Friday, January 19, 2018

Selectman Richard Foster provides his prospective....

Last Wednesday night I tried something different. Instead of sitting in the conference room at the High School listening to speaker after speaker solicit supporters of their views, I drifted to a point of five hundred feet above the room and concentrated more on the actions of the group instead of what was actually being stated. It was officially a Planning Board Public Hearing on the rezoning request for the Brewer-Young Estate (aka Mansion), but it was also a rehearsal for our upcoming Special Town Meeting on the rezoning issue. On one side of the issue was the emotional “Save Our Green” group and on the other side was a more logic driven group, “Save the Mansion”. The Save the Mansion group had a “plan” and the Save Our Green group offered emotional responses to justify their position.

Every person at this meeting has shared an equal opportunity in the past years for stepping forward with a plan that would have preserved the appearance of the Mansion, and yet, only one group of individuals displayed the vision and financial backing to do more than provide “lip service” to the preservation of the Mansion. The Mansion has been in decline for years, and now, when we finally have a group willing to take a chance on its preservation, the “nay-sayers” are coming out of the woodwork spreading every type of rumor possible in hopes that something will stick.

Where was this group when solutions to the preservation of the Mansion were being sought over the years? Ironically, the Save the Green folks could have formed a LLC years ago combined with a robust fund-raising effort and possibly purchased the Mansion from this grass roots effort. But instead, everyone has quietly stood by as the Mansion has declined. The Save Our Green group now has a vision, but that vision is narrowly focused on only stopping the Save the Mansion movement.

Unlike the Save the Mansion group, the Save Our Green group offers no solution or plans. In a final movement of defiance against the Save the Mansion group the Save Our Green group has resorted to smearing the activities of our Town Manager suggesting unethical behavior. This is just one more smoke screen designed the draw our attention away from the fact that they really don’t have a plan other than opposition. I believe everyone did an excellent job expressing their views in support of their positions, but my preference will always be to drift more favorably towards programmatic planning efforts instead of emotionally driven decision making.

In the case at hand, it appears that the Planning Board had similar thoughts in approving the Save the Mansion proposal setting the stage for approval at our Special Town Meeting which will be held on January 25, 2018. As viewed by many, this is a very important step forward for our community.
Please plan on attending our Town Meeting to support your position on the rezoning issue.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A letter from the Young family on the fate of the Brewer-Young Mansion

This is a letter to the residents of Longmeadow written by Todd and Tyler Young:
Young Family thoughts regarding the Brewer-Young Mansion
[Click image to enlarge]

When our family gets together, we often reminisce about the wonderful experiences we had over the years at 734 Longmeadow Street.  As young kids, playing hide-and-seek... as teenagers, celebrating the holidays with friends… as adults, hosting a party or welcoming a newborn to the family… the property is a bottomless well of memories.

Perhaps that is why it was so difficult for us to sell the property back in 1989.  The moments, the history, the sentimentality of it all.

But if we said that is primarily why it was so challenging to sell the property, we would be lying.  The reality is that there was another aspect in owning and selling an approximately 11,000 square foot home that is over 100 years old.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves in this story.  Let’s back up a little.

When our matriarch of the family business, Mary Ida Young, purchased the property in 1922 to use as her personal residence, she initially employed a large staff of caretakers, landscapers, an arborist, maids, and a cook to help run the property.  If you look at some of the archived black & white photos of the interior and the grounds from that period, you get a sense of the attention to detail and the sheer scale involved.

In fact, care of this very large home with its sizable carriage house and adjoining horse stables, as well as the detached greenhouses, fountains, rose garden, horse track, and over 30 acres of architected land became a 24/7 responsibility for Mary Ida.  Subsequently, some of her staff lived on the premises full time, both within the servants’ quarters of the main house as well as in the rear carriage house.

Although Mary Ida decided to name the property “Meadowview Farms”, our family eventually used a more informal nickname when referring to the main house itself… it simply became “the big house”.  Thinking back, we can’t recall a single instance of anyone in our family referring to the property as “the mansion”, “the Young mansion”, “the Brewer-Young estate” or any other mix of formalities.  That was too much outside our comfort zone.

Over the decades, the overall size of the property diminished.  In 1959, numerous acres were lost to the construction of Interstate 91.  In 1977, the carriage house, adjoining stables, and a few surrounding acres was parceled off to create an additional residence for the family.

