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Some neighbors sue to block North End family from adding fourth floor to their Snow Hill Street condo

Rendering of proposed fourth-floor addition

Rendering of proposed fourth-floor addition (on lighter building) by Context.

A group of residents on Snow Hill and Hull street in the North End sued the Zoning Board of Appeal today over its approval of a project to add a fourth floor to a two-family building at 47-48 Snow Hill St., next to an existing four-story building.

In their suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the residents say the addition would take away light and privacy from residents in shorter buildings in a triangle formed by Snow Hill, Hull and North Hudson streets and that leaving the building as is is not legally a hardship since it can still be used as a residence, even if not one as large as Julie and Ryan Meadows want.

At a Feb. 7 hearing, the Meadows' attorney, Jeff Drago, said the couple wanted to add a 350-square-foot fourth floor with a 350-square-foot walk-out deck for their "growing family" so that they could stay in the North End.

Drago said their original design called for a full fourth floor with a roof deck atop that but that they agreed to reduce the dimensions after meetings with neighbors. He said that even with the new floor, the building would remain lower than the one next to it - and lower than the maximum height allowed under the block's zoning.

At the hearing, two neighbors supported the proposal, saying the Meadows were wonderful people and that their plan would keep a family in a neighborhood once known for its large numbers of children while preserving the overall architecture of the building.

However, William Verdi, who lives on Hull Street - and who is one of the people who brought the suit - argued the addition would reduce sunlight hitting his condo and, at five to eight feet from his unit, affect his privacy.

At the hearing, aides to several city councilors and the North End's state representative and state senator voice opposition to the proposal, but did not specify why.

In their suit, Verdi, Mary McGee and Thomas Schiavoni, who own a building on Snow Hill, and Michael Bonetti's EIM, which owns a Hull Street building, argues Drago presented "no credible evidence" why the Meadowses would suffer "substantial hardship" if they didn't get a variances related to "rooftop structures" and to the building's floor-area ratio, because even without it, their condo would still be an "adequate dwelling."

They say that their attorney and other residents attended the Zoom hearing to voice their opposition, but that they were not called on by the board's online "ambassador."

Watch the hearing:

PDF icon Complete complaint609.37 KB


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How about the hardship of not being able to build something entirely consistent with the surroundings on your own damn property?

Voting closed 70

Worth noting that Mary McGee was also a big driver of stopping outdoor dining. She NIMBYs.

Voting closed 0


You should probably move to somewhere with neighbors further away and plenty of sunny windows.

Voting closed 40

Ripple effect, everyone in the neighborhood will ask for relief to add a fourth or fifth , sixth floor. a case of monkey see monkey do.

Voting closed 26

We need a lot more units in this city, adding more to this neighborhood is a great idea.

Voting closed 50

this doesn't appear to be adding new units, just expanding an existing one.

Voting closed 16

First , old Brick buildings in the North End are sinking an inch each year, more and more wood pilings that are holding up these brick building’s are rotting away , from the upscale area’s of the Back bay to the North End to the Wood framed houses of Eastie .

Voting closed 6

Yes, by all means, long-time residents should move to make way for a suburbanite who wants to make his second home into luxury housing. That's a great way to preserve what little mid-range housing there is left in the North End.

Voting closed 20

Been following this. It's their primary home and they need to be there for work and school.

Voting closed 0

So, I was doing some googling to figure out why McGee and Schiavoni are plaintiffs here. They're next door and won't be affected by the change in height (they're already in the *taller* building to the immediate left!).

And I stumble upon a few court filings going back and forth between, of all people, McGee/Schiavoni and Verdi, the co-plaintiffs!

It turns out around the early 2000's, Verdi went to the ZBA and got...a variance for turning his partial 4th floor into a full floor with a 5th floor above it! And guess who had a problem with that and sued? Yep, McGee/Schiavoni! They lost in Circuit Court because the judge said they didn't have standing on any of the arguments they made at being aggrieved. But they appealed and the appellate judge in December 2004 agreed with them that their view would be substantially harmed so they had grounds and reversed Verdi's variance! His house is only as tall as it is now and was, because McGee and Schiavoni had him in court for like 5 years and they won!

While all that was going on, in January 2004, Verdi's next-door neighbor (Gannon) to *his* left wanted to replace an uninhabitable 3-story building with a 5-story building...and lo and behold, McGee and Schiavoni basically filed the exact same suit they did against Verdi. Except the decision in 2004 was summary judgement AGAINST them this time partly on the fact that they lost their case against Verdi and this suit was for the building even further away and down the hill. Now, I don't know what happened there...if they appealed or not, but street view shows it's just a 3 story building that replaced the wrecked building...so maybe they won on appeal there too or something.

