Senator Says Architect Goofed on Height of Lawsuit-Spurring Renovation

At left is the home of State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain. Neighbor Brian Wells, of 64 Orchardhill Road, on the right, sued her family over a third-floor renovation. Monday, July 20, 2015.

Chris Helms

At left is the home of State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain. Neighbor Brian Wells, of 64 Orchardhill Road, on the right, sued her family over a third-floor renovation. Monday, July 20, 2015.

State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, while adamant that she did not use her influence to cut through city red tape on a disputed renovation of her Forest Hills home, said Monday her architect admits he drew up the addition to be too tall.

The revelation came amid a detailed conversation Monday with Chang-Díaz and her husband, Bryan Hirsch, on the back patio at 3-5 Bremen Terrace.

Next-door neighbor Brian Wells sued the couple in April, claiming the project they’d proposed to the neighborhood wasn’t the one actually being built. The parties agreed to a settlement in June. The case was scheduled to be heard by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals on Tuesday morning.

The settlement, among other points, calls for Chang-Díaz and Hirsch to chop 14 inches off the existing roofline, which would result in an overall shortening of the house by seven inches. Setbacks will also be carved off the front and back of the top roofline.

Chang-Díaz, a Democrat, represents JP and other parts of Boston in the Second Suffolk District.

Five Inches Too High

On Monday, Chang-Díaz revealed a significant detail in a saga that has been extensively chronicled by the Boston Globe. She said the project’s architect, on rechecking his calculations after Wells sued, found he made the project too high by nearly five inches.

The architect agreed to pay for lowering the roofline, Chang-Díaz said.

“We appreciate his honorability,” she said.

The senator declined to name the architect during the Monday interview with Jamaica Plain News, but Inspectional Services Department documents she provided identify him as John Freeman of Platt Anderson Freeman.

Alleged Bait-and-Switch

While the dispute between the Senator’s family and Wells turns on complicated interpretations of city regulations, the original lawsuit boiled down to allegations that work was done without a permit and built higher than first pitched to neighbors.

Chang-Díaz said she and her husband have done nothing wrong during the approval process.

“There isn’t a plank of this home that was put in place without a permit,” Chang-Díaz said.

She said the project was approved four times by four different neighborhood and city boards, including the JP Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee.

“Anyone who knows me knows I’m a stickler for rules,” said the senator. “I love rules.”

For his part, next-door neighbor Wells said he has nothing personal against Chang-Díaz and her husband.

“I don’t want to say anything negative to anybody,” Wells said in a Monday phone interview.

Both sides say they settled to stop the waste of time and money. The June 22 settlement, in its own language, said it aimed “to amicably resolve the issues between them without further delay, cost and uncertainty, and without any party admitting liability or the merits of any claim.”

Hearing Tuesday Could End Case

It’s up to the Board of Zoning Appeals to sign off on the changes agreed to by Chang-Díaz/Hirsch and Wells.

“You have to trust that city officials do their jobs,” Wells said of the Tuesday hearing.

Wells said he wanted a proviso in the settlement that the couple state they received no special treatment from the city because of Chang-Díaz’ position. Nothing to that effect is in the final document.

Other neighbors along Orchardhill Road, a hilly, almost hidden area near St. Andrew Ukrainian Church, seemed eager to put the spat behind them.

“I’m glad it got resolved,” said a nearby neighbor who asked that his name not be used. “You don’t want to live in a neighborhood with people suing each other.”

Jamaica Plain News will provide an update once we’ve learned the outcome of Tuesday’s Board of Appeals meeting.

Rear view of the home of State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain.  This roofline will be shortened as a result of a settlement with neighbor Brian Wells. Monday, July 20, 2015.

Chris Helms

Rear view of the home of State Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, D-Jamaica Plain. This roofline will be shortened as a result of a settlement with neighbor Brian Wells. Monday, July 20, 2015.

[Editor’s note: We’ve corrected the height the existing house will be shortened by and added information on a setback that is to be included.]

  • Peppy

    The senator should be the one doing the suing, and the one she should be suing is the architect who put that hideous thing up on top of her nice house.

  • KneeAnalogue

    It is pretty ugly. But not a ugly as the senator’s behaviour. She chose an at risk permit, as a politician, knowing she would get extra scrutiny. Then she didn’t keep the community in the loop when she changed plans. And now she’s throwing everyone under the bus instead of takeing some personal responsibility. Not impressed.

  • fartman

    WE WANT WILKERSON!!!

    id take ole fashioned graft over new age snark and disloyalty anyday – Sonia C-D gets nothing done, complete waste