Likewise, the size of Mary Ida’s staff diminished over the years, especially after her passing in 1960.  By the 1980s, her grandson and president of the family business, Wilbur Young III, relied upon local contractors to maintain the property.  Members of the family also took on some of the work around the property, which we honestly relished at times.  Especially when it involved putting around on the tractor, or being rewarded with mouth-watering burgers from renowned White Hut.

Yet even with reductions in the property’s size and overhead, annual expenditures including maintenance, utilities, insurance, and taxes exceeded $50,000 during the 1980s.  And this was without any mortgage, or any major expenditures such as the much-needed replacement of the knob-and-tube electrical wiring that continues to deteriorate to this very day.

Upon the sudden passing of Wilbur Young in 1987, we were faced with the difficult decision to put the main house and surrounding land up for sale.  What we suspected and validated over the following two years, was that no one was seriously interested in purchasing this very large and very old house as their personal residence.  Keep in mind this was during a time when the local economy was very strong, and the structure itself was in much better condition than it is today. 

After considerable reductions in our initial asking price, we finally sold the property to a pair of investors at the end of 1989.  These investors intended to re-purpose the house for non-residential use, while simultaneously parceling off most of the land in the rear to develop single family homes.  Upon the inability for the new owners to receive approval for a change of use of the main house property, they eventually were forced to re-list it for residential use.  This began an ongoing cadence of re-listings, ownership changes, price reductions, foreclosure, eviction, and ultimately, neglect.

Whenever the main house was put back up for sale over those many years, friends occasionally would ask us purely out of curiosity if anyone in the family wished to buy the house back.  As much as we all love the big house, in all sincerity, the usual response was “Not even for a dollar”.  

Yes, the house was our family home for over five generations, and we miss it dearly.  And from the community’s perspective, it is a distinctive landmark that has significant historical and architectural value.  But the other reality is that this aging edifice and its surrounding grounds is an extraordinary financial burden for anyone who owns it.  To think otherwise would be foolish.

In light of recent conversations happening within the community, we’d like to impart you with five relevant beliefs based on our experience of owning, maintaining, and selling this unique property:
  1. When considering the lack of any offers over the last seven years to purchase the house for residential use, combined with extensive restoration costs and annual maintenance costs, we believe the likelihood of someone purchasing the house for residential use is “less than zero” and is a non-starter.
  2. When considering the various use cases (bed & breakfast, condominiums, etc.) and related market & financial analysis the current owners have undertaken, our family honestly believes that the proposal of re-zoning this property for professional office space is the most realistic and best use of this uncommon structure.
  3. Based on our own knowledge of the structure, we believe the current owners have a solid understanding of the work required to properly renovate it. Equally important, we trust that the current owners are operating in good faith when it comes to trying to preserve the aesthetics of this historical landmark.
  4. As many residents have witnessed firsthand, Longmeadow moves at its own speed and with a great amount of deliberation when it comes to re-zoning a property.  For example, public discussion related to the re-zoning of this very property commenced in 1990, and yet over all these years, nothing has changed.  Hence, we do not subscribe to a fear or uncertainty that this single change will introduce a rapid or gradual wave of re-zoning elsewhere around the Green.
  5. Outside of a viable re-purposing and renovation, we sincerely believe demolition of this prominent building is a certainty once it is officially deemed uninhabitable -- or a catastrophic event such as a partial structural collapse or fire occurs -- whichever comes next.
We can only hope that people vote “yes” on January 25, so that future generations can experience this distinctive town landmark for another 100 years and create some new memories.  Ultimately, this is for you, the residents of Longmeadow, to decide.

Todd and Tyler Young
The last Young family members to reside in what is currently referred to as the Brewer-Young estate.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Longmeadow Residents Urged to Save the Mansion

This letter to the editor was submitted by Marie Angelides, a member of the Longmeadow Select Board for posting on the LongmeadowBuzz blog.

On Thursday, Jan. 25 there will be a Special Town Meeting in Longmeadow.  The residents will be making an important decision regarding the Town Green. The discussion is framed by the following issues: should we preserve the Town Green for primarily residential properties or should we preserve the historic Young mansion by converting part of the property for commercial usage. Only the residents of Longmeadow can only make this decision. The boards and committees and employees have done their work in bringing the issue to the legislative body, the Town Meeting. Only the citizens of Longmeadow have the power to make this change.

