In the latest chapter of a seemingly endless saga regarding the current and future use of the Ames Castle property at 108 Catamount Road, owner John Sullivan has proposed razing the historic home and constructing three, single-family homes.
Sullivan filed for permit to take down the home but has several hoops to jump through before that can happen.
The biggest obstacle comes in the form of the Historic Commission, which will hold a public hearing on March 19 regarding the request. Abutters will be invited to the hearing but the public is allowed to attend and have their opinions heard, as well.
According to commission chairman Jay Gaffney, a vote will likely be taken that night to implement a nine-month hold on the razing. The delay would give the town time to examine alternatives by which the building could be saved.
In a letter sent to the Board of Selectmen in January, Gaffney stressed the historic value of the property and urged the town to work with Sullivan to find a way to preserve a notable piece of Tewksbury history.
"Ames Castle contains features which make it a unique and invaluable part of Tewksbury’s heritage and historic inventory," Gaffney wrote. "These features include, but are not limited to:
- Its unique architecture;
- The excellent state of preservation of its exterior and interior features;
- Its association with Civil War General and hero, Governor, and Senator Adelbert Ames."
After serving in the Civil War, Ames moved to Mississippi, where he served as governor and senator.
Sullivan and the town have been locked in a battle over the Ames Castle property for more than two decades, with the town claiming Sullivan was violating zoning laws by turning the building into an apartment house and renting to multiple tenants.
In 1991, the town won a ruling in Middlesex Superior Court (Town of Tewksbury v. John D. Sullivan Superior Court MICV1998-00524) but the situation changed little over the years.
In August, 2010, Sullivan floated a plan for a "Friendly 40B" project on the site. The plan was to have the certain units qualify under affordable housing regulations, either as apartments or condo units.
The plan was not well-received by the Board of Selectmen, with board members -- in particular, Doug Sears -- pointing out that Sullivan remained in violation of the 1991 court order and owed the town thousands of dollars.
Last year, the town reached a settlement with Sullivan and he has started repaying the $26,000 he owes. Under terms of the agreement, Sullivan could restore the castle to a single family home, something he contends is not realistic financially.
"Part of the settlement (also) included the possibility of a 40B project or a three-lot subdivision," said Atty. Gary Brackett, Sullivan's lawyer. "He understands the strong feelings regarding keeping the home, as it is."
Brackett said the application for demolition should not be construed as Sullivan's rock-solid position on the future of the castle. He said it was a procedure to begin a series of discussions.
In an article that appeared in the Lowell Sun, Community Development Director Steve Sadwick said that in order to destroy a building, an owner would need to get approval from several town boards, including the DPW, the Conservation Commission, Board of Health, the Planning Board, as well as the Historical Commission.
According to Brackett, Sullivan is still very much open to a 40B project, if it proves to be "economically viable."
Gaffney, in his letter to the selectman, said his commission was encouraged from what they had seen of Sullivan's 40B plans in 2010.
"We previously reviewed the plans presented to the town as part of the recent Local Initiative Petition," wrote Gaffney. "Our review indicated that the proposed use would be implemented with very minimal compromise to the historical integrity of the structure. From a preservation standpoint, it is as good an adaptive use as seems possible."
Brackett said that beyond the Historical Commission on March 19, the process is up in the air and that will defer to town officials as to the next step.