Archives for April 2012

‘How’s the market?’… A professional realtor’s perspective

Each month, the Colonial Times will present perspectives on the local real estate market from leaders in the Lexington real estate community

Dani Fleming

By Dani Fleming  |

Frequently I get asked the question “How’s the Market?”. It’s a valid question be-cause, for most people, the most expensive asset they own is their home, or it’s the most expensive purchase they plan to make. So, it’s important to have a good understanding of the market dynamics at any point in time. Having an extensive back-ground in the Information Technology field, my approach to real estate is a ‘Data Driven’ one.

There are many pieces of information you can use to evaluate the health of the market. Key pieces of information to know are:

1. Inventory Levels

2. Trends in Average Sale prices over time

3. Absorption rates

4. Sales distributions.

There are others also, but these four topics will be covered in this and a future issue.

Inventory Levels

The graph shows the movement of inventory (homes on the market) over the last 6 years in Lexington. This graph can tell you many things. Note the seasonality reflected in the graph – in Jan 2011 inventory levels were very low, and as the spring market got underway inventory levels began increasing as more homeowners put their home on the market to sell. In May 2011, the number of homes on the market peaked and then began dropping as fewer sellers decided to sell and started thinking about their summer plans instead, yet buyers remained very active. The net result of fewer homes coming on the market, yet buyer activity continuing, is a reduction of homes available for sale. In July and August inventory levels hovered below the peaks of spring and autumn with occasional homes coming on the market and occasional purchases occurring. But, most buying and selling activity slows down during the summer months, increasing again in autumn when sellers and buyers again think about moving. The autumn market is shorter than spring, starting around September and finishing by Thanksgiving. After Thanksgiving many home sellers take their homes off the market for winter because of reduced buyer activity and this also means that they can bring their homes back on the market again in spring, fresh to the market. You can see the repeat of this scenario year after year, indicating a balanced cycle. In spring of 2009 we had very high peaks of inventory, but with subsequent lower peaks in the following years.

Seasonality in an inventory level graph indicates a ‘healthy’ market. When you are in an area with lots of foreclosures, short sales and oversupply of homes you don’t see seasonality of this type because the seasonal trends are ‘hidden’ amongst the clutter of the oversupply.

Reducing peaks of inventory levels also indicate a ‘healthy’ market. Declining inventory levels are an indicator of increasing prices – with the caveat that there are many indicators of what is happening with the market and you cannot review one in isolation; you have to review them all too truly understand what is happening.

Absorption Rates

Absorption rates tell us a huge amount of information about the current real estate market in a town. Using the sales data for the last 12 months, at any given price range, you can derive a rate of sales per month. The absorption rate calculates how many months it will take to sell the current inventory, assuming no more houses come on the market, at the same rate of sales that occurred in the prior 12 months. In other words, how many months will it take to sell what we have on the market? We generally say that any price range that has over 7 months supply has an ‘oversupply’ situation. Any price range under 7 months is in a balanced, ‘healthy’ state, and where we have less than 3 months supply we are in a ‘greater demand than supply’ situation. Note though that these figures change monthly. In winter when there is very little inventory on the market you tend to have ‘better’ absorption rates than in the peak of spring where a lot of homes have entered the market.

Reviewing Lexington’s absorption rates we can see that in every price range we are in a ‘healthy’ state of supply and demand. We don’t have any price ranges where we have over 7 months supply and in fact have many price ranges where we have less than 3 months supply. This supports what we are seeing ‘on the ground’ where we have very little inventory for all the buyers who are looking to move into, or within, Lexington. If you would like to discuss these statistics or review more, then please go to www.MAPropertisOn-line.com or call/email me at dani.flemig@MAProper-tiesOnlie.com or (617) 997 9145.

 

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The Prank Heard ‘Round the World!

By Marilyn Rae Beyer  | 

Armored Forces Supplement Colonial Firepower at Rehearsal for Patriots Day 2012  |

Bill Mix and Tom Fortmann inflate the “tank.” Photo courtesy of Marilyn & Rick Beyer.

It was a covert operation employing a time-honored military tactic, the element of surprise. On the Lexington Green on Sunday, Lexington Militia Capt. Bill Mix gave orders to Lexington militia man Bruce Leader, and Andrew Coots of Gardner’s Charleston Militia to commandeer two inflatable rubber Sherman tanks in order to startle and befuddle His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot as a practice battle ensued on Lexington Green on Sunday – April 1st. Just as the King’s Troops Commander, Paul O’Shaughnessy blustered and bellowed for the rabble from Lexington to “Lay down your arms and disperse!” the unified local forces shouted a unison rejoinder, “Oh, yeah?”

Tom Fortmann, Rick Beyer, the two militiamen, plus late recruits in the persons of Rita & Mike Cramer, David Brossi and Michelle Berniere & sons Ben, Jeremy, Christian Berniere charged onto the Green bearing the faux armored vehicles, causing the staunch Redcoats to bust a gut and sending O’Shaughnessy into fits of laughter. Upon recovering his wits, the Redcoat leader barked, “Fix bayonets!” and ordered a unit to charge, threatening to poke holes in the balloon-like weaponry and thus taking the wind out of the brazen bearers of the buoyant battlefield prank tanks. Mix ordered a hasty retreat and the rehearsal proceeded in earnest, with the usual annual outcome at the expense of the Lexington Militia.

Battle Ready...Mix and Bruce Leader inspect the equipment. Photo courtesy of Marilyn & Rick Beyer.