The residents of Longmeadow must decide what best represents the character of the town: the preservation of the Young mansion or its destruction. One thing is clear, the cost of maintenance and renovation has proven too much for a single homeowner. This has led to the severe deterioration of the structure resulting in a blight in the middle of Longmeadow.

Longmeadow has a rich history. When we lose part of our history we lose an important part of our identity. As a town, we have shown a dedication to investing in maintaining our historic documents, architecture and landscapes. The Young mansion is an important part of our historic architecture. I urge you to take a tour of the Young mansion to see what we will lose.

With the acceptance of this project comes a responsibility to preserve the historic residential character of the Green and the safety of our pedestrians and bikers. Our boards, committees, and staff will work diligently to plan for traffic safety as required, as Longmeadow is a "Complete Streets" community. As a community, we should also review the long-range plan for the Green with the Historic District Commission, Historic Commission, Parks and Recreation Commission and Longmeadow Historic Society to establish policies that recommit ourselves to the preservation and care of our Green and historic district.

Voting "YES" on Thursday, Jan. 25 will be the first step in preserving the Green and the architectural history of our town.

Please come out on Thursday, January 25 at 7 PM at Longmeadow High School and help with this crucial decision.

Marie Angelides, Longmeadow

Monday, January 8, 2018

Eight Reasons “Save-Our-Green” is opposed to The Re-Zoning of the Brewer-Young Home

This blog post was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Jeffrey Wint, a resident of Longmeadow, MA at 930 Longmeadow Street.
  1. Rezoning sets a Terrible Precedent.  This is the first step in the Town Manager’s plan to implement a commercial Overlay Zone on up to 37 homes on Route 5 from the Springfield line to the Connecticut border.  (The Town Manager has gone so far as to ask Town Counsel if Route 5 can be commercialized “one house at a time” (information obtained through Freedom of Information Act Request)).  Rezoning the largest and most visible home first would make it very difficult to prevent others from following suit.
  2. Re-Zoning Is No Guaranty.  Re-zoning applies to LAND, not structures. If the property is re-zoned the investors are under no legal obligation to preserve the home.  While the value of the land would increase dramatically, the investors (or some future owner) can still demolish the home.
  3. We have enough Professional/Office Space.  Zone changes are meant to address a perceived need of the community. Longmeadow presently has well over 20,000 square feet of office space for rent.  Another 54,000 square feet of medical office space is being built along the East Longmeadow/ Longmeadow border.  We don’t need more office space anywhere in town… least of all in the middle of a residential zone on our lovely Town Green.
  4. Parking.   The investors’ plan shows 26 on-site parking spaces.  Office Use under the Town By-Laws requires a minimum of 36 on-site parking spaces. If the Town were to impose the same parking requirements they did for the development of the 54,000 square foot medical office facility being built along the Longmeadow/East Longmeadow border approximately 80 on-site parking spaces would be required. Inadequate on-site parking will result in the taxpayer subsidized use of the Town parking in front of the Community House and the Library to the detriment of residents seeking to use those facilities.
  5. There Are Other Options.  Rezoning from residential to commercial is certainly the most profitable option for the investors but not the only option.  The investors bought the home in an eight day bidding war for $470,200.00, almost $30,000.00 more than the asking price.  (Per Multiple Listing Service home listed July 15 for $444,200.00, and went under contract July 23 for $470,200.00.)  This bidding war confirms intense interest in the property once it was finally priced to reflect its condition.
  6. Public Safety.  Rezoning will dramatically increase traffic and require a substantial curb cut very near the already dangerous intersection of Williams and Longmeadow Streets.  A Professional Office will generate far more traffic than any residential use.   Couple this increased traffic with inadequate on-site parking (drivers looking for parking at the Community House and the Library) and you have created a very dangerous environment for the many Center School and Montessori students, bikers and pedestrians in the area.
  7. Spot Zoning.  Spot Zoning, defined as the process of singling out a small parcel of land for a use which is totally different from the surrounding area for the benefit of the property owner and to the detriment of surrounding owners, IS NOT LEGAL in Massachusetts.  We believe the investors are asking the residents to consider something which is simply against the law.
  8. We love our Green “AS IS”.  It is UNIQUE.  Our Town is primarily a residential community with a few small pockets of commercial space located in carefully selected areas.  This is not unintentional. Starting in the 1850’s our predecessors commenced the process of removing all the businesses from the Town Green as well as up and down Longmeadow Street so that by the 1890’s the only business remaining on the Green was the general store, which is now The Spa On The Green.  This represents the earliest example of community planning and landscape restoration in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Longmeadow’s Long Range Plan describes the Town Green as “a living museum”  to be maintained “as is”.  Bringing  commercial businesses back into the Historic District is directly contrary to this plan.
For more details, checkout our Save Our Green Facebook page.
to RE-zoning at the special meeting on January 25, 2018

