Local Government, News

Pitman house project delayed in Swampscott

The Swampscott Historical Commission and Habitat for Humanity are seeking to save the home at 35 Pitman Road from being demolished. (Spenser Hasak)

SWAMPSCOTT — The Zoning Board of Appeals requested a one-week continuance in its decision whether to grant a variance to move the home of town founder Samuel Cloon Pitman to a new location on Hillside Avenue.

Last month, the Affordable Housing Trust voted 3-2 to back the house’s move from its current location on Pitman Road to a vacant lot on Hillside Avenue, where it would be renovated and sold as affordable housing.

Since the historic house faces impending demolition to make room for the Elm Place Affordable Housing development at its current Pitman Road lot, the Affordable Housing Trust and Swampscott Historical Society gathered at a special ZBA meeting on Tuesday to determine whether the project could obtain a frontage variance to allow the house on the proposed new site.

Representing the AHT, Lynn Attorney Sam Vitali opened the three-hour discussion by arguing that the Pitman House meets all of the required zoning bylaw specifications for its proposed district. The board’s key decision, Vitali argued, was whether the property’s frontage met Hillside Avenue’s A3 district zoning requirements.

“We satisfy every dimension but frontage — I know we clearly satisfy use — the real question here is the appropriateness of a single- or a two-family dwelling in the A3 district,” Vitali said. “What’s proposed is taking an existing two-family dwelling and moving it to this site and setting it within the dimensional requirements. I think what’s also proposed is ultimately to achieve, for some individuals, an opportunity to have homeownership.”

The proposed project, however, faces opposition from dozens of abutters, 70 of whom signed a petition in opposition of the house’s move to Hillside Avenue. In response, ZBA Chair Heather Roman said the abutters’ opposition would only be relevant if a 1955 variance believed to set a legal precedent for the project had expired.

If Town Counsel Robin Stein finds that the 1955 variance is still in effect, Roman said the ZBA would not have authority to negate the Pitman variance.

“If that previous variance is still good, everything you say is irrelevant,” Roman told abutters Tuesday.

Stein said that in her opinion, the 1955 variance, which bears no statutory limits, remains in effect. She said it has previously been used to divide lots and has, since 1955, resulted in construction of a house in the same district.

“There is a strong argument that the variance has not lapsed. It’s a pre-1975 variance, so there’s no statutory lapse,” Stein said.

The ZBA voted for a week-long continuance in order to further research the variance’s legal precedent and to consider and vote on the frontage variance that could allow the move to take place. The board’s next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 19.

More Stories From Swampscott