Historical Commission. The delay will be lifted after 90 days following the filing of the agreement.

The demolition delay bylaw was enacted by Town Meeting in 2004 — White Court, which was built in 1896 and once served as the summer White House of Calvin Coolidge, is the fifth property to have a demo delay placed on it by the Historical Commission.

The delay, which was placed on White Court in April, was to allow the commission, the owner and the community to explore ways to mitigate the effects of demolition.

Centercorp principals Andrew Rose and Mark Klaman, along with Nick Meninno and Bruce Paradise, who all live in town, have said the units, which would be restricted to those 55 and older, would be priced at $2.25 million and would be somewhere between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet.

The developers plan to take apart White Court and reconstruct it as a replica of the original mansion, which includes preserving items and reconstructing it in its current architecture.

Meninno, of Meninno Construction, said the development team credits Ken Shutzer, an attorney, with acting as a mediator between them and the Historical Commission, as far as bringing about the compromise.

“It was a real positive dialogue between our development group and the Historical Commission,” Meninno said. “We’re sensitive to the Historical Commission’s position on it so this was the outcome we were hoping for.”

He said the team believes 90 days is reasonable, which will give the team and Historical Commission the proper time to do the proper chronicling of all the architecturally correct components of White Court and preserve that.

Without the relief, the delay wouldn’t have been lifted until January 2019. With the vote, Meninno said the team will be able to move forward with the proposed demolition and reconstruction in September, which he estimated is a 20-month project. The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously approved the project last week.

Sylvia Belkin, vice-chair of the Historical Commission, has not been in favor of a tear-down of White Court, which she called one of the most historically significant buildings in town. But she came to the realization that the building would have been torn down at the end of nine months anyway.

“It’s inevitable,” Belkin said. “So, if there was an opportunity to mediate, it seemed to me that was absolutely the thing to do.

“I feel terrible about the fact that the building is going to be torn down, but I also know it’s been severely altered. There’s been … not a lot of good care taken to the building and the more I go there, the more I can see that and understand that the condition of the building is really not good.”

Part of the compromise included an agreement that certain aspects of the building be preserved or dismantled and reused, subject to code compliance. The agreement calls for the salvage of any unique architectural detail that would otherwise be lost during the demolition process.

The developers also agreed to pay to chronicle the building, as is, with professional photography, which will be available as a photographic archive for the town and development team.

The development team’s initial plan was for the existing White Court mansion to be converted into six condominiums and two more buildings on either side of it with six each.

But Meninno has said the condition of the building’s foundation has caused plans to shift from preserving and converting the existing mansion to taking apart and reconstructing it, preserving as much of White Court as possible.

The only chance to save White Court, he said, is to save components of the building and carefully reconstruct it, almost like a replica of the original mansion. There are add-ons on either side of the mansion, which includes classroom space. The development team plans to demolish those two additions.

Belkin said there’s been a lot of tension and disagreement about the demolition delay in the past, but having a mediator this time around was important and is indicative of how the bylaw can be amended to make it work better.

Following the demo delay placed on White Court, Town Administrator Sean Fitzgerald recommended that the bylaw be amended to include an appeals process, with the Board of Selectmen as the appeals board.

The selectmen-sponsored article appeared on the Town Meeting warrant last month, but the board ultimately recommended that it be indefinitely postponed.

Meninno said the fact that a compromise was reached with one of the more high-profile properties in town is proof that, with a good arbitrator, the developers and commission can make it happen.

“I think demolition delay is important,” Belkin said. “Our historic infrastructure is very important. It’s part of our history. Sometimes you have to fight to preserve things and that’s what we do. That’s what we’re trying to do. Is it successful? Well, it has not been successful. It’s not successful now.

“We are losing the building, but at least we’re going to have the history, the documentation, the photographs. I think that’s important.”

Belkin said a community like Swampscott is composed not only of just the homes that are here, but important properties such as Cap’n Jack’s, which is gone now, the train station, and the Fish House.

“People come here to see these things and when they disappear, the community goes with them,” Belkin said.

The 28-room, oceanfront mansion on Littles Point Road, which is assessed at $5.8 million, was purchased by CC White Court LLC, an entity of Centercorp Retail Properties, in December for $2.75 million, according to land records. The property was acquired from the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas Northeast Community, Inc.

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