Just about a month ago, after a committee including Fortmann and other Lexingtonians mounted a fund-raiser for local filmmaker Rick Beyer’s WWII documentary The Ghost Army, Fortmann had a bright idea. Goofy, yes, but bright, as is the wont of the MIT PhD engineer turned educator and former member of the Massachusetts Board of Education. Why not use the inflatable fake tanks from The Ghost Army event to put one over on the Redcoats during the April 1 re-enactment rehearsal? He called up the commander of the Lexington Minutemen, Mix, who portrays Captain John Parker on Patriots Day. The two cooked up the plan.

Redcoats charge, tanks retreat. Photo by Peter Lund.

About an hour before the practice battle, Fortmann and friends inflated the phony tanks and hauled them onto the lawn across the street from the Green. On cue, the crew hoisted the bright green dummies onto the field. Afterwards, the pranksters admitted that – even though the rubber tanks were filled with air – dragging them the 100 yards to the battle line was hard work. Fooling the Redcoats, however, was well worth it. Beyer noted, “The look on O’Shaughnessy’s face was priceless! I have no idea what he said, though, because he was laughing so hard.”

While the battle is a somber chapter of early American history, and, indeed, the yearly Patriots Day re-enactment honors that revered history, the early-April practice sessions frequently include such tomfoolery.

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Annual Yellow Balloon Fair!

This year Lexington’s Community Nursery School will be hosting their 40th Annual Yellow Balloon Fair on Saturday, May 12! Join us for this delightful family fair featuring oodles of fun activities. The fair will be held at the new school at 2325 Massachusetts Ave, in Lexington, from 10am-2pm, rain or shine. Admission is $2 per child ($1 for adults), and game tickets are $1 each.

Enjoy preschool oriented games, prizes, face painting, a bounce house, crafts, and a BBQ lunch. Returning after two successful years will be the visiting petting zoo with a variety of baby animals to cuddle and pet. Participate in the raffles which feature child-themed baskets put together by the classrooms and gift certificates from local businesses.  

The Yellow Balloon Fair is important to Community Nursery School as both a community event and a fundraiser for the school. As a cooperative, parent participation is a core value of the school. Nothing symbolizes this better than when the entire school community comes together for the Yellow Balloon Fair. Liz O’Neil says, “The fair promotes a sense of working together and gives us a chance as a community to celebrate what CNS is truly about.” 

As with previous years, CNS relies on help from local high school students and businesses. Fair co-chair Theresa Sain says, “We couldn’t do this event without the help of our community. While this event is mostly run by CNS parents, it’s a great time for us to reach out to the entire Lexington community to come together for a fun day.” Volunteering at this event counts towards the Lexington High School community service hours that all students need to graduate. If you are interested in helping out with the fair, please email Renae Nichols at YBFCNS@gmail.com. Many of the fair raffle items are donated by local stores and businesses. Businesses that are interested in donating can contact Yellow Balloon co-chair Annie Roy at YBFCNS@gmail.com.

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‘The Cure Is Coming’ 5k ~Walk for ALS Research

 

Saturday, May 5

11AM – Walk

11:30AM – 5K Run

Lexington

Visitor Center

“The Cure Is Coming” event will feature a four-mile ALS awareness walk and wheelchair ride through Lexington Center, as well as a 5k road race. Organizers hope for a record 700 walkers, runners and riders raising money and awareness of ALS TDI efforts to develop effective treatments for ALS, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Walkers begin a four mile loop at 11:00 a.m. and the 5k begins at 11:30. The event also features family activities, entertainment and lunch, provided courtesy of local Lexington restaurants.

Top 5K finishers will be awarded medals in different age groups, with cash prizes to the top three male and female finishers. Additional prizes will also be awarded to top fundraisers.

Gabrielle Nahr, event chair volunteer for the sixth year said, “We are excited and humbled to see the success of ‘The Cure is Coming’ both in participation and donations. Having seen this event grow year after year gives me hope that we’re encouraging and funding more research so we can one day end ALS.” A native of Lexington, Nahr’s mother passed away from ALS.

Anyone interested in donating, walking, racing or volunteering should visit the event’s website at www.cureiscoming.org or call 617-441-7200.

About ALS

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a progressive neurodegenerative disease. There is no known cause, cure or effective treatment for the disease.

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Decriminalization

By Chief Mark J. Corr, Lexington Police Department  |  As a new officer fresh out of the police academy in 1983, one of the more difficult chores was serving arrest warrants for red light and speeding violations. I would go knock on doors and take residents into custody for the non payment of a $20 fine. Frankly, I found these assignments embarrassing.

Today, a traffic violation is a civil violation and the non payment of a ticket will adversely impact your driver’s license or registration. Decriminalization of traffic laws did not give motorists the privilege to violate traffic regulations and endanger public safety. Speeding and driving through red lights is still unlawful. Possession of less than one ounce of marijuana was decriminalized in Massachusetts in 2008. I often overhear people talking about “legally” possessing marijuana.

In one police report, a parent told officers that her16-year old son told her it was legal to possess marijuana in Massachusetts. It is troubling to me how many youths and adults do not understand the meaning of decriminalization.

The possession and use of marijuana is unlawful. Smoking marijuana is a health hazard. Most users have no idea where or how their marijuana was grown and contamination of product is common; some dealers add other drugs to their product. Tobacco companies were not the only ones who understood that a more potent smoke could promote an addiction.

A 2007 survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that drug use (as reported by the motorists) was as high as 16%; see the NHTSA web-site for more information. Surveys from around the nation tend to show that marijuana continues to be the gateway drug that many youths take before going on to use more serious drugs.

