, Salem, MA

January 19, 2013

City offers project terms

By Alan Burke
Staff writer

---- — PEABODY — Bria Lane off Lowell Street only exists on paper. But for years, it’s been the source of real trouble with nearby residents fighting to prevent a developer from building one to two houses on it.

That’s a far cry from the 100-home Boulderwood in South Peabody that set off a nearly two-decade-long battle, but it was enough last week to draw several dozen residents to an impromptu meeting with city officials at City Hall, including Mayor Ted Bettencourt. They were offered a compromise that would see the developer forswear any blasting, while only one house is built and an existing home restored.

Saugus builder Anthony Tiro says that’s OK with him. Moreover, he can’t understand the opposition after he’s made several efforts to satisfy the misgivings of residents. Tiro bought the foreclosed property roughly three years ago and originally intended to build two homes and rehab the house already on the site.

When his plan was turned down by the Board of Appeals, he launched an ongoing lawsuit.

“We’re going to see who’s right,” said the nearest neighbor, Thomas Gandolfo, a vigorous opponent of blasting. “He’s either going to take a stand and blast the hell out of the place. Or he is going to walk away.”

Gandolfo worries that the work on the site, which he says is mainly rock ledge, will be more than a nuisance, creating vibrations endangering a nearby retaining wall and the homes that depend on that wall for stability. “I’ve been battling (developers) for 25 years,” he adds, explaining that the site is a beautiful wooded area.

“A place where deer and antelope roam,” he jokes.

Yet, he worries that last week’s meeting may have swayed most of his neighbors toward the compromise.

“Most everyone else is willing to give up,” he said. But he sees a serious flaw in the deal’s “no blasting” provision.

“(Tiro) still has to prepare the land,” Gandolfo said. “He’ll have to jackhammer the foundation. If he can’t blast it, he’ll have to chip it.” He fears a noisy, earthshaking, 90-day process in either case.

For his part, Tiro replies that there would be no blasting and only “minimal” hammering. He’s already dug “10 or 12 test pits” at the location where the new house would go, he said. “And it’s granite 6 feet down. That’s perfect. Couldn’t be any better.”

He anticipates that the foundation could be excavated with a backhoe, without any blasting or hammering. A small amount of hammering might be needed to lay utility conduits, but even that’s not certain.

“Where the house is going to go, there will be nothing at all,” he said.

Tiro, who already has a substantial financial investment in the land, makes the case that in America, people are entitled to develop their own property. “You have the right to build it if you follow the rules and regulations.”

Ward Councilor Dave Gamache attended last Thursday’s meeting with residents.

“The majority agreed” to conditions proposed by the Board of Appeals, which would forbid blasting, he said. At the same time, the lawsuit would be settled.

Noting that the retaining wall is “right above where they would be blasting,” Gamache warns that absent the “no blasting” compromise, worse things could result for the residents. “I don’t see a lot of this challenge in court going the way of the neighbors.” Laws protect people’s property, he noted. “I can’t see a judge saying no to the developer.”

Gandolfo, however, is now seeking legal representation.

“I’m on the stubborn side,” he said.