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Commission Continues Effort to Make Historic District Despite School's Offer to Delay Demolition

Beacon High School's offer to not touch the Orchard House for 3 years did not stop the Historic District Commission from moving forward with application process.

An offer by Beacon High School officials that would have delayed the demolition of the Orchard House by three years did not put the brakes the Historic District Commission's effort to turn protect the building by creating a historic district.

On Wednesday night, Steve Tannenbaum, vice president of the board of directors of the Walker School - which runs Beacon School - presented the offer to the commission. The delay would allow the school to work with the town and others to find a way to save the house.

Historic District Commission (HDC) Chairman Harvey Steiner said he plans to keep the application process going.

"I personally want to see the building preserved," Steiner said. "I don't want to take a step backward and watch from the sidelines."

Without an agreement, school officials may have to make a decision soon, Tannenbaum said.

"The act of creating a historic district is putting pressure on us to do things more quickly than we would like and make it more expensive," Tannenbaum said. "We propose to slow it down a bit."

The town can put a one-year demolition delay, and Tannenbaum said the school is willing to guarantee they will not come forward to ask to tear down the building for two years afterward. If the town agreed, the school would pay for the main part of the house to be repaired and stop the deterioration of it.

Steiner said the school should talk with the Town Council, the Historical Commission - which decides on demolition delays, and others to come up with an agreement before the HDC debates stopping the process.

"Right now we are just studying the district," Steiner said. "I think it is premature to start negotiations."

Tannenbaum said he did not expect this reaction by the commission.

"I am a little confused about being asked to work it out with the powers that be. I thought you (the HDC) are the power that be," Tannenbaum said. "I approached everyone (in town) and they referred me back to you."

After the meeting, Tannenbaum said he is not sure what steps the school will take regarding the building, but said he would still be open to making a deal with the town to delay the demolition.

"It's an open offer," Tannenbaum said.

The Application

The commission saw a draft of the application that will be sent to the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), one of the major steps in the process. Sixty days after that, the Watertown HDC can hold a public meeting about the proposed district.

The HDC will hold a subcommittee meeting on Oct. 9 to make the final changes to the application so commissioners can approve it at their next regular meeting on Oct. 24 and send it off to the MHC.

Submitting the report, however, does not complete the process, said Conservation Agent Christopher Hayward. 

"We could, once the MHC looks at it, shelf the process," Hayward said. "It doesn't mean it is a historic district."

The final step is for the MDC to write a bylaw to create the district which must then be approved by two-thirds of the Town Council.

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