School Resource Officer Matthew Murphy is noticing a trend whereby students, new from the middle schools, seem more inclined to try marijuana than their older siblings. They cite the change in the law for their inclination to try marijuana. In our region, one ounce of marijuana can cost over $400 for 42 to 56 joints (using .75 to .50 ounce per joint).

Whereas distributing marijuana is still a criminal offense; the decriminalization of possession has made it more difficult to prevent a very lucrative business of selling smaller amounts of marijuana. Dealers are meticulously aware of the amount they should possess to avoid criminal possession. I could discuss at length the failure of the current drug laws, or cite many more examples of the hazards of marijuana use.

With the limited exception of a few who benefit from medical marijuana, I will simply say that the possession of marijuana is unlawful and smoking is unhealthy.

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A Personal Connection ~ The More Things Change…

Hank at Work

By Hank Manz  |  It has been a bit cold lately, but even with that I decided to head down to Ranc’s for some ice cream. I am a vanilla person most of the time, but about a year ago my horizons were enlarged when Joe handed me one of his new concoctions. With that memory in mind, this time I decided to go absolutely wild with the pineapple ice cream. First rate!

But then I realized that the whole frozen dessert thing seemed to be getting out of hand in Lexington. In the Center alone there is Candy Castle, Ranc’s, and Baskin-Robbins, along with the just-opened Fruitee Yogurt which has been, by the way, packed every time I have walked by. And if that is not enough, I note there appears to be another yogurt shop going in near Great Harvest.

When I bike through East Lexington, all too often I stop at Macaron Sweeterie. The pastries and frozen treats are one lure, but the benches on the sidewalk are another very important benefit. Enjoying yourself while scarfing down sweets is one thing, but doing so while waving to friends and neighbors is even better. If only there were benches on the south side of Mass Ave in the Center, I would spend even more time there. I remain convinced we could put

in benches there even though others tell me they would never fit. I seem to remember that argument was once applied to bicycle racks on that side, yet today they are there..

Whenever I see a mini-explosion of businesses, I always wonder why banks attract such enmity. Things have died down of late, but with Town Meeting in session the discussion is bound to start anew. I have always held that if your bank is in the Center, then there are enough banks, but if it isn’t, then either you don’t shop downtown or you think the downtown needs at least one more bank.

I chose my bank partly because the branch manager was known to me through her volunteer service and partly because it was in the Center, specifically near Depot Square where I can often be found waiting for a bus. Just in case I do drive, there are usually parking places nearby. The perfect storm of bank availability!

“But a bank is not a destination” one person protested in a hot note to me. Well, it is for me. I can visit my “wealth”, decide if I can afford to withdraw $20 of it, read the Wall Street Journal, say “Hi” to the staff, have a cup of tea, and check out the bulletin board. A bank down the street has pointed out that they have all of that plus a fireplace. Had the winter been colder, I might have cracked. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I have to admit that the first draft of this column was written with a pen from a bank where I have no money on deposit. They have a big bucket of them at the customer desk and every now and then I snag one as I pass through.

I have always been something of a non-interventionist where business is concerned. If there are too many of one kind of business, then there will be a shakeout. I know—there are some who swear that certain businesses can afford to pay more so they are favored, but in talking to property managers, that still seems to be a theory with not much to back it up. Some businesses do require less in the way of parking, of course, and therefore can more easily move into a vacant location, but that is a discussion for another day.

The too-many-businesses controversy isn’t a new one, by the way. While reading old Town Reports, I came across the tip of an iceberg which started to melt more than 80 years ago. Apparently Lexington was gentrifying a bit so piggeries came under fire. Suddenly the selectmen were hearing cases involving illegal piggeries and illegal slaughtering.

Things seemed to quiet down, but apparently the lack of piggeries meant that there was no longer enough manure available for the many farms in the area. So farmers would haul produce to market, then bring back manure on the return trip.

That caused two things to happen. First, the good citizens of Arlington protested the presence of leaking wagons on their streets. I still have it on my list to read some of the Arlington Town Reports from that time to get their side of an obviously smelly story. Then, the presence of manure stockpiles in Lexington started to be a problem. I have yet to find a picture, but apparently the stockpile near North Station, close to the present Public Services Building, was pretty much the olfactory wonder of the world. All this was sort of solved as the farms died out, but I have yet to figure out whether those farms jumped or were pushed. Probably a little of both.

The circle has started to close with the designation of the greater portion of the former Busa property as a community farm so it is going to be very interesting to see what changes that will bring. Years ago when Wendy and I lived in Nebraska, most of our large backyard was a garden. Our neighbor, a retired farmer used to shake his head and say things like “Don’t understand why you folks are messing around with this kind of thankless work” but then he would offer sound advice like “Plant the early corn so it catches the reflected sun from the garage and then the stalks will protect other things from the really hot sun which will come later” and “Don’t let the squirrels have any of the fall leftovers or they will start on your garden early next year.”

We followed most of the advice, but the squirrels were cute so we let them have the leftover sunflowers. Sure enough, the next year they were fighting us for control of the garden. Typical struggle. New people move in with new ideas only to be replaced by even newer people who have to learn things all over. I suspect that will never change.

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Notes from the Committee

 

 

COUNTRY FAIR AND PICNIC!

As part of the Opening Events for the 300th , the town will be treated to a Country Fair and All-Town Picnic Sept. 22.

Lexington’s Country Fair will highlight the past, present and future with activities that range from old-fashioned colonial field games to more modern contests. Although still in the planning stages, other activities may celebrate traditional and contemporary toys, face painting and demonstrations of colonial and contemporary crafts.

