What’s Next for Beacon Burn Site?

Beacon has gone to court to compel the owner of this destroyed home to clean up the Wolcott Avenue parcel. Photo by Valerie Shively

Boardinghouse owner expected to seek variance

The owner of a Beacon boardinghouse that was destroyed by fire in January wants to rebuild, although the surrounding neighborhood is zoned for single-family homes.

Wolcott house

The boarding- house at 925 Wolcott burned down in January. (Beacon Historical Society)

Yeshia Berger, who bought the boardinghouse at 925 Wolcott Ave. a year ago, had received a permit from the Building Department to convert its 16 single-room, monthly rental units to nine. After a former tenant allegedly set fire to the house on Jan. 3, burning it nearly to the ground, Berger has argued that he should be allowed to rebuild the boardinghouse under that permit. 

However, in a Zoning Board of Appeals meeting on Wednesday (June 21), board members agreed with Building Inspector Bruce Flower’s interpretation of the zoning code that a structure that is more than 50 percent destroyed by fire can only be rebuilt under current standards. 

In response, Berger’s attorney, Taylor Palmer, said his client will likely ask the board to issue a variance. 

The home had been what is known as a “legal non-conforming use” in the single-family district. It had been used as a boardinghouse for decades and, if rebuilt with nine units, would provide affordable housing in a “less-non-conforming” use, Palmer said. Another single-room occupancy across the street, at 916 Wolcott, is the “same exact” non-conforming use, he said. 

More than two dozen residents have submitted letters to the Zoning Board opposing a new boardinghouse at the site. James Case-Leal, a neighbor, also submitted a petition with more than 1,000 names in opposition to what it called a “luxury building” on the parcel. 

The petition includes the names of people from up and down the East Coast and as far away as California, Colorado and Arizona — “people whose children attend Beacon schools, people who have been forced to leave Beacon because of the inflated housing market and people who come to Beacon to spend their money as tourists,” Case-Leal wrote in an email to the board. Nearly 600 of the names on the petition are from Beacon. 

On Wednesday, Palmer argued against Flower’s interpretation that the non-conforming zoning use had been “removed” by the fire. In straw polls, board members said that while Berger had not removed the building by choice, Flower’s ruling regarding structures more than 50 percent destroyed by fire still applied. 

If those decisions hold when the board votes next month, Berger will request a variance to rebuild, Palmer said.

On the day of the fire, Brian P. Atkinson, the alleged arsonist, was scheduled to appear in court for eviction proceedings filed by Berger. Instead, he walked to the Police Department and turned himself in, authorities said.

He was charged with third-degree arson, two counts of first-degree reckless endangerment and two counts of second-degree criminal mischief, all felonies.

Leaf blowers

The Beacon City Council has dropped its consideration of leaf blower regulations in favor of a public education campaign. 

The council earlier this year discussed restricting leaf blowers but was unable to reach consensus on whether or how to proceed. During a workshop on June 5, Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair, who introduced the idea last year, said that while he “strongly believes that leaf blowers are a public-health risk,” he was willing to approach the topic in a different way after hearing feedback “from my colleagues, my constituents and local businesses.” 

Aymar-Blair said he believes “the clock is ticking on lawns” and advocated an educational campaign to introduce “contemporary ways of gardening that are more in keeping with the natural world,” such as planting pollinator pathways or composting fallen leaves.

Leave a Reply

The Current welcomes comments on its coverage and local issues. All online comments are moderated, must include your full name and may appear in print. See our guidelines here.