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Town hopes to save Paul Revere's mill, barn

Ill. conglomerate mulls demolition

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Elaine Cushman Carroll
Globe Correspondent / June 8, 2008

About 25 years after Paul Revere finished his famous midnight ride, he moved on to more mundane workday life, setting up the nation's first copper-rolling mill in a brick building in Canton on the Neponset River. That building still stands, but perhaps not for long.

The mill and a nearby historic barn would be destroyed if a demolition request filed by the Illinois-based Napleton Companies is granted by the town's Historical Commission.

The company has also presented plans for a six-lot industrial subdivision of the property. A public hearing will be held before the Planning Board Wednesday evening.

The proposal is the latest put forth by the Napleton Companies, which bought the site for development after the previous occupant, the Plymouth Rubber Co., moved out. The first proposal was to build nearly 400 condominiums. The company had offered to spend more than $2 million to renovate the buildings as part of a $5 million mitigation package if their rezoning proposal were approved.

But that plan was rejected by Town Meeting voters in April. When it failed to get the two-thirds vote required, the Napleton Companies said all agreements for mitigation were off the table - including the plan to save the historic buildings.

Town officials say they are angry and dismayed at how things have evolved.

John J. Connolly, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, suspects the demolition request is payback for the town not supporting its rezoning proposal.

"If they tear down those buildings, it will be a spite move," said Connolly, who was one of a majority of the five-member board who opposed the plans. He did so, he said, "because there wasn't enough in it for the town." He said he was also doubtful of the company's commitment to the town.

But, Rick Brandstatter, director of real estate for the company, which is doing business as Canton Development Properties LLC, said there is nothing personal in the move.

"We put a lot of time and effort into the site. We need to move on," Brandstatter said. "We're here to make some money. We're in real estate development and that is what we do. It's not to spite the town or anything. We just have to go on about our business."

Brandstatter said the company has been looking at buyers and industrial tenants for the property and the demolition request is a way of keeping options open.

"At the conclusion of the process, it doesn't necessarily mean that the buildings will be demolished," he said. "We don't have plans one way or another for the [Revere] buildings."

George T. Comeau, who serves both the town's Historical Society and Historical Commission, said he has had trouble sleeping since he found out about the possible demolition. "I've never met this kind of bottom-line thinking," he said.

Comeau, who describes the buildings as "irreplaceable national treasures," set up a website - revererollingmill.googlepages.com/home - dedicated to educating the public.

"I think there are moral issues here. I would find it unconscionable to knowingly destroy something like that," he said. "I would caution any company that wants to come in there. I wouldn't want to be known as the company that destroyed Paul Revere's rolling mill."

Comeau said he grew up in town and was always proud of the fact that Paul Revere lived and worked there.

Wallace Gibbs, the Historical Commission's chairman, said the buildings' historical authenticity has been well documented. A hearing to confirm that will be held June 19.

But, he added, the only tool that the commission likely has to save them is a six-month demolition delay. The delay would give a developer time to utilize the buildings in its plans or allow them to be moved.

Neither the brick mill nor the post and beam draft horse barn that dates to about 1845 is a good candidate for relocation, he said.

Jeremy J. Comeau, the chairman of the Planning Board and George Comeau's brother, said he is encouraging everyone to attend the public hearing at Town Hall.

"Government is run by those who show up," said Comeau, who supported the company's proposal at Town Meeting. He said he will not take an official stand on the subdivision until after the hearing.

A series of public hearings have been held on various rezoning proposals for the centrally located property, and the consensus was that the property should be changed from pure industrial to a zone that would allow a mix of shops and residences. The current industrial zone will allow commercial buildings and nearly every other use, except residential.

The company is asking for four waivers from the Planning Board on its subdivision plans.

Three would limit traffic studies. The fourth would make it unnecessary for the path of new roads on the site to be identified by stakes before approval.

Canton lawyer Paul A. Schneiders, who is representing Napleton doing business as Canton Development Properties LLC, said company officials "don't want to take those two buildings down. However, if they sell it, it's out of their control. We hope we find a buyer that can work around those two buildings."

Schneiders said he has shown the building to about a dozen potential clients, including a warehouse and distribution firm from Indianapolis, but would not identify them.

Elaine Cushman Carroll can be reached at elaine_carroll@msn.com

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