By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Northborough – By a unanimous vote Feb. 12, the Northborough Historical Commission passed a measure to extend the demolition delay ruling for the White Cliffs property to the full 180 days. That decision was made during a public hearing held in front of nearly 50 residents and town officials who gathered at the Robert E. Melican Middle School. But if the property is to be ultimately saved, there is still much work to be done, Normand Corbin, the commission’s acting chair, stressed.
Seven months ago the current owners, the LaCava family, decided to close the business they had run at the 167 Main St. location for nearly 30 years and put the 6.5-acre property, which includes the 18,000-square-foot mansion, on the market for $2 million. Since that time, no serious buyers have come forth, according to Michael Durkin, a Realtor with LAER Realty Partners, who is representing the LaCavas.
One idea that the Historical Commission is pursuing is establishing White Cliffs as a historic district. The town currently has two other districts: the single-dwelling Peter Whitney residence, and the Meeting Common district near the Unitarian Church.
For White Cliffs to become a historic district, several things must happen. First the Historical Commission District Committee must nominate the property. The Planning Board would then hold a public meeting to review the nomination and make a recommendation. The Massachusetts Historical Commission would also review and comment. The town’s Historical Commission would then prepare an article to be placed on the warrant for the April 27 Annual Town Meeting. The final decision will then be in the hands of the voters, who must pass the article by a two-thirds majority.
If the property is indeed declared a historic district, then the owners, current or future, cannot tear down the property. They must keep the structure’s street view as it currently is, but are not restricted from changing anything inside or at the back of the property.
During the Feb. 12 public hearing, Historical Commission members, as well as other town officials, said that they all hoped that a buyer would come forth, purchase White Cliffs and not demolish the mansion. In response to the many residents who have urged the town to purchase the property, Corbin noted that “the town does not buy the property,” but rather, it is the voters at Town Meeting who do.
“The reality is if the town buys it we need to have a purpose for it, which we don’t have now,” Jeff Amberson, vice chair of the Board of Selectmen, said. “The building also needs a lot of work. No one wants to see this come down. But we have fiscal responsibilities.”
Corbin urged those in attendance to start writing letters to local legislators and preservation groups.
“A lot of people have ideas but we need to have more follow through,” he added.
Kathleen Polanowicz, a Northborough resident who serves as district director to U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-MA 2, noted that she had sent information packets to parties who she thought might have an interest in the property. She also recommended the town form an ad hoc committee composed of interested residents as well as members from different boards to help promote the issue.
“But the town can’t change the situation, it’s not the town’s committees’ problem to solve,” she added. “It has to be members of the community pulling together.”
Neither Durkin nor any other representatives of the LaCava family were at the Feb. 12 meeting. But after the meeting, Durkin, in an interview, commented on the Historical Commission’s decision to go forth trying to establish White Cliffs as a historic district.
“This is a violation of everyone’s rights,” he said. “Every land owner and taxpayer should be appalled at this.”
“This [historic district] bylaw was really for places like Beacon Hill, Cohasset, Hingham and water front mansions. To put it on seven aces of property in Northborough makes no sense,” he added.
The bylaw would not, he noted, preserve the interior of the building.
“That’s where a lot of value is, in the woodwork and fireplaces. This bylaw would not protect any of that,” he said.
Many have noted they want the White Cliffs saved, he said, yet no one had offered to step forward and purchase it.
“If [supporters of saving the building] want to protect it they should do the right thing,” he added. “They should sponsor a bylaw to have the town purchase it.”
For more on the background of this issue, visit http://communityadvocate.com/2015/01/23/officials-residents-hope-buyer-will-step-forward-to-save-white-cliffs/.