Needham’s Historical Commission convened Monday evening to discuss a developer’s proposal to demolish a house listed on the town's historic register.
Built in 1834, the John Mills House is located at 1479 Great Plain Ave. in the town's McIintosh Historic District. Along with the property next door, Silva Development, LLC, presented preliminary plans that would demolish the historic house and see the combined lot transformed into a three house subdivision.
As part of the demolition permitting process, the Historical Commission was required to vote on whether the John Mills House qualified as “historically significant,” despite the fact it is already listed on Needham's historic register.
They did so unanimously.
The proposal is the latest to be submitted to the town for redevelopment of the historic property. Last year, Needham resident Johnathan Fox and Needham native Rob Curatola bought the pair of Great Plain Avenue properties and submitted proposals to the town’s Planning Board during informal public meetings.
Those called for a renovation of the house, rather than a demolition.
“In our evaluation of the proposal, we were in favor of it at the December meeting because it preserved the house, preserved the integrity of the historic district. It was a creative solution,” Historical Commission member Jeffery Heller said at Monday's meeting.
According to Heller, Fox and Curatola were met by an “uncooperative” Planning Board that he says ignored the historical significance of the John Mills House while suggesting the developers re-tool their proposal over what he saw as arbitrary details related to how a road would be constructed on the properties.
“At [that] point, they had already spent money,” Heller said Monday at the Historical Commission meeting, referring to the previous developers attempt to garner Planning Board support for their plans. “This is a smaller developer who couldn’t wait out the time with an unfriendly, uncooperative Planning Board.”
In August, the holding companies owned by Curatola and Fox sold the properties to Silva Holdings, LLC. According to state corporate filings, Silva Development is based in Mendon and owned by Leonardo DaSilva. Documents obtained from the Norfolk Registry of Deeds show the developer has purchased six properties in Needham so far this year, including the pair of lots on Great Plain Avenue.
On Monday, it was Rob Curatola’s brother, Mike, who presented the plans to the Historic Commission on behalf of Silva Development. An employee of the development company, Mike Curatola displayed maps of the proposed redevelopment and said the company had secured a demolition permit from the Needham Building Department.
During the discussion of the proposal, Historical Commission member and Executive Director of the Needham History Center and Museum Gloria Greis explained the decision to recognize the historical significance of the John Mills House and the neighborhood where it is located.
“I don’t see any ambiguity, personally,” Greis said of the committee's designation. “McIintosh Historic District represents not only a well preserved geographical landscape in the town but also the original center of the town.”
In the early-19th century, the neighborhood was a crossroads for what were then the two main coaching roads. The John Mills house is one of three historic houses located in the town’s historic center which also featured the McIintosh Tavern where travelers stopped and for which the historic district is named.
“Towns grow up around transportation,” Greis explained. “In those days transportation was the coach, so the original center of town grew up around the coach roads.”
With the property’s historical significance confirmed, the commission signaled its intention to impose a 6-month demolition delay. During that time, Heller said he hoped Silva Holdings would be “amenable” to a different plan than outright demolition.
“There have been a few houses in Needham that have been saved because, during the delay, the builder was willing to spend the money to move it somewhere else,” Heller noted.
Before the demolition delay can be imposed, the commission will notify the owners of properties abutting the lots in question and hold a public hearing to determine that the structure is “preferably preserved.” At that public hearing, the commission can take a vote to impose the demolition ban.
“If we impose the 6-month delay, that is done with some hope that maybe there is a way to save it,” Heller told Michael Curatola following the vote.
“We can fantasize and we can hope -- that is what we do as a commission,” he said.