Opinion

The court of common sense

The great news is Swampscott’s White Court is poised to start a new chapter in its 122-year-old history as the historically-preserved location for 18 oceanfront condominiums.

The even greater news is that the Swampscott Historical Commission exercised the flexibility and common sense required to make White Court’s new lease on life possible.

Commissioners voted last Tuesday night to reduce a nine-month White Court demolition delay to 90 days. The decision opens up a whole range of positive possibilities for the historic structure and former home of Marian College, and it represents the type of relationship historical commissions and developers should enjoy.

Centercorp principals Andrew Rose and Mark Klaman, and Nick Meninno and Bruce Paradise — all Swampscott residents — can now move ahead with their plan to dismantle White Court and reconstruct it as a replica of the original mansion, including preserving historical items.

The work can start in September with an estimated 20-month project duration. Ninety days gives the development team and the Commission time to properly document in detail White Court’s distinct architecture and preserve it.

That is a plan that makes common sense and if anyone needed additional proof of the basic soundness of the plan, they only needed to look to the unanimous approval for the project by the town Zoning Board of Appeals last week.

Historical commissions and developers are too often cast, or end up being opponents in a battle that rarely has a victor. Faced with strong opposition or absurd delays, developers withdraw proposals for a project and move on to their next venture. Their departure leaves owners of the property slated for development with an expensive asset they cannot maintain. Eventually the property falls into disrepair beyond any hope of salvage and the community where the property is located loses a piece of its property tax base.

But thanks to committed local developers and open-minded and flexible town officials, White Court will live on as a Swampscott treasure repurposed to provide beautiful homes while reflecting part of the town’s history.

So exactly how did a nine-month delay into a 90-day delay? The simple answer is people sat down and talked. Meninno, speaking for the development team, credited attorney Ken Shutzer with mediating discussions between the Commission and developers to bring about a compromise.

“It was a real positive dialogue … ,” he said.

Commission Sylvia Belkin called ” …the opportunity to mediate … absolutely the thing to do.”

White Court the condominium site will not be the White Court that was once a religious order’s home, a presidential summer retreat and a small college. But it will be a property embodying a piece of Swampscott history for future generations.

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