A raffle table is in the works with original creations by Lexingtonians. Quilted works, handcrafted pillows, and accessories will be available.

Event planners are now choosing the blue ribbon contest categories. Categories currently under consideration include best pie, biggest squash and perhaps the most creative birdhouse. Don’t start working yet. Stay tuned for the official announcements!

Local vendors will be on hand to sell treats at the Country Fair and All-Town Picnic. Strolling entertainers can be seen throughout the day. Jeff Leonard, coordinator of Lexington Public Schools’ performing arts department, will be lending his expertise with the entertainment tent.

Fay Backert is chairing the Country Fair committee.

Anyone interested in participating in planning the fair or sponsoring an activity should visit lexington300.org or email countryfair@lexington300.org.


 

NECKTIE PILLOWS!

Following the theme for the 300th celebration “We are Lexington” many people are already contributing in small and big ways.

Mary Rommel has designed signature pillows featuring men’s silk neckties which will be sold at the Sept. 22 Country Fair to offset expenses for the celebration. Ties with a connection to Lexington are still being sought.

“We want to highlight the variety of artistic talent and a ‘Made in Lexington’ theme,” said Jessie Steigerwald, events co-chair. “Handcrafts were treasured in 1713 when Lexington was incorporated, and the one-of-a-kind creations made today will be among the most prized souvenirs from the 300th.”

Shirley Lane is handling inventory of locally made items to be sold at the Country Fair. Leslie Masson is storing costumes for the musical fashion revue Oct. 27. Amanda von Rumohr and Vicki Blier have generously donated fabric. Linda Liu has donated patterns and fabric purchased in the 1970s!

Many have lent vintage garments including wedding gowns to be shown at the musical fashion review. Lane has lent her 1940s wedding gown. Gail Leichtman is lending a 1880s riding habit. Jean Ricci is lending 1920s dresses. Alice Pierce has lent a 1960s skirt. The Lexington Summer Theater is lending 1970s dresses. Those with vintage garments are urged to contact Tanya Morrisett, revue co-chair at fashionrevue@lexington300.org.


VOLUNTEERS NEEDED!

Volunteers Needed! As the opening events for Lexington’s 300th celebration quickly approach, the 300th events team welcomes new volunteers. Can you save the date to help at the Country Fair on Sept. 22? Are you interested in working with community groups on the Opening Ceremony? Would you like to join the overall events planning team? Do you have an hour to help sew for the musical fashion revue? There’s room for all! Everyone is needed to make a celebration that Lexington will never forget. Writers, event planners, ushers, artists, community liaisons, logistics coordinators, general helpers and so much more are needed. There’s something for everyone and the planners can accommodate even the busiest of schedules.

The Opening Ceremony will take place simultaneously at Cary Hall and Lexington High School Sept. 22. The most urgent need is for a decoration team at each location. The Lexington Field and Garden Club is already helping with planning, but a team of volunteers is needed at each location to take charge of making the spaces look beautiful are needed. Ushers also are needed.

The Country Fair and All Town Picnic will offer old-fashioned fun for everyone. Activities coordinators, field game coordinators and food vendor coordinators for the picnic are needed. The evening will conclude with a Community Dance. Volunteers are needed to help coordinate refreshments, decorations and set-up.


 

Needle Arts/Fiber Arts Enthusiasts Needed! Looking for a fun way to help celebrate Lexington’s 300th birthday of its incorporation? If you sew, knit or stitch, the 300th’s Fiber Arts Committee is meeting at 3 p.m. April 1 at the Lexington Arts and Crafts Society (LACS), 130 Waltham St. All needle arts enthusiasts are encouraged to participate.

“This is one of the many ways to volunteer to make Lexington’s 9-month birthday party a success,” explained Jessie Steigerwald, committee co-chair. The celebration kicks off Friday, Sept. 21 with a gala ball followed by opening ceremonies, all all-town picnic and country fair, Special events continue through Memorial Day weekend 2013. Anyone who knits, quilts, makes costumes or clothes, crochets or any other form of needle arts should come with ideas and suggestions.

In addition, kits will be available for those interested for making tie pillows and costumes needed for a musical revue of fashion through the 300 years 1713-2013. Two quilting groups are being formed to create quilts to be donate to the town. Other items will be sold or auctioned to help defray costs of the 300th celebration at the Country Fair on opening day Sept. 22 and at the Musical Fashion Show Revue Oct. 27.

Co-chairing the Fiber Arts Committee with Jessie are Tanya Morrisett and Kim Coburn. For anyone who can’t attend meetings but wants to participate by making their own creations or in need of a kit call or email Corinne Steigerwald at 781-861-7190 or corinne.lex300@gmail.com.

 

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Revolutionary Revelry Calendar!

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Will Lexington Welcome the Inn at Hastings Park?

By Laurie Atwater  | 

Lexington Family Purchases the Former Dana Home and Proposes to Open a Traditional New England Inn  ~ 

Lexington has a long history of providing hospitality for visitors. Above, the Lexington House provided lodging, and acted as an important gathering place for community events. Below, a menu from the same establishment. Photo from the Lexington Historical Society archives, reproduced in Lexington Massachusetts, Treasures from the Historic Archives, by Dick Kollen.

 

Lexington has a long history of providing hospitality to visitors. In his volume Lexington Massachusetts, Treasures from the Historic Archives, Dick Kollen, Lexington historian and former Lexington High School teacher writes, “In the nineteenth century several large and successful hotels prospered near the center of town. The heyday of Lexington’s hotel era really began after the civil war, when the railroad’s full effect of affording easy access to Boston combined with increased urbanization. Large Hotels such as Massachusetts House and Russell House attracted travelers who liked to ‘summer’ in Lexington as well as those planning winter sleighing parties.”

