Demolition delay needs funds to back it up, Dover finds

Email|Print| Text size + By Anna Fiorentino
Globe Correspondent / February 3, 2008

Anthony Oliva intends to demolish the oldest house in town for the same reason the Dover Historical Society and the town's Historical Commission wish to preserve it: His white saltbox at 6 Farm St., known as the Draper House, sits in the condition in which it was built nearly 300 years ago. With 6-foot ceilings. Oliva is 6 feet tall.

"When we realized it was not financially feasible to redo the house structurally to make the ceilings taller, we offered the house to the town if they moved it off the property," said Oliva. "The town left it up to the Historical Society to raise money to move the house, and we gave them a year and a half to do it before we applied for demolition."

When Oliva applied for a permit to raze the Draper House last May, the Historical Commission voted to use the town's demolition review bylaw to buy some time - up to a year - for efforts to raise enough money to relocate it.

After the decision to invoke the bylaw, neither the Historical Commission nor the society heard from Oliva, officials said, until the commission received a letter in the fall stating he was no longer interested in donating the house.

"At that point the offer was off the table," said Oliva. "We had already waited a year and a half before they even requested the demolition delay. We needed to move on."

Oliva said he plans to remove the Draper House from the property after the delay expires in May. He has not decided whether he will demolish it; dismantling the 1724 structure would allow him to use some of the materials to build a new house. Oliva said he is certain of one thing: The house will not be given to the town.

In Dover's defense, Richard Eells, chairman of the Historical Commission, said Oliva "just stopped communicating with us. We invited him to meetings but he never showed up."

Now Eells and Paul Tedesco, president of the private Dover Historical Society, and their fellow history buffs seemingly have no choice but to witness the loss of one of the few remaining structures in Dover that withstood a fire in the late 1800s.

"We attempted to develop a process to raise money so we could eventually donate the house to the town," Tedesco said. "Now there is nothing we can do."

The demolition review gave them a chance, but it offers no guarantee that eligible structures can be protected indefinitely.

"The bylaw is effective only in the sense that we're not in danger of having houses torn down because of midnight applications," said Eells. "But there is nothing preventing a home from being destroyed."

Dover is among the many communities across the state that have enacted demolition-delay bylaws, which are designed to provide time for negotiations with a historical property's owner in hopes of finding alternatives to leveling it. Once the delay period ends, the owner regains control over the property.

The town enacted its first review bylaw in 1995, and the bylaw's reach was expanded in 2002, with the delay increased from six months to a year, and the construction date for eligible structures pushed from 1899 to 1932.

Unlike some other communities, however, Dover has not enacted the Community Preservation Act, which allows for a property-tax surcharge, matched by state funds, that can be spent on local historical preservation efforts (as well as affordable housing, and open space and recreation projects).

Town Meeting voters defeated a CPA proposal in 2002.

Dover's historical groups had hoped to raise the $300,000 to $400,000 needed to move the Draper House intact, or at least enough - roughly half that amount - to dismantle the house and stow it in a town building until the rest of the money could be accumulated. The effort raised $5,000.

"The society could not do it on their own," said Tedesco. "There could have been a fair amount of in-kind fund-raising, but we never had a chance to see if it was there."

Also, unlike surrounding communities such as Sherborn and Natick, Dover has no registered historic districts to protect its few remaining Colonial homes.

Oliva purchased the Draper House and the adjacent home, where he and his family live, in 2003 and 2004 in a two-phase process.

"We bought the house because we loved the land it was on."

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