Application filed for demolition of the Garfield/Burnett House (Updated)

by Beth Melo on November 10, 2014

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Above: News on preservation of the historic home is incomplete, but what is known doesn’t look good. (Contributed photo)

For months, residents hoping to preserve a town landmark have been waiting for news. The “no news is good news” period has ended.

At the end of last week, news began breaking that the owners have applied for a demolition permit.

The Stone House at 84 Main Street was under threat of demolition this summer. In late summer, sale and development plans were put on hold so a solution could be explored. On Friday, the Town tweeted that the Board of Selectmen will provide an update at their November 18 meeting at 7:45 pm.

It was the first news from the Town since it issued a press release in late July. That release stated that BOS voted to discuss preserving the property with owners.

The board stated that no comments would be available “until the discussions have concluded.” Because of the nature of negotiations, progress (or lack of) on the issue has been under wraps since then.

While selectmen are waiting until next week to share their official update, residents leaked the big spoiler – the owners filed for demolition.

The permit has yet to be granted, and I can’t get an update on its status today.* (When I learn more, I’ll be sure to share. So stay posted.)

News I’m hearing from the resident grapevine conflicts. One source circulating email indicated talks with selectmen fell through. Another source tells me that negotiations are still in process and the owner will be at the November 18th meeting.

People following the story closely also pointed to a recent story about town plans to take the titles on properties with overdue taxes. It lists 84 Main Street as one of those properties. The deadline for resolving that issue is 10:00 am this Thursday.

For those of you unfamiliar with the history of the home and the preservation saga, here’s a basic recap: 

The Garfield House was built in 1850 by Joseph Burnett for his family. Burnett played a significant role in the town’s history and shaping. And the grand house is beloved by many in and from town.

In 2010, the fate of the house was uncertain. It had been on the market for several months after failing to get bids at an auction. So, residents were relieved when Delli Priscolli announced he bought the home to renovate, not knock down. He announced plans to  recapture the home’s former glory and splendor.

Four years later, he directly contacted developer Robert Moss to arrange a sale. (In hearings, Moss indicated the owners knew his plans.)

When news came out that Moss planned to demolish the home, it sparked protest. Officials told residents they shared their sentiments and were reaching out to Moss, but had no power to stop it.

Young teens led a picketing and petition movement to save the house. Their efforts garnered a lot of local media attention. Subsequently, Delli Priscolli and his wife stopped the sale. Their attorney claimed they were unaware that Moss was seeking demolition without exploring alternatives.

However, the owners maintained their zoning right to split the property and potentially demolish the building(s). The Planning Board agreed, approving an “Approval Not Required” permit for plans to split up the land.

With the ANR in their pocket, the owners said they were open to discussing preservation options with the Town.

All parties warned it was not a done deal. Now, it seems the owner/Town dealings may be done. But not with the hoped for outcome. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

For past related stories, click here.

*For permit process and status, I was referred to Building Commissioner, Mark Robidoux. He is out of the office today (and Veterans Day).

Updated (11/10/14 3:00 pm): Updated to reflect a source shared news that talks between the owners and Town may still be ongoing.

1 Christa Brady November 10, 2014 at 4:38 PM

It is my understanding that Mr. Delli Priscolli continues to work closely with the selectmen on reaching the most viable resolution for all. I would urge any interested residents to attend the open meeting of the BOS on 11/18 to learn more about potential options open for consideration.

2 Doug Pizzi November 10, 2014 at 7:43 PM

You are correct, Christa. As Jon’s media relations rep, I can tell you that the deal is not dead but the time to enact something meaningful is drawing to a close. The steps taken on the plan and the demo permit were taken at the advice of legal counsel in order to preserve legal rights and the market value of the parcel. Jon’s first choice was and is to sell the development rights to the town and restore the property. Also, the tax situation alluded to in this post is the result of a clerical mix-up – the bill was sent to an incorrect address and returned to the town. It will be paid on Wednesday.

3 Donna McDaniel November 10, 2014 at 8:04 PM

All along I’ve wished that the Selectmen would give us at least an occasional status report. If there was no progress, say so. If still trying, why not say so? We’ve assumed the board couldn’t provide details but why all the secretiveness? Why not an occasional update? Now looks like we’ll be left to wonder what was explored and didn’t work and why not…No acknowledgment of public interest and a poor reflection of the level of people’s concern about the property.

4 Judith Bailey Keneman November 11, 2014 at 8:18 AM

I read an article recently reporting that Mr. Priscolli was investing over 20 million dollars in upgrading and expanding the Edaville Railroad. I am afraid that his priorities have changed at the expense of the Burnett/Garfield House. How sad for Southborough that its heritage is being sacrificed for an amusement park renovation. I have been looking forward to taking my train-loving grandsons, but if the house is demolished, I will never be able to go even near it. I can understand having a business and need for updating, but the loss of one of the most historic buildings in Southborough to provide amusement rides demonstrates a poor sense of values, in addition to all the false promises. Finances go through changes, and priorities shift, but it is getting harder and harder to believe that the original intent was to restore the house. It now looks like it was a money making scheme to generate funds. It is sad that the town and local institutions cannot come up with a way to finance the preservation of the house. I imagine this kind of thing happens often to historic buildings, but we had such hope that in our town it would be saved. The world is a different place than it was for Joseph Burnett and others like him in the past. How can we educate and inspire our children with their accomplishments when we destroy all the visible remains of their legacy.

5 John Kendall November 11, 2014 at 10:18 AM

Not that I don’t like the house, I really do. The Town has missed out on several chances to purchase this property, but nobody said a word, made a peep……….until this year when razing the building was suggested. We probably could have afforded it a few years ago, but the price is up. Unfortunately, it all falls onto Mr. Delli Priscoli….who can do pretty much what he wants with the property.

6 Concerned resident November 11, 2014 at 8:28 PM

I think Mr Delli Priscoli according to the article and scuttlebutt in town has given the town over 4 months to act. It appears the town has done little to secure the future of this house . Moss gave the town nothing no options and no time to come up with a plan yet this person gave the town 4 months to make a deal. From what I read in the paper today it appears he is giving up a lot of equity and giving Southboro a lot of other perks. Why aren’t we jumping all over this? We asked for a chance to do something he gave to it us so let’s act now . If we don’t then only the town is to blame not the owners. And what difference does it make what other things the owners do ? I think someone saving Edaville is terrific just like this house. I intend on supporting the town to make a deal on November 18 th to save this treasure!

7 JMO November 12, 2014 at 10:18 AM

What equity is Mr. Priscoli giving up? He retains complete ownership. There would just be an agreement in place that the house won’t be able to be torn down or the grounds subdivided. He gets the house restored on the taxpayers’ dime, and he is free to sell his historic property whenever he chooses, oh but he does have to offer it to the town first at its full market value. I forgot the nice ambiguous line that the owners will “Provide access to the town for annual educational purposes and specific events.” I can’t wait to hear the details. It sounds like the King is coming to town, and we’re all serfs in the kingdom.

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