The Board of Selectmen, at its Dec. 3 meeting, unanimously voted to demolish the Leary Farmhouse on Vine Street, paving the way for LexHab to build affordable housing there and adding more acreage to Lexington’s conservation land.
The decision came three years after the town purchased the 14.2-acre parcel, using $2.7 million of Lexington’s Community Preservation Act funds.
According to Wendy Manz, chair of the Community Preservation Commission, $600,000 of the purchase price and 30,000 square feet of 116 Vine Street were earmarked for affordable housing.
The conservation land runs “between Vine Street all the way back to Saddle Club Road,” Manz said. “The part that borders on Vine Street was set aside for affordable houses.”
It’s been a long road since that August 2009 deal.
In July 2010 the selectmen formed the Leary Land Task Force. And it produced a Final Report in May 2011 and it included architect’s reports, costs to repair the 19th century house, neighbors’ complaints and more.
The report estimated up to $500,000 in costs to repair the farmhouse, but even renovations left the house with low ceilings, steep stairwells and buried sills.
The final report noted that the selectmen reviewed the architects report and held various discussions. It said:
"The Board of Selectmen determined that the preservation of the existing building would not be appropriate, due to the high costs of renovation relative to its potential re-use as a community housing unit. Further, the Selectmen were concerned that due to the deterioration of the farmhouse, preservation would involve replacement of such a significant portion of materials that the end result would be the creation of a replica, rather than a preservation of a[sic] historic structure.”
The Historical Commission’s demolition delay order expired last July, allowing the selectmen to make the Dec. 3 decision.
Selectmen Chairwoman Deb Mauger further explained why her board made its decision.
“The town engaged a structural engineer to evaluate to see the condition and see what we could maintain and what would need improvement,” she said. “It said this structure is in very poor shape.”
Mauger said the selectmen heard from the neighborhood “that they really wanted to preserve the structure.”
So, “We looked at it again – and they [architects] came back again and they said you better have some historic reason to preserve this.
“We were trying to balance affordable housing and our desire for historic preservation and prudent use of public funds,” Mauger said. “Unfortunately, in balance we believe demolition was our only choice.”
The selectmen determined it wasn’t worth the amount of money needed to bring it to a livable standard.
LexHab Chairman Bill Kennedy said LexHab is now responsible for demolishing the house, once they get a permit.
The next step is deciding how many units, and that, Kennedy said goes to the Board of Selectmen. “We’ll probably put a suggestion together and then present it to them,” Kennedy said.
Lexington, he said, already has more than 11 percent allocated toward affordable housing. The state mandates each city or town's achieve a goal of 10 percent.
“There aren’t that many towns in the state that have met the 10 percent threshold,” he said. “We’re working on trying to increase – or at least maintain the level of housing in Lexington.”