The Lexington House (originally called Muzzey’s Hotel) was built by Benjamin Muzzey in 1847 where the CVS stands today. It took the place of the Monument House a smaller hotel owned by Muzzey just as the railroad (he was a big booster and a heavy investor in the railroad enterprise) came to town. Kollen writes that Lexington House was an important part of the community providing a venue for reunions, concerts and other community gatherings. It was an elegant building with “two extended wings, fronted by large porches.” The “Bill of Fare” at the Lexington House restaurant featured such delicacies as “Escalloped oysters, quail, duck and Italian cream.”

After this period, hotels in Lexington began to disappear until the Battle Green Inn remained the only lodging option in Lexington proper. The Battle Green, was allowed to fall into such general disrepair that it could not be credibly marketed to families and tourists as an inn so it became transitional housing and was subsequently demolished. It is now the site of luxury condominiums. Lexington has no centrally located accommodation for visitors.

Currently a proposal is before the Lexington Planning Board and headed to Town Meeting to allow the rezoning of the former Dana Home property to accommodate an inn and modest restaurant just outside the central business district. The Dana home is located at 2027 Massachusetts Avenue and has been used as an elder home for 95 years since it was purchased with a generous bequest from Lexington resident Ellen Dana. The Dana Home is perfectly suited to use as an inn with rooms with private baths, a modern sprinkler system, commercial grade kitchen and hospital sized elevator for handicapped accessibility, the property will transition nicely. This may be Lexington’s chance to continue an historic tradition of warm, welcoming hospitality in the center of town.

 Lexington Neighbors for Responsible Growth

However, there is a small group of citizens who oppose this proposed use for the property because of its location. They call their association Lexington Neighbors for Responsible Growth (LNFRG ) and they have been actively opposing the proposed inn for almost a year now. They have approximately 100 members mostly from the neighbors across the street in the Parker Street area as well as residents in Pine Grove Village and the Woodbury/Stratham Road area. Their letters to the Planning Board and other documents are available on their website www.lexprotects.com.

Gresh Lattimore, LNFRG member and resident of Jackson Court objects to “the size and scope of the project.” According to Lattimore, “She [Kennealy] will be using something like 80% of every square on the two properties. The parking will dramatically change the look of the property. Once she’s built her expansion using the Mulliken House and doing the restaurant build-out, she has to use the rest of the property as parking. The plot is not that big to begin with.”

Lattimore and LNFRG is also worried that the onsite parking will not be adequate and will force additional parking onto Parker Street, Massachusetts Avenue and Worthen Road.

According to Lattimore the group feels that the biggest problem with the proposal is the change in zoning from residential to commercial. “The fact is that something like this hasn’t been done in over a half-century—it sets a dangerous precedent.” In their latest letter to the Planning Board, LNFRG now favors “converting the Dana Home property into a multi-family residence.”

 Lexington, Lexington, Lexington!

Trisha Pérez Kennealy along with her husband Mike is willing to roll the dice on this enterprise. With a lot of work ahead, Trisha is still convinced that this is the right business for this spot in the town that she loves. “As Lexingtonians we have a responsibility to nurture our place in history and to welcome and accommodate those from across the country who wish to visit,” she says. “Mike and I are committed to making this a quintessential New England Inn with local fare and exceptional hospitality.” The want to call their business the Inn at Hastings Park.

“When I first moved to Lexington in 1982, I vividly remember the first time we drove through the center. We were coming from Puerto Rico—very different culture, different architecture—just very different,” says Trisha Kennealy seated in the dining room of what she hopes to be her new Inn on Hastings Park. Trisha is an animated and attractive woman, a graduate of Harvard University and Le Cordon Bleu in London, a mom of three and an active member of the Lexington community.

“We drove into Lexington, mom, dad my sister and me, and we knew that we had found the place we wanted to live,” she says. Trisha Pérez, as she was known back then, came to New England with her dad Luis Andres Pérez who was pursuing an educational opportunity at Harvard. “It felt like a real town. The history, the architecture—there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that this is a small town.”

It’s a small town that she came to love and cherish. “My sister and I were supposed to go to private school,” she says, but when we moved here we decided to go to public schools. Then, when my father completed his Masters program, we just assumed we would move to the New York or New Jersey area where my mom and dad’s parents were, but we loved it so much we wanted to stay.”

Kennealy is a product of the Lexington public schools and proud of it. She went on to Harvard and when the time came, she was married at the First Parish Church on the Lexington Green.

A generation later, with daughter Gabriella in tow, Trisha and her husband Mike (they met at Harvard; he’s from Reading) came back from Europe where Mike had been working. They were looking for a place to locate and grow their new family. “I was very flexible,” Trisha says with a laugh, “I’m willing to look at three towns—Lexington, Lexington and Lexington!”

That’s when her true love affair with Lexington blossomed. Trisha and Mike had two more children, Rory and Conor, and became deeply involved in the community. “I have been committed to participating in my children’s education through the PTO and I’ve been involved with Stand for Children, Lexington Education Foundation (LEF) and the Community Nursery School,” she says. Kennealy is also a town meeting member from Precinct 6, so she is no stranger to the process that has consumed her ever since she purchased the former Dana Home and has sought to change the zoning of the parcels.