So, *now*, the Meadows come along and want to raise their building up a floor and Verdi's suddenly whining about it when he *just* wanted to do the EXACT SAME like 2 decades ago...except he's teamed up with McGee and Schiavoni, the ones who stopped him(!), to try to stop the Meadows'!

WHAT THE HELL!? It's NIMBYS all the way down!

Sources for your edification:

Voting closed 128

Harder to get extortionist rents for your units if people keep building more units.

Voting closed 19

This was vetted by the residents' association. It doesn't add any units. It expands a 1500 sq ft unit into one closer to 2000 sq ft. But, yes, they will certainly get an "extorionist" rent for it. Most apartments in the North End are far smaller - 750 sq ft is typical.

Voting closed 10

Why do you think all the families are moving to Charlestown? Because the North-enders have chopped up all these family buildings into rentals to make the neighborhood their personal business. Now a family wants to do modest construction and all the old-timers flock together to put them through hell? Yikes...

These folks have been quoted saying they don't care to win or lose - just to financially strain anyone who wants to do construction and put them 3-5 years in a holding pattern.

Voting closed 0

April 11, 1996... Mary McGee and Thomas Schiavoni where grantors of 53 Hull st... To a William Verdi grantee.... For $1.

Voting closed 0

How many of the whiners here live in the North End?
How many want to live in Boston?
I'm real curious.

Voting closed 17

I dunno. This isn’t typical NIMBYism.

1. First & most importantly, Copps Hill is a historic district and no one moving there could possibly not be aware of that. Historic district=restrictions. And it’s a no bullshit historic neighborhood, one of the oldest in Boston, and Phyllis Wheatley and Cotton Mather are buried there.

2. Since 1981, the North End has had unique regs protecting windows, views, airflow and ventilation, and light, which isn't farfetched for the only tenement building neighborhood in the city--
In the restricted roof structure district mapped in the North End, the above and the following restrictions shall apply to all buildings. The height of any building existing as of the effective date of this regulation shall determine the allowed height on that site subsequent to total or partial demolition or destruction of said building. Any proposed construction on the site that would exceed the prior height would require Board of Appeal approval, and would be subject to the restricted roof structure district regulations and any height limits in place in the district. In making its decision, the Board of Appeal shall consider whether such roof structure has the potential for significantly restricting light and/or air flow to adjacent structures and/or significantly restricting views from roofs, windows, doors, or balconies. Notwithstanding anything in ""Grade" of Section 2-1, respecting the definition of the term "grade," if a building abuts more than one street, "grade" is the average elevation of the street with the lowest elevation. Section 16-8. - Restricted Roof Structure Districts
Again, that's since 1981.Did they not do any research before buying the place?

3. So how teeny is their place? According to the tax assessment, it's 1328 square feet, which is 200 square feet more than the two condos above me where both families have 2 kids each. 1328 is good for a city. It's great for the North End. They’re almost adjacent to DeFillippo Playground and a minute from Puopolo Playground on the other side, so they have kid friendly outdoor space enviably close.

But if they want more room, you can’t swing a cat between Canal Street and Endicott without hitting either new condo construction or conversion. If they want a bigger place, they could move a 5 minute walk away and buy an 1800 square foot condo.

This isn’t about NIMBY. This is someone who wants to build what they want where they want, neighbors and history be damned. This is Jimmy James building the JJ building on Central Park. (hello, News Radio fans)

Voting closed 47

The ZBA only has the right to give out variances under very specific, limited conditions. The neighbors' suit contends that those conditions were not met in this case.

If the right thing to do is to allow building owners in the North End to add height to their buildings, the proper remedy is for our elected officials to change the zoning code to permit it, not to use the unelected ZBA as a mechanism for doing an end run on the governing laws.

Voting closed 11

I think we'd all agree the current process is messy, and ad hoc zoning variances are being overused in the absence of planning.

But even if you reformed the process, how would it work when someone wants to expand their building? There needs to be a forum for abutters to lodge protests, and a body to settle issues, and that process would look a lot like ZBA hearings.

Voting closed 0

The ZBA gives out variances based on conditions.
The ZBA evaluated the conditions presented and gave out a variance.
The neighbors claim the conditions weren't met and the ZBA is wrong.
The neighbors can claim anything they want that doesn't make them right de facto.
The court will decide.

The right thing to do is allow building owners to add height to their buildings when conditions allow for a variance because codes can't be perfect everywhere in all situations.

If you change the code too loosely, all sorts of other situations suddenly become allowed in places you didn't intend and there's no such thing as a "zoning board of stopping people from doing things that the code allows".

Voting closed 11