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People don't usually fight over dormers, but residents of one Dorchester street and city officials make an exception

The Zoning Board of Appeal yesterday denied a request from the owner of a house on Harvest Street to add dormers to her attic so she could build a master bedroom there and move in - after neighbors, the local civic association and several elected officials opposed her proposal.

At issue with Brenda Liu's request for 8 Harvest St. was not so much the dormers themselves as the way she has kept up - or failed to keep up - the property in recent years and what one neighbor said was a confusing series of proposals she's made related to the number of bedrooms in the house.

The board voted to deny Liu's request without prejudice, which means she can come back before the board with a new proposal, if she can get neighbors to agree. Acting board Chairman Mark Erlich told Liu he "strongly" suggests Liu talk to neighbors before going forward with any new plans.

Liu, who has owned the house for 32 years, said she wanted to move into it because "I'm divorced, so I need a place to live." She said the house's current bedrooms are tiny and that the attic is now just empty space - she doesn't even use it for storage.

But after she made her case, representatives of Mayor Walsh and city councilors Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Annissa Essaibi George (at large) said they opposed the dormers because of concerns from the neighborhood, which included a fear she really wanted to turn the house into a boarding house.

"This has been a problem property over the years and continues to be," Harvest Street resident Brian Heger said. For example, he said the sidewalk out front is never shoveled after snow storms.

Heger was about to sit down after that, when Erlich called him back to the microphone to explain the issue in more detail, because he was puzzled by the strong opposition to dormers, normally not a controversial matter. "It seems like a fairly de minimis proposal and yet it seems it has universal opposition," Erlich noted, adding that there's nothing the board can do about snow shoveling, but he wanted to hear more about zoning issues.

Heger said that over the years, Liu has presented the McCormack Civic Association with upgrade plans that left other residents wondering just how many bedrooms she planned to put in the house and whether her real goal was to open a boarding house. He then repeated his concern about continued neglect of the property.

Liu denied that she ever wanted to open a boarding house and said all she originally wanted to do was to split the house into two separate apartments, but she noted the zoning board had earlier rejected her request for that.

But after noting the longstanding issues between Liu and her neighbors, Erlich moved to deny the request. "I think it would probably make sense for us to heed voices of the opposition," he said. He told Liu he strongly suggests she come up with "a redesign that could speak to the interests of the neighborhood" - and to meet with her neighbors to assuage their concerns.

Watch the hearing:

Free tagging: 


People really need to mind their own business ... and the city needs to stop encouraging them to butt in where their input is nothing but a nonsense exercise in being stupid, mean, petty, and moronic.

Voting closed 44

So this long term resident can’t build but all these new jack yuppies can put condos wherever they want ?

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She's owned the house for 32 years, but doesn't live in it now.

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It doesn't matter if she shagged your dad back in the day, or made cookies for your brownie troop. They are called property RIGHTS for a reason.

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Nevermind that. By the looks of that fire escape it looks like once they scramble down the rickety fire escape which stops only halfway down the house, are they supposed to then jump and pray or stand there halfway screaming for help and praying???

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It's yesterday's West Roxbury story all over, except in this case it sounds like the owner has sowed so much bad karma that the neighbors feel they can't trust her.

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And the board chairman pointed to that in basically calling for her to actually talk to the neighbors. Because, come on: Dormers. It's not like this is some roof-deck proposal in the South End

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to add dormers to your house, then it's time to change the zoning laws.

Voting closed 40

Change the zoning laws. Again.

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That's why they have the hearings. And the boarding house concerns are real. A friend lived on Parker St relatively close to Wentworth and Northeastern. One of the three story houses across from theirs was bought by a guy who at first led them to believe he was turning the floors into condos. Instead, he added bedrooms with built in furniture in all and rented by the room to students. I think it was allowed since there was a lack of dorm spaces at the time but having illegal boarding houses on your block can affect your property's value so the complaints are valid. This woman also sounds like an absentee slumlord and a terrible neighbor so expecting everyone to look the other way for her benefit now isn't reasonable.

Voting closed 57

Even if the griefing is justified, why is it all loaded onto stuff like dormer approval?

The community should have no right to comment on dormers.

They should have a way to bring up property maintenance concerns at more appropriate times - like, through 311 and inspectional services.

Other cities will come clean up a property or clear a walkway and charge the owner. They will also bust people for illegal apartments and broken fire escapes and poor maintenance.

The fact that the dormer discussion was where people aired their issues shows how far behind the times Boston is.

Let people put in dormers without nannymanagement. The city needs to take these code issues into another venue.

Voting closed 3

Maybe rename it the Board of Vengeance for Petty Grievances.

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She should turn it into a "sober" house with the huge guaranteed rents. Those who got in early on the sober house craze are making a fortune and neighbors have little right to object to housing for the disabled.

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Breaking down government run institutions and placing them into neighborhoods at a tax break for the sponsor has been a disaster, albeit less of an abusive disaster for the people in these places.

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Do they have actual proof that the property was neglected? Perhaps a citation? Otherwise it's an opion that should not matter. Sad to see our elected officials bow down to unelected neighborhood groups and their authoritarian nonsense. No wonder housing is so expensive when you can waste other people's money to further your dreams of tin-pot dictatorship

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It’s been cited several times in the past 5 years. You can look it up online. http://rentsmart.boston.gov/details.html?address=8%20HARVEST%20ST&unit=&...

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The city lists this as a two-family dwelling, yet there are clearly three mail boxes on the porch in the Streetview. Another reason to be suspicious.

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Coming from the attic that is "only used for storage."

(And to the other commenter, who doesn't understand why the fire escape brings you down to the porch roof: It's so people can't easily climb up and break in or be creepy. Fire escapes often only go down to about 10 feet for this reason. You can hold onto the bottom rung of the ladder and drop, and your feet are only dropping 4-5 feet. Or you can climb down off of the porch roof pretty easily. And if you're an elder and can climb down a ladder but can't climb off a porch roof, you can wait on it and someone can get you down easily.)

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This makes no sense. If the attic is really just unfinished storage space, there is plenty of room for her master bedroom (even a suite!) up there as part of the second floor unit without the need for a dormer (or any action from this board). I would also echo the comments above that this is probably an illegal 3 family and her intent is to make the existing 3rd floor apartment larger with a dormer.

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Hey Adam,

Thanks for this and for your other reporting on this site.

You go out of your way to include links to primary materials (like this video; and like the numerous judicial opinions you post), and that is so helpful, so important, and so informative.

It is easy (for ALL of us!) to judge based on second hand information -- giving an opinion on someone else's opinion of something without recourse to documents that directly relate to the event, or people who have direct knowledge of the event.

Thanks for your work to help us all make more informed decisions.

If I can ever again figure out how to contribute to the website, I will.

Thanks & Best Regards,
Joe Dullea
Hyde Park

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Thanks for the kind words!

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If you were indicating that the "donate" link wass hard to find, I agree! I had to switch to desktop view to see it. In case you just want the direct link, here it is. https://www.universalhub.com/donation

If you were talking about contributing material, I unfortunately haven't figured out that part yet (besides emailing Adam directly).

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Tried to download Grumpy Cat meme with NO!!! . Can someone help me out?

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It is the clerestory roofs that I object to, but not dormers.

Glad to know that you'll need to earn at least 60k to rent a place like a 1-bedroom apartment or studio apartment in this town and that there is no affordable housing for others making less.

A rooming house? Good Lord!
That's as bad as trolley lines or walking to get places or grocers with no prepared food sections.

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