Fort Hill residents called 911 today to summon police when they saw a contractor tearing down the garages at the home where filmmaker and activist Henry Hampton lived as he produced the award-winning documentary series, "Eyes on the Prize" and created one of the larges minority-owned production companies in the country.
The garages at 88 Lambert Ave. have been at the center of a battle between residents and Michael Winston and Claudia Robaina, who own and live at 88 Lambert Ave., over the future of the two-thirds acre site. In 2017, Winston and Robaina announced plans for eight townhouses in two buildings around the historic house, built in 1834 by architect Richard Bond and later owned by Hampton as he produced his civil-rights series in the 1980s.
The garages, which once could house 30 cars, were built in 1910.
To make way for their townhouses, Winston and Robaina want to tear down the garages - which a contractor started doing this morning. But residents who noticed the demolition early this morning went outside to protest and then called police, who arrived and ordered the workers to stop. Residents then gathered online, on the Highland Park Neighborhood Watch mailing list, to complain about the work, on Martin Luther King Day, no less.
At issue is whether the Boston Landmark Commission has approved the destruction of the garages. At a Sept. 22 hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeal, Winston and Robaina's attorney, Derric Small, said the commission had approved the work. Residents say the commission is still considering the historic nature of the garages. A a landmarks-commission list dated Oct. 1 says the property is still under consideration.
On Jan. 4, however, ISD issued a permit for the roughly $75,000 demolition project.
The overall project also needs approval of the zoning board, because the proposal would violate several sections of the neighborhood's zoning otherwise: It's too close to the sidewalk and the rear and side property lines, it is too dense and the parking would not be on the two new lots created for the new buildings.
At the Sept. 22 hearing, Small asked for a deferral to continue talks with neighbors and was granted a new hearing of Dec. 1. But at that hearing, Winston asked for another deferral, saying "we are at the verge of a really incredible agreement with the community around how to honor Henry's legacy." The board then set a new hearing time of 12:30 p.m. on March 9.