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Neighbors skeptical about developer's plan for former Savio School

Posted by Jeremy C. Fox  September 2, 2011 09:31 AM

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(Jeremy C. Fox for Boston.com)

Developer Nestor J. Limas addressed a crowd of more than 20 abutters on Thursday.

Neighbors of a former parochial school in East Boston, still smarting from past losses of land and abuses of trust, are skeptical about a real estate developer’s plans to convert the building into condominiums.

The former St. Dominic Savio Preparatory High School at the corner of Byron and Horace streets was founded in 1958 by the Salesians of Don Bosco, a Catholic order, and closed in 2007, after several attempts to save it were unsuccessful. Four years later, neighbors are eager to see the empty building put to productive use, but they aren’t convinced a plan by the Chelsea-based developer Coliseum Investment Group is the right one for the neighborhood.

At a Thursday night meeting at the Boys and Girls Club across Byron Street run by the Salesians, abutters raised many of the usual community concerns that arise with proposals for new development. They worry that the 27 proposed parking spaces aren’t sufficient for the 21 studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedroom units planned for the building. They think a planned outdoor trash shed would create an unpleasant smell and attract rodents and other vermin.

They worry that the plan to sell condos may fail and the units become rentals, attracting undesirable tenants. Or if the units do sell, the condo association that will run the building will renege on promises made by the developer.

But these East Bostonians, many of them second- and third-generation residents of the neighborhood, have long memories of land taken by eminent domain for the expansion of Logan International Airport and the Blue Line subway. And they recall the 2006 sale of the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea School church, rectory, and hall to South Boston photographer Michael Indresano for a mere $850,000 and Indresano’s re-sale of the property 20 days later for $2.7 million. So they are especially wary.

“Why would we believe you? We have nothing to believe,” said Tom Tassinari, who lives one block over from the school, on Wordsworth Street.

“I don’t trust you or you,” Tassinari said later, referring to the developer and a planner from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, “any further than I can throw you.”

Nestor J. Limas, the developer, tried to reassure the residents that he had good intentions and that the new residences would increase property values, and Erico Lopez, the East Boston planner for the BRA, said the authority would record all community concerns and ensure that Limas addressed them. But the residents remained skeptical.

It didn’t help that they had only learned of Thursday’s meeting on Tuesday night, when the neighborhood was leafleted with notices, or on Wednesday, when an announcement appeared in the weekly East Boston Times-Free Press. Some accused the BRA of trying to “divide and conquer” by giving late notice and only inviting close abutters rather than going before a larger and more inclusive crowd at the Orient Heights Neighborhood Association.

Lopez acknowledged that residents had little notice of the meeting and said another would be scheduled soon, with more time between the announcement and the meeting. There he and Limas will try again to address community concerns and find middle ground, but it is likely to be an uphill battle to persuade these residents they can get a fair deal.

Kay Sexton, whose Horace Street home directly abuts the school property, summed up the feelings of many.

“Our faith has been stopped on too many times,” Sexton said.

Email Jeremy C. Fox at jeremycfox@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeremycfox. Follow East Boston on Twitter: @EastBostonNews.

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