City approves demolitions

Published 9:09 pm Thursday, July 19, 2012

The City Council on Wednesday agreed to reverse a decision of the Historic Landmarks Commission, thereby allowing this building on West Washington Street to be demolished to make way for the new municipal center.

The Suffolk City Council voted Wednesday to grant the city authority to demolish two structures in the downtown area to advance nearby municipal construction projects.

The Historic Landmarks Commission voted against both demolitions in June, citing the initial lack of a plan for redevelopment. But Wednesday’s votes overturned those decisions, allowing the demolitions to go forward.

One structure, located at 420 W. Washington St., is a former auto repair shop now owned by the city. A historic district survey done in 2002 lists it as a contributing structure because it is part of a cluster of automobile service buildings in the corridor, which date from a time in the mid-20th century when automobile ownership became affordable for middle-class families.

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Deputy City Manager Patrick Roberts said during the council meeting that the city initially approached the property owner about acquiring a strip of right-of-way for planned road improvements associated with the new municipal center.

The owner expressed interest in selling the entire lot, and favorable terms were reached, Roberts said. The building now sits vacant.

The city contended the public interest of the new municipal center overrides the public interest served by keeping the building.

“The retention of the structure would be a deterrent to a major improvement program that will be of substantial benefit to the district and the public,” states a staff report on the demolition.

Four buildings already have been demolished to make way for the new city hall.

The other building discussed during the meeting is a house at 116 Pender St. It stands in the way of the expansion of the police department headquarters.

The headquarters building will grow over much of the current secure parking area, and another parking area across the street will disappear when construction begins on the municipal center. Therefore, the parking lot needs to expand to the lot where the house currently stands.

Built around 1860, the wood-framed, two-story house is similar in design to other Italianate dwellings of the time, according to a staff report on the house. However, the Historic Landmarks Commission denied the request because of concerns that evaluations were not “performed in a manner consistent with the historic district design guidelines,” according to the staff report.

Neighbors supported the house being demolished.