Neighbors clash over housing sale

Landmark designation bid may block deal

Jule Pattison-Gordon | 8/30/2017, 11:40 a.m.
Downsizing and personal financial circumstances compel the owners to sell 88 Lambert Avenue, an expansive property in Highland Park. But ...
Owners seek to sell Highland Park’s 88 Lambert Avenue, but neighbors say they distrust the buyer. Now the city is examining the property to see if it deserves “landmark” status. Banner photo

Highland Park’s 88 Lambert Avenue has become the center of a heated dispute. The owners are longtime community members who seek to downsize by selling the property. Their efforts were stalled when a group of neighbors petitioned the city, stating concern that a new buyer might remove historic structures. Now the Boston Landmarks Commission has declared interest in the site, preventing any demolition during a waiting period.

Owner Robert Patton-Spruill proposes including a deed restriction protecting the property’s mansion, while allowing the brick garages to be demolished to clear space for new housing units.

Banner photo

Owner Robert Patton-Spruill proposes including a deed restriction protecting the property’s mansion, while allowing the brick garages to be demolished to clear space for new housing units.

The site went on the market in the fall of 2016 with a $2.9 million asking price. This year, the owners accepted a developer’s offer with the sale still unclosed by Banner press time on Tuesday. But news of the plan alarmed several local residents who say they believe the would-be purchaser has a bad track record. These residents said they fear the developer could downgrade quality of life by crowding in too many new units on the 0.6-acre lot or that he might demolish an 18th-century mansion.

“I appreciate it’s his [the owner’s] piece of property, but we have to live with it when he’s gone,” neighbor Rodney Singleton told the Banner. “He’s ultimately trying to get the best sales price [by building it up].”

Meanwhile, Robert Patton-Spruill, who owns the property with his wife, says personal financial circumstances make selling soon imperative. He said he has been trying to work with neighbors to enact some protective regulations in advance of selling that would restrict the site’s use.

The extensive property features an 18th-century seven-bedroom mansion, garages, a carriage house and two small ponds. It was once the home of Henry Hampton, the founder of the film production company Blackside, known for works such as “Eyes on the Prize,” an award-winning civil rights movement documentary series.

After an Aug. 22 meeting, the Boston Landmarks Commission approved a demolition delay. Patton-Spruill says this means he is blocked from making changes to any part of the property, not just the mansion, while the research is conducted to determine if any of the site is historically significant.

By rendering the property temporarily undevelopable, the Landmarks Commission delay could scare off his selected buyer and thus essentially lock away all the money he invested in his property, he says.

“That means at least three more months I have to carry a building I can’t afford to live in,” Patton-Spruill told the Banner “I have lost my freedoms of ownership completely. I can’t replace a window without their approval first.”

Mistrusted developer

Patton-Spruill told the Banner that he had received offers from dozens of prospective buyers, and had accepted an offer from developer Joe LaRosa. Speaking to the Banner on Tuesday, he said the deal had been made prior to the Landmark Commission’s delay and he suspected it would now fall through.

Some community residents opposed the sale because they mistrusted the property’s future under LaRosa. Area resident Jon Ellertson says LaRosa has a reputation for making low-quality, densely-packed housing and disregarding community concerns.

“He’s shown no interest in preservation, only interest in building as many densely-designed low-quality houses as he can,” Ellertson said. “It’d make a big difference if the buyer was one whose track record was of working with a particular community to see what the community’s vision is for the property. “