“There hasn’t been a public meeting that we have been asked to participate in, that we have refused,” Kennealy says with a smile. “The bottom line—I want the community to feel good about this and to understand that I want to make a real contribution to Lexington with this business.”

The many hours of public debate, strong opinions and heated comments have no doubt taken a toll on Kennealy who has owned the property for about a year now. She also purchased the adjoining Mulliken House which features a barn on site that was used as a casket company. During the past year her company AB Holdings has been developing the site plans and participating in the process of bringing those plans to the community. Trisha’s dad, Luis Pérez of Wood, Hammer & Nails is deeply vested in the project. Luis’ is a company builds distinctive homes and he will be very involved in the restoration of the inn.

Several of the meetings including an informational forum presented by the League of Women Voters have become contentious, but the group soldiers on because they believe in the project. Both Trisha and her father agree that the process has been very important and instructive.

There are several issues that the property owners must overcome before they will be allowed to build out the site and run it as a 22 room inn with a small restaurant that will be open to the public.

 Rezoning the Property a Contentious Issue

The number one objection expressed by LNFRG is the rezoning of the spot from residential to commercial. Their letter indicates the group’s disapproval of the rezoning because of its possible precedent-setting nature, its deviation from the Lexington Comprehensive Plan as they read it and violation of the Commonwealth’s Uniformity Standards. These are common arguments for opposing spot zoning (zoning that is applied to a specific property).

Zoning conversion works both ways. For example, the development of the Battle Green Inn required rezoning from commercial to residential in our central business district and created a precedent for housing in the center. Many were opposed, but ultimately the issue won support and everyone seems thrilled with the result. More specific to the Dana Home site, designating a fifteen bedroom house with an institutional kitchen as a “residential use” was a stretch of the zoning laws to begin with. The Dana Home was a nonconforming institutional use of property on the outermost corner of a neighborhood that is abutted on most sides by institutional uses: St. Brigid Parish, rectory and offices, the Grace Chapel complex, Hayden Recreation Centre and Skating facility and the town recreation complex (pool, basketball, tennis, skateboarding, track). It is close to businesses—Douglas Funeral Home, Walgreen, Stop & Shop and Starbucks. Its closest abutters are the residents of Pine Grove Village who are in a difficult location between a parking lot and the wetland between them and the Dana Home.

 The Dana Home Board Approves of Inn

Patricia Nelson is the Co-President of the Dana Home of Lexington along with David Williams. Nelson and her fellow board members were charged with selling the property, and they feel that an inn is a perfect use for the location.

“Our first responsibility was a fiduciary one,” Nelson says. “We had an obligation to get fair market value for the property.” They received many proposals in two categories—inns and condos. “We wanted to make it as open a process as possible,” she adds. After the word got out about possible uses for the space, Nelson says that the support for the inn idea was overwhelming. “I was approached in the grocery story—completely unsolicited—and people would express their preference for the inn concept.” Nelson says unequivocally that the inn idea was much preferred over the idea of more condos. “We don’t have a nice historic inn like the Colonial Inn [in Concord]. The board also liked the idea from the preservation standpoint—maintaining the basic structure without cutting it up into condos and compromising the period woodwork and other architectural elements seemed ideal.”

“The Dana Home Board is supportive of Ms. Kennealy’s future plans for the property,” Nelson and Williams wrote in an April 8, 2011 letter announcing the sale, “The Dana Home has played a significant role in the lives of many Lexington residents. Trisha Pérez Kennealy’s concept will carry on that legacy by providing a place where residents and guests can gather to enjoy food, rest and community.”

At a recent Planning Board hearing, Ms. Nelson described about the busy life at the Dana home. In a follow-up interview she said, “The Dana Home was a very busy place!” She concedes that the past decade has been a little quieter simply because residents had become older and stopped driving, but it was not a sleepy little facility according to Nelson. “Residents shared 3 meals a day 7 days a week, 27 people were employed there and lots of people came to eat lunches.” The Rogerson Communities (the company that managed the facility) often hosted staff onsite. In addition Nelson says, medical staff “were always coming and going” day and night.

On the Rogerson Company website they list services as 3 meals a day, snack service, pharmacy delivery service, around the clock safety checks, housekeeping and laundry service, recreational programs and wellness programs as some of the activities going on at the home. At that same Planning Board hearing at Clarke Middle School neighbors took to the microphone observing that they never noticed that much activity at the site. Given Ms. Nelson’s claims about the actual activity at the Dana Home, it appears that the corner lot is able to absorb quite a bit of activity with little impact on the neighborhood.

Residents on the Green Support & Others Support the Inn

Residents residing all around the Lexington Green are in support of the project. Carla Fortmann who lives in one of the historic homes on the green says that she and her husband Tom are strongly in favor of the project. “Number one: We need it,” she says. “Number two: I don’t think it’s too big—I think it’s a very good design.” If anyone would know whether we could use an historic inn in town it’s Fortmann; she works as the manager of the gift shop at the Buckman Tavern and speaks with tourists almost every day. “We need a nice inn here in Lexington. This reminds us [she and her husband Tom] of all the fears that were raised about the Minuteman Bikeway, but now that it’s done it’s a big success and an asset to Lexington.” Carla forecasts the same result if the plans for the inn are allowed to move forward. “I think they would do a wonderful job and wouldn’t it be nice to have it go to a Lexington family.”