Jeffrey Wint/ 930 Longmeadow Street

Thursday, December 28, 2017

History of the Town Green- Part II

Figure 1- Aerial View of Longmeadow Town Green
[click image to enlarge]
Opponents of the restoration efforts by the Longmeadow Historic Preservation Partners would have you believe that the proposed project to re-purpose the Brewer-Young mansion at 734 Longmeadow Street- built in 1885 would violate the trust given to town residents by Longmeadow's founding fathers.  However, nothing could be further from the truth. 

As Part I of this series has shown, it was the businesses located ON the Town Green that were removed prior 1831.  The land on the Green had been leased to shop keepers and when their leases expired, they were required to remove the shops from the Green.  According to an 1831 map of Longmeadow there were no business shops located ON the Green.

There were NO concerns expressed at the time about businesses such as the Cooley Store- now the Dr. Brooks/ Spa-on-the-Green (built in 1802) that were located AROUND the perimeter of the Green.

It is interesting to take a look back at the Green during the 20th century.  

It turns out that in 1894 after the split with East Longmeadow, Longmeadow leaders granted a franchise to the Springfield Street Railway to operate a trolley service from Springfield, MA to Enfield, CT with two sets of trolley tracks + electric power poles.  The path ran directly through the Green

See History of the Town Green- Part I for additional details, maps and photos.

It is interesting to study the Longmeadow Historic District during the 20th century and learn that there were at least 18 different businesses located in 8 different locations AROUND the Green (see figure 2 below).  Only two remain today- Dr. Brooks/Spa-on-the-Green and the Montessori International School. Remember... the Montessori School has been located for the past 20 years in the Old Parsonage that once stood at the location of the Longmeadow Community House.  This mid-19th century home was re-purposed from the First Church parsonage --> private residence --> private school (see additional information).
Figure 2- 20th Century Businesses on the Longmeadow Town Green[click image to enlarge]
One other point that should not be forgotten.  The Community House built in 1921 by the First Church of Christ for the Town of Longmeadow as a "community center" for all town residents was purchased by the Town in 1927.  In recent years the Town has utilized significant space in the basement of the building for conducting town business operations- quite different from the original intent of the building. You might say that a significant portion of the Community House was re-purposed.

WWI and WWII memorial monuments and a flag pole were added to the Green during the 20th century (see additional information).  It was only after the trolley tracks were removed by the Springfield Street Railway in 1940 that the commercial aspect on the Town Green returned to its mid-19th century appearance.

Question:  How does the restoration of the Brewer-Young mansion cause any effect on the so-called "pristine" nature of the Town Green?Answer: It doesn't.

Vote YES on January 25- Let's SAVE an iconic structure in our town.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

History of the Longmeadow Town Green- Part I

The Town Green has been the focal point of life in Longmeadow for a long time. This summary (Part I) looks at the changing landscape of the Town Green from the late 1700's to the early 20th century.

Proceedings at the Centennial Celebration of the Incorporation of the Town of Longmeadow (aka "The Centennial Book") was published in 1884 for the 100th anniversary celebration of the incorporation of Longmeadow in 1883.  It contains a wealth of information about the first hundred years including the history of the Green.  In addition, a review of the historic Longmeadow maps (1831, 1855, 1870, 1894, 1910 and 1920) of the Green provides some great insight as to its history.

