BOS approves Burnett House preservation steps

Above: Thanks to the Board of Selectmen, voters may get to vote on protecting the Burnett Estate this April. (photos contributed by Allan Bezanson. For a better look, scroll down.)

Last night, the Board of Selectmen announced that they had approved a Preservation Restriction on 84 Main Street. If the agreement is finalized, it would protect the property from subdivision and preserve the existing buildings in perpetuity.*

Chair John Rooney explained that BOS approval is just one step in the process to preserve the historic estate. That process will hopefully end with Town Meeting voters getting to decide if the price is worth the protection.

Next, the restriction will be submitted to the Mass Historical Commission. The Town also needs to seek an appraiser to determine the value of a preservation restriction on the property.

With the appraised value in hand, the Southborough Historical Commission will act on the board’s behalf to request funding from the Community Preservation Commission. If approved, the CPC would seek Town Meeting voter approval to use the Town’s CPA funds to purchase the restriction.

Rooney told the public to not overreact to the $1 Million listed in the draft agreement. That figure is just a placeholder until the appraised value is received.

The chair also warned residents that they will see changes since the last version of an agreement was shared. The new agreement does not require the owner to restore the interior of the buildings on the site. It does requires keeping the existing buildings, maintaining the exteriors.

Also off the table is a former agreement to allow occasional public access.

What is in the agreement are the owner’s intentions to the Stone House exterior (including rebuilding the front porch) and requirements for maintaining the landscaping. Alterations not specified by the agreement would be restricted. And the Town gains right of first refusal if the property is sold.

For the full draft, click here.

Rooney said that the agreement came after long, involved negotiations between the owner and town. The effort was led by selectman Paul Cimino and Town Counsel who both worked daily and extensively on the agreement over many months.

Allan Bezanson, a member of Friends of the Burnett House shared a message with me that the effort to preserve the esate is about more than just the buildings. And he provided photographic support:

Photo of Burnett Estate by Allan Bezanson Burnett estate (see notes by Allan Bezanson)

There is more at stake than saving just the stone mansion. The 4.7 acre lot with four structures was, in Joseph Burnett’s time, one of the most beautifully landscaped homesteads in the Commonwealth. The current photo was taken from the Sudbury Reservoir Trail on DCR land, once the barnyard of Burnett’s Deerfoot Farm.

The [black & white photo above] was taken by David W, Butterfield ca. 1893 for the Boston Water Board prior to the excavation and flooding of Stony Brook in 1897 to feed the thirsty city of Boston. This area is now part of the Wachusett Aqueduct Linear District listed in the National Registry of Historic Places. Visible in this photo – the summer house, the carriage house and the stone shop, all of which are still standing. The stone mansion is out of view, just to the right. Barely visible in the distance across Deerfoot Road by the waterfall is Sawin’s grist mill. On that site there were grist mills dating back to around 1664 when Southborough’s first settler, Peter Bent, established the first.

*There are some legal caveats allowing demolition if damage or destruction from a fire “or other casualty” is determined beyond repair.

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