Out of the ashes: condos on Sewall

Neighbors protest development plan

An architect's rendering of the building proposed for 109 Sewall Ave. in Brookline. It would house eight condos. An architect's rendering of the building proposed for 109 Sewall Ave. in Brookline. It would house eight condos. (O'Sullivan Architects Inc.)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Richard Thompson
Globe Correspondent / August 10, 2008

More than four months after a four-alarm blaze ripped through a vacant Victorian home on Sewall Avenue, some Brookline residents are resisting a proposal to redevelop the property.

The plans include building eight condo units on the site of the former three-story building at 109 Sewall Ave. - four times the number of units planned for the original building.

The new building would be 9 feet taller and the top two apartments would have private roof decks. An adjacent building at 115 Sewall Ave., which has seven condos now, would be renovated and an additional unit constructed in the basement.

Some neighbors say they are concerned that the angular, modern building, which would be much taller than its Victorian neighbors, would reduce green space and could threaten the character of the area.

More broadly, the plan rekindles the ongoing debate about development in Brookline, with some townspeople saying there should be tighter restrictions on the use of property, particularly in the Coolidge Corner neighborhood.

"I grew up in this neighborhood, and now it's disappearing before our eyes," said Martin Rosenthal, co-chairman of Brookline PAX, a political group that supports issues such as civil rights, social justice, and organized labor.

The Sewall Avenue properties - which were last valued at $3.4 million collectively, according to the Brookline assessor's database - are owned by Jeffrey Feuerman, a Chestnut Hill developer who had proposed building two condo units in the Victorian before it was destroyed in the March 16 fire.

Two months later, the blaze was determined to have been caused by arson, according to Brookline Police Captain John O'Leary. "It's an open investigation and an active case, but they have no active suspects at this time," O'Leary said in an interview last week, adding that the state fire marshal's office has assisted Brookline officials in the matter.

O'Leary said Feuerman was "looked into" as part of the arson investigation, but was "ruled not a suspect."

At a Planning Board meeting on July 31, the Sewall proposal was presented to about two dozen people, whose reaction was mixed during a nearly two-hour period of questions and comments.

Changes aren't expected for the exterior of 115 Sewall Ave., a building that was also damaged in the fire, according to Jeffrey Allen, the attorney representing the project and a former selectman.

Several Sewall Avenue residents, such as Jane Gilman, said they were concerned that the proposed replacement for the Victorian wouldn't conform with the surrounding area.

Gilman, who is a member of the Coolidge Corner South Side Neighborhood Association, said in a prepared statement that the building "will virtually eliminate significant green space that surrounded the house and set it back from the sidewalk. That green space, and the mature trees and shrubs that have been removed, defined the St. Paul end of Sewall Avenue."

Sharon Nicholson, another Sewall resident, presented the Planning Board with a petition containing 168 signatures of people who she said were protesting the project.

The proposed structures, Nicholson said, are "too high and too dense," and she urged the board to establish a design advisory committee that would oversee development of the project, adding: "If nothing else, the neighbors deserve thorough consideration."

Board members agreed to form a committee in the coming weeks. Meanwhile, Feuerman, who did not attend the July 31 meeting, is scheduled to meet with neighbors on Tuesday to gather more input on the proposal.

"It's what we thought would occur, no surprises," Allen said after the meeting.

"It's the beginning of the process, although we're always more concerned about the end of the process than the beginning."

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