Town Council Supports Move to Make the Orchard House a Historic District
The council supported the Historic District Commission's effort to create the 917 Belmont Street Historic District.
Watertown’s Town Councilors threw their support behind turning the Orchard House property into a historic district to prevent the 1830s era building from being torn down.
The Historic District Commission asked the council for permission to start a study group that would likely result in a new historic district at 917 Belmont Street. The property is owned by the Walker School and currently is home to Beacon High School, a school for students with behavioral issues and other special needs.
Town Attorney Marck Reich told the council that they did not need to approve creating a new group to study the district because the town already has a Historic District Commission. The town has one historic district along Mt. Auburn Street.
The process could go pretty quickly because the Historical Society of Watertown has researched the history of the Orchard house, said Steve Magoon, director of Economic Development and Planning.
“A significant amount of work is doing the research. With the other historic district a lot of time was spent researching each property in the district,” Magoon said. “This one has one property and a lot of research has been done on it.”
Town Councilor Vincent Piccirilli said Watertown has already lost many historic homes, and he does not want to lose another.
Town Council President Mark Sideris said when he attended the Historical Commission meeting where the school applied to tear down the building he came away feeling that the school was intent on taking down the Orchard House. He said the town should seek to save the house.
“We as a town are entitled to look at any options available to us (to save the house),” Sideris said.
Town Councilor Tony Palomba said the council should also take into consideration the service Beacon High School provides.
“As important it is to preserve historic properties, it is just as important to provide services,” Palomba said.
Town Council Vice President Steve Corbett said the school could leave the property, so it may not always be home to a non-profit.
“I encourage the council to get behind the community and preserve the historic building,” Corbett said. “Separate (the decision from) the use of the current owner, which is transitional. Once they tear down the building, it is gone.”
Steve Tannenbaum, vice president of the board of directors of the Walker School, attended the meeting, but Sideris said he could not speak to the council because it the discussion was not a public hearing. Tannenbaum did not stay for public forum at the end of the meeting.
The council voted 9-0 to support the Historic District Commission seeking to establish the new historic district.