[Ed note: My Southborough accepts signed letters to the editor submitted by Southborough residents. Letters may be emailed to email@example.com.]
To the Editor:
I wanted to let you and your readers know that the official warrant article text is now available here: http://southboroughhistoricalcommission.weebly.com/
Also included is a one-sheet that takes you through the process.
If I may, I’d like to respond to a question that has come up several times in various forms: “If the Historical Commission states that the number of people likely to encounter the demolition delay by-law is strikingly small, why bother to have it at all?”
Our response is (and here I am speaking as an authorized member of the Commission): It is indeed true that the likelihood of being affected by this by-law is amazing small. To qualify you have to: A: own one of the 600 odd structures built before 1925 which are included in the MACRIS survey (out of the 2834 private residences in Southborough); and B: intend to raze (not renovate, repair, alter or expand) but raze a structure which is unencumbered by mortgage or lien. (This a very important point; you can’t demolish a structure that someone holds a mortgage on.)
The number of buildings that qualify under these provisions is indeed tiny.
BUT, and this is a large but, when these historic demolitions do occur, they have a tendency to have dramatic and often negative effects on the quality of life in Southborough. The proposed demolition of 84 Main Street, the Garfield House, is only the most recent example. Some of your readers may remember the Mary Finn House (of Finn School fame) that a developer tore down over wide public opposition in the 90’s to build a Wendy’s, which caused a horrified town to quickly change its bylaws to prohibit more fast food restaurants. That demolition caused a cascade effect, and the lovely Victorian farmhouse that sat next to it on Flagg Road was also demolished (who wants to live next to a Wendy’s?), only to have the lot sit vacant now for almost a decade. The colonial tavern that sat at the intersection of Fayville Road and RT. 9 is another example. As is the house which used to stand on Cordaville Road across from Town Center, which was demolished over the objections of the occupant who grew up in the house, and who wanted to move the structure to another lot in town. The developer refused to grant the extension needed — “it wasn’t expedient” was the excuse offered at the time — and the house came down. When it did, it was realized from the splintered debris that the structure dated not from the late 1800s, but rather 1700, and Southborough lost yet another first-period colonial home. (There are now only two remaining.) Even the developer lost out on that one, because had he known what he had, he could have salvaged the intact 10″ x 14″ x 24′ beams of the now extinct American chestnut and made a small fortune.
In each one of these past demolitions, the structures could have been moved, reused, disassembled ( yes, disassembled: first-period mortise and tenon construction can be reverse-engineered just like a set of Lincoln Logs) or, at the very least, documented. They, and many others, have disappeared from our shared landscape, and except for the tavern, sit crushed in some landfill, their histories entirely lost. What’s worse, in two of the cases, the lots that the owners were so eager to develop stand empty, unsold, and unwanted. What a waste of our shared cultural heritage! What a loss to Southborough!
We as a community need to realize that the historical fabric of this town is limited and finite. I’ve lived here for 23 years, and just in that time alone, I have seen building after building go down without a trace simply because there was no mechanism to govern this process, no mechanism to protect the public interest. We talk a lot about the rights of the individual property owner in Southborough, and that’s fine. But when do the rest of us get an equal seat at the table? When are we — and our elected representatives — going to shift the discussion to how individual decisions of various owners can negatively impact everyone’s bottom line? If you demolish a part of our history knowing that there are viable preservation alternatives simply because it’s “expedient” for you, you rob us all. Truly. Rob. You reach into the pocket of every rate-payer in town, and you steal a bit of the most valuable coinage we possess: our heritage. And that has a quantifiable negative financial impact on us all, as this same heritage is what makes Southborough a desirable place to live; this same heritage is what supports property values, which in turn supports schools and recreation; this same heritage is what puts a smile on your face when you drive past a pasture dotted with cows, or a beautiful columned old house, or a winding, stone-walled road and realize: “Wow, I’m home.”
That’s what this by-law is really about, and we on the Historical Commission will do our very best make this known to our fellow citizens before the vote at Town Meeting.