The Chairman of the Lexington Tourism Committee, Dawn McKenna agrees. In her experience the need for an inn to rival the Colonial Inn in Concord would go a long way toward encouraging tourists to stay in Lexington. McKenna noted that the Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism (MOTT) recently estimated that there is $50 million in tourism spending in Lexington. That income for Lexington and its business community has been growing steadily and could be even greater if visitors could stay in Lexington Center according to McKenna. “We really want to capture that hotel and meals tax, but more importantly we want to offer hospitality to our guests.” Lexington currently has three hotels, but none of them are within walking distance to the center. “The longer they stay, the more they spend,” she says.

Proponents of the proposed inn from all parts of Lexington have spoken out at public meetings and written supportive letters to the Lexington Minuteman.

Additional Concerns/Traffic

The neighborhood group is also very concerned about traffic safety. They worry that additional traffic will add to the problems at the Worthen Street/Massachusetts Avenue intersection. However, these safety issues were in existence long before the proposal to convert the Dana Home to an inn. Over the years many attempts have been made to improve the safety of Worthen Road—a heavily travelled bypass that was designed to handle a large volume of traffic, diverting travelers heading from Bedford to Waltham, Arlington, Belmont and beyond away from the central business district. It is also the main road feeding Lexington High School, Hayden Recreation Centre and the town pool/basketball/tennis court/track complex.

According to the traffic and parking consultant advising Kennealy, they anticipate an increase in traffic of less than one half of one percent. Concerns about consumption of alcohol at the restaurant, large delivery trucks, and congestion at the intersection have also been raised. Kennealy does not anticipate an intensive schedule of deliveries and she says that she will be using local farmers and small purveyors with smaller trucks, so she does not anticipate many large trucks onsite.

Still, it is a busy intersection and like many areas in town, it is less than optimal from a safety standpoint. However, you could cite similar concerns about the center which has been the scene of several pedestrian fatalities and East Lexington which has adopted a system of using pedestrian crossing flags at certain crosswalks because of congestion and lack of visibility.

 Additional Concerns/Wetlands

When engineering Worthen Road, a section of North Lexington Brook was covered over in 1956. This created wetlands on the surrounding properties. These wetlands are protected by the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act and the Lexington Wetland Protection Code and enforcement of these rules falls under the purview of the Lexington Conservation Commission. This important work preserves the quality of water passing through Lexington and on to other towns.

LNFRG has commissioned a report from a company (CEI) specializing in the analysis of wetlands. Kennealy has been very open to these outside reviews. “We appreciate that they have put in a lot of time. Because of these reports we have been able to identify many ways to make improvements to our plan,” she says. Many of the wetland concerns center on construction of the parking lot, staying within a 50 foot “no build zone” and handling storm water runoff.

The Kennealys have also agreed to clean-up the invasive plants that currently threaten the area as part of their plan for wetlands management. Hopefully a cleanup will also ensure a more aesthetically pleasing appearance on the site than currently exists and enhance the experience of all those who abut the marshy area.

 Additional Concerns/Parking

The proposal for the inn includes plans to build a small parking lot between the Dana Home and the Mulliken House. This has created concern about the aesthetics of the streetscape. The eleven page letter submitted to the Planning Board by LNFRG claims that there is no other visible parking along the Battle Road. In fairness, the “scenic byway” doesn’t really begin until the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Route 2A. The National Park Service purchased and removed more than 200 structures in the process of creating the scenic byway that successfully recreates the look of small farms and pastureland. However, from the Lexington Green to Route 2A there are two circular driveways that are often full of automobiles (St. Brigid and the Methodist Church), parking at Community Nursery School is visible from the street and the overpass hums with automobiles as you cross at any time of day. Certainly one cannot deny the 21st century as you stop at Wood Street to wait for traffic to empty out from MIT at rush hour even as you are on the edge of the National Park.

Despite claims in one of the LNFRG document that a parking lot beside the inn will be “an anachronistic embarrassment to the period homes around them” and be offensive to “visitors from all over the world,” it might just as easily be suggested that those very visitors would love the opportunity to sit on the porch and enjoy the beautiful surroundings in Lexington on Patriot’s Day for example, or listen to a band concert at Hastings Park or perhaps enjoy a friendly meal alongside some locals to add to the hospitable feel of Lexington and nurture their desire for a return visit.

Listening and Responding With Revised Plans

Though the Kennealys have been accused of responding slowly to the concerns of the neighbors and the Planning Board, Trisha notes that her team has been attending all of the meetings, engaging in the process and collaborating with their team to provide a workable solution. According to Kennealy she has researched the industry, talked with other inn owners and created a mix of room fees and food service that will allow her to prosper as a business.

Now the Kennealys have submitted revised plans for the site that respond to many of the neighborhood concern. “Our primary objective in redesigning the plan,” she says “was to scale back the massing of the structures on the site.”

On March 16th at a meeting with neighbors and citizens, they unveiled a new site plan (see old and new plans at right) designed to preserve the core of the business plan and achieve it with less intensive use of the site—to reduce the visible mass of the project and maintain the original footprint of the buildings as closely as possible. “We began by taking out the office component of the proposed project,” Kennealy says. The office was to be located in the barn. “We are moving our offices and the related jobs to our Westwood location. This enables us to relocate two guest rooms from the former Dana Home into this space. In addition, heeding the recommendation of the Historic District Commission, we will not change the facade of the barn. We will maintain the facade, while making only the necessary repairs. Much of the site to the right of the barn will be maintained in its current state, including the existing stone wall,” according to Kennealy.

The architects have eliminated both proposed additions to the original Dana Home structure and added a small hallway around the elevator to accommodate service staff. They have reduced the addition to the Mulliken House by fifty percent and want to move the house by eighteen feet to clear the 50 foot wetlands no-work zone. This will also allow them to install a foundation below the house.

