By Joe Cohen
NEW BEDFORD — The proposed demolition of the remaining buildings comprising the Fairhaven Mills complex to make way for a new retail and mixed-use development took a major step forward Wednesday.
A marathon meeting of the New Bedford Historical Commission determined the four remaining buildings — one very large and situated directly on Coggeshall Street and the other three relatively small and hidden to the rear — are historically significant, but not enough to justify their preservation.
The commission’s recommendation is nonbinding. It now goes to the City Council, which has final say as to whether the Fairhaven Mills buildings can come down immediately or be kept standing under a nine-to-12-month demolition delay it has the authority to put in place.
If the council institutes the demolition delay, the city cannot block demolition after it expires. The council is expected to take up the matter quickly. The project already is slated to be on the Planning Board agenda next week.
On Wednesday, the commission conducted an almost four-hour-long public hearing and meeting in the Corson Building jammed by an overflow crowd of nearly 100 people.
The commission took five votes on the demolition request by Dickinson Development Corp. of Quincy, which wants to tear down the buildings to develop almost 14 acres into “Riverside Landing,” a project that would have a major grocery store as an anchor tenant along with a handful of smaller buildings housing retail stores, offices and possibly other uses.
The commission voted:
* 6-0 to declare that Fairhaven Mills buildings No. 4, No. 7, the Brick Storehouse and the Electric House are historically significant because of architectural, cultural or social factors related to the history of the city.
* 6-0 in three separate votes that building No. 7, the Brick Storehouse and the Electric House, although historically significant, should “not preferably be preserved” because doing so is not in the public interest to preserve or rehabilitate them.
* 4-3 that building No. 4 — the main, four-story, brick-faced building at 85 Coggeshall St. visible from Interstate 195 — should not be preserved for the same reason as the other buildings.
The 4-3 vote resulted from commission Chairman Derek Santos voting not to preserve building No. 4. He cast his vote to break a 3-3 tie.
Commission members Diana Henry, Boyd Rourke and Keri Cox had voted that building No. 4 should preferably be preserved, while members David Kennedy, Anne Louro and Jennifer Gonsalves voted it should not preferably be preserved.
Santos is director of development for the New Bedford Economic Development Council, which has worked with the developers on the Fairhaven Mills project, while Kennedy is city planner and Louro is city preservation planner. Santos said that on advice of legal counsel he could chair and participate in the meeting but would only vote to break a tie.
Despite the large crowd, the meeting ran smoothly for three hours and 45 minutes.
After a detailed explanation by developers Mark Dickinson and Mark White of the status of the mill complex, condition of buildings and their plans to redevelop it along with state plans to upgrade the Interstate 195 interchange and Coggeshall Street, public comment was taken.
About 12 people spoke in favor of tearing the mill buildings down, including Mayor Scott W. Lang, Matthew A. Morrissey, executive director of the economic development council, Anthony R. Sapienza, chairman of the economic development council, representatives of the construction trades, a real estate broker and others.
Nine people spoke against, including preservation and community activists, people living nearby in the Ropeworks condominiums, a local architect and others.
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March 05, 2009
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