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Battle to build near Somerville Community path continues

Posted by Marcia Dick  April 8, 2011 11:07 AM

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One Somerville property owner is betting his street near the bike path is so popular, it needs a new house.

An April 7 update to the Office of Strategic Planning and Community Development report recommends approval contingent on a list of 39 conditions. But neighbors fear the new structure will be a fire hazard - and city planning staff are working overtime to address the worries.

Christos Poutahidis has filed for permits to build a single-family house, tear down a garage, and convert the existing house on the property to a single-family. He bought 35R Lexington Ave. for $167,500 in 1996, according to online records from the Middlesex South District Registry of Deeds, and owns numerous other buildings in Somerville.

The L-shaped lot has only a narrow strip leading out to the street. It backs on to the Community Path.

About eight members of a de facto opposition group pled their case with Mayor Joe Curtatone March 29, armed with plans and papers. In an interview, neighbor Julie Davenport claimed that under state fire regulations, the driveway is too narrow for safety.

The city planning staff report acknowledges that city law requires a two-way driveway to be at least 18 feet wide but says "We have allowed this fire lane to be less than the minimum required because the building is sprinklered and 18 feet is not available." It must be sign-posted as a designated fire lane.

According to the updated report, the Fire Department tested access with an actual fire truck. After that, Poutahidis trimmed the width of the existing building by 4 feet to widen the driveway to 14 feet. The revised plan also removes a wall next to a parking space. Poutahidis may have to amend landscaping and walkways.

Planning staff recommend that Poutahidis submit "a site plan showing the turning radii for a fire truck" by a licensed engineer before the Zoning Board of Appeals makes its final decision, according to the April 7 report.

Fire concerns aside, the new setup "would put the parcel into a use that better aligns with that of abutters and the surrounding neighborhoods," and "would enhance the visual appeal of the site," according to the report.

Attorney Richard DiGirolamo, Poutahidis's representative, thought there was room to get a fire truck to the rear of the site. It's a "large lot by Somerville standards," he said. The lot is 14,875 square feet or .34 acres, according to the planning staff report.

In addition, "there's neighbors who have encroachments" on the property -- "portions of a fence and a wall that are limiting our access." Poutahidis has demanded that the fence and wall be moved.

The plan is currently scheduled to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals April 20. No matter what happens, Davenport is looking on the bright side. "The plus of this whole dilemma is it's made the people in the neighborhood really get to know each other," she said.


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