By moving the Mulliken House, they can reconfigure the parking lot, increase the parking spots to 31 and improve traffic circulation. They will also be able to move the Massachusetts Avenue entrance to the parking lot so that it is sixty feet from Parker Street and 200 feet from Worthen Road. According to Kennealy’s plans, this parking lot will be designed to minimize the impact of headlights and ambient lighting and will be extensively landscaped to enhance the streetscape and provide a screen. The parking lot on the Worthen road side will remain the same—wetland requirements make it impossible for the new owners to relocate the side entrance or connect the two parking areas. However, they feel that their reconfigured parking and circulation plan (calculated using AutoTurn® analysis as LNFRG requested), will improve traffic circulation and safety.

Kennealy does not expect that these changes will satisfy all concerns, but feels strongly that she is making every effort to work with the neighbors and address most of their concerns. “We have really worked hard; the rest is up to the Planning Board and Town Meeting,” she says. “It’s all about balance,” she says. “We have listened and incorporated many of the requested changes, but we have to maintain the economic viability of the project.”

Moving forward to town meeting Trisha and Mike are optimistic. “What we want is to create a great inn here in historic Lexington like those in most historic towns.”

Lexington’s history is full of wonderful inns and hotels. Proponents of the Inn at Hastings Park hope to revive this great tradition at the site of the former Dana Home and provide a much-needed addition to Lexington’s tourism offering, a vehicle for economic development and a welcome addition to the commercial tax base.

The prospect of a warm and hospitable place to gather with friends, to celebrate special occasions and to provide lodging to our guests in the center is exciting for the Lexington community and many hope that Town Meeting and community leaders will come together and support this plan.

 

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Need Help Around the House? Find it at HelpAroundTown.com

By Laurie Atwater  |

Reem Yared is concerned about young people today and the lack of employment opportunities for them both before and after college. “My friend’s children are graduating and not finding jobs,” she says. “Kids who used to be able to find jobs in local businesses are being shut out by people with more experience. “With the economy the way it is the downward pressure on jobs is really hurting young people,” she says.

“I did some research and found that the age group from teens to 22 is the hardest hit in the recession,” she observes. With so many adults looking for work the kids are being squeezed out. “It’s a crisis,” she says. “It’s a dynamic where if they can’t work they can’t save money and then maybe they can’t go to college. And if they’re not getting an education or work experience…” Reem’s voice trails off as she sighs, “What’s going to happen to these kids?” As a mom of high school and college age kids she knows parents are concerned.

Not one to sit by and just worry, Reem began to actively attack the problem. Yared is a graduate of Harvard and has an MBA from the Wharton School. She consulted for fifteen years working on internet programs for businesses large and small.

Yared relied on that extensive background in online information services as she mentally attacked the problem and came up with a local solution. So many of us have long to-do lists and we don’t know where to turn when it comes to small jobs—things that don’t require a contractor or professional service.

And since kids don’t go around the neighborhood knocking on doors like they did in the Leave it to Beaver era, most people don’t know if there’s someone right around the corner looking for work.

“What’s holding us back from hiring these kids?” she questioned. The answer came to her from the online world she knows so well. Why not create an online neighborhood exchange where folks could post their odd jobs and kids could apply for those jobs. Help Around Town was born as a neighbor-to-neighbor network.

“We create the marketplace where people meet,” she says. “The idea is since this is a neighborhood service—I may not know you, but I may know your mom or someone else who hired you.”

And the jobs are amazingly varied. Everything from babysitting, pet sitting, sewing, running errands and yard work. With spring apparently here, yard cleanups would fit right in. This is not a professional job board, although Reem did add a bulletin board section to the site where people can post a description of their qualifications and their contact information for a nominal fee.

“It’s been really interesting to see the types of jobs that have been posted. “One job was sorting a collection of 3,000 books!” Reem also notes that students have been very helpful as amateur computer geeks helping older citizens figure out their email, or Skype or using their digital photo software.

Currently both parties—the person doing the hiring and the person taking the job—can rate each other. “I thought very carefully about the ratings and decided that this would ensure checks and balances in the process,” Reem says thoughtfully. She hopes the mutual ratings will tap into a desire to maintain a great reputation and make it very reliable. An additional comment section allows for some give and take. Reem also hopes the service will bring community to our often isolated lives.

“We have a whole generation of kids who have been told not to talk to strangers,” she says. “They often don’t even know their next door neighbors. Reem hopes that Help Around Town will help establish relationships between young and old in an era when there is little inter-generational contact.

“I was volunteering at Big Lex this year,” she says, “and this mother came up to me to explain that her son had registered on the site and ended up doing several jobs for an elderly neighbor. He just loved doing it so much that he has done three or four more jobs for her. The mom said that it has created a relationship and I love that. That’s really what this is all about.”

Reem is also hoping that businesses will post their internship opportunities and nonprofits will post volunteer opportunities. “The high school students have community service hours to complete and many empty-nesters have some time to devote to volunteer work.”

Yared understands parental concerns about on-line safety. There are several security measures built into the site. Children under 14 may not use the service. When a minor (14 & 15) applies for a job an email is sent to their parents and the parents must submit a $3 check as approval. Parents can opt their child out if they don’t want them to participate and home addresses of minors never appear.. Older teens can participate without parental consent. Profiles are protected; you must give your link to a prospective employer before they can view your profile.

If you are looking for a job, some help around the house or the yard, a ride or a volunteer opportunity visit Help Around Town at

www.helparoundtown.com.

 

 

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