Opinion: Neighbors Come Together to Save Historical Zamora Street Home

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The neighbors, homeowners, and community around Zamora Street are urging the city of Boston to oppose the demolition of a historic home to make way for an undisclosed number of condo units on lovely little Zamora Street.

Curtis family photo (Photo from Jamaica Plain Historical Society)

The home at 15 Zamora Street and the adjoining non-conforming open parcels hold a stately 5,000 square foot two-family home. The home was built in 1898 by former Mayor Edwin Curtis and his brother Nelson, members of the prominent Curtis family which inhabited Jamaica Plain for more than five generations, dating back to the 1600s. The land on both sides of it represents the last open space north of Perkins Street between the Riverway and South Huntington Avenue. Rightfully, at a hearing on February 23, the Boston Landmark Commission (BLC) unanimously opposed the demolition of this property and set in motion a 90-day demolition delay, however next steps in the process lie with the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) and tip in favor of development without further obligations to the community.  

The small but spirited community of Zamora Street has pulled together to understand the Article 85 policy and how to save this home which was specifically noted to meet criteria D and E of Section 85.5 0.3 due to association with one or more historical persons. Though the BLC has confirmed the home meets the Article 85 criteria, their power to preserve the home ends after the 90-day delay. The other issue with this project is the lack of transparency surrounding the complete three parcel plan by the developer group. Unfortunately, there is no part of the process that considers the greater impact of the full development, and the developers refuse to disclose the scope of their plans for the adjoining lots. So while the process for Article 85 considers the historical aspects of what might be lost to new development, there is nothing in place that considers the larger implications of these changes -- and that is a gap felt by communities throughout Boston who continue to lose special properties to this piecemeal process.  Even the leaders of the BLC acknowledge that there are serious shortcomings in the current process and have expressed hope that under new mayoral leadership, changes that empower communities and give them more voice will be put in place.

The 90-day delay implemented by the BLC will run out on May 23, and unless ISD objects, the developers will be free to demolish the house in spite of these concerns and objections. Since the developers have so far ignored our requests for dialogue, our intention is to meet with ISD before that time so that they might consider the impacts this demolition will have on our street and our community, and realize the harm of a process that does so little to incentivize developers towards community involvement. There are economically viable alternatives to demolition and we do not mean to stop development outright. In fact, when asked in the hearing why they prefer to demolish the existing home and build a new 2-unit condo instead of their own proposed alternative that creates three units in the existing structure, the developer admitted it was simply easier to avoid a zoning hearing. The fact that the neighbors would support such a plan has gone unheard because the developers will not speak to us directly. 

We want to be clear that we support the development of new housing in Jamaica Plain — it is a special neighborhood that deserves to be enjoyed by all who want to call it home. What we object to is this process that has been the antithesis of the community that we so love. We are not asking to stop development, but rather, as neighbors who plan to live alongside it for many years to come, to be involved in the process that drives it. 

For more information and to add your name to the petition to ISD, please visit 15zamora.wixsite.com/website or www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-zamora-street-jp-ma. There are more than 165 signees of the petition.