Here are highlights of the early history of the Green through the early 20th century....
  • Prior to 1831 there were numerous shops on the Green as well as a School House and the Meeting House.  These shops were granted 40 year leases on the Green with the last lease starting in 1795.
  • The 1831 map shows only the School House and the Meeting House (--> Congregational Church) remaining on the Green.  There were no shops in 1831 since most of the leases had expired and town leaders decided to remove them from the Green.
  • The 1870 map shows only the Congregational Church and the weigh scale(?) for the Colton Store.  The School House located on the Green was destroyed by fire in 1852.
  • Two shops (marked sheds on the 1870 map)- the blacksmith and the wheelwright had been granted leases for a section of land west of the Olde Burying Yard but these shops were not removed when the leases expired.  The owners eventually achieved legal ownership (squatter's rights?) and the Parish was required to purchase the properties when the Congregational Church was moved from the Green to its current location.
  • In 1874 the Congregational Church was moved to its current location and at that time there were no visible structures on the Green.
  • In 1895- the Springfield Street Railway was granted a "franchise" to operate a trolley service from Springfield, MA to Enfield, CT along Longmeadow Street.  It is interesting to note that the original proposal on the 1894 map showed the trolley tracks + electric power poles/ lines avoiding intrusion onto the Green.  However the 1910 map shows the actual north/south trolley path being placed directly on the Green.
  • For 40 years (1895 - 1940) trolleys transversed the Green carrying Longmeadow residents and others to their destinations.

Here are some additional details....

The Centennial Book provides a great snapshot of the Green in the early days following the American Revolution.  Here are a few excerpts...

"THE BROAD AND BEAUTIFUL LONGMEADOW STREET has been at different times the subject of many votes, showing how narrow has been its escape from the most serious encroachments, urged in the interest of individuals, or even of the public itself.  It may surprise some to learn that the present central section of park-like sward was originally a long sand-drift, -similar to many now found in the wood-belt eastward, and that this was reclaimed and converted into its present verdure by a process of enrichment and cultivation extending over several years, carried on by a citizen (Capt. Calvin Burt), who was permitted for that purpose temporarily to enclose a long section of the street. The northern half of this same central section was also by town permission occupied for many years by a central series of shops, stores, and manufactories, under forty year leases, in the same way that the front portion of the Burying-Ground grant was permitted to be occupied by a blacksmith's and a wheelwright's shops."

"These last [blacksmith and wheelwright shops], unfortunately, by unchallenged occupancy for more than forty years, gained finally a title to the land itself which it cost the Parish several hundred dollars to extinguish when this corner was desired as a site for the remodeled Church edifice in 1874.  Fortunately the danger was earlier discovered in regard to the Main Street [Longmeadow Street] leases, and the removal of all those buildings was secured at the expiration of the lease-term- while a sentiment of jealous and loving care now exists which would make their renewal forever impossible."

The Town stopped granting 40 year leases to build shops in the street (Town Green) in 1795.  By 1831- because of expired and unrenewed leases, there were no shops remaining on the Green- only the School House and the Meeting House (see Figure 1 below).  The School House burned down in 1851.

The 1870 map in Figure 2 shows the sheds which are the blacksmith and wheelwright shops referred to in the above passage.  Because the blacksmith and wheelwright shops (west of the Olde Burying Yard) had been in place for greater than 40 years, the renters became owners (squatter's rights ?) and the Parish was required to purchase the land when the Congregational Church was moved from the Green to its current location in 1874.

By 1870 the only remaining structure on the Green was the Congregational Church which was moved to its current location in 1874 (see Figure 2).

Figure 1- 1831 Map of Longmeadow Town Green 
[click image to enlarge]
Figure 2- 1870 Map of Longmeadow Town Green
[click image to enlarge]

The Old Country Store built by Calvin Burt and Stephen Cooley in 1805 remains today as the Spa-on-the-Green/ Dr. Glen Brooks as the only commercial business on the perimeter of the Town Green.

Figure 3- Old Country Store[click image to enlarge]

Figure 4- 1894 Map of Longmeadow Town Green
 [click image to enlarge]
After the split of East and West Villages of Longmeadow on July 1, 1894, the Springfield Street Railway launched a commercial enterprise to provide trolley service from downtown Springfield to Enfield, CT.  The original layout of the trolley tracks shown in the 1894 map (see Figure 4) avoided use of the Town Green but the final implementation actually utilized a significant portion of the Town Green for the tracks and electric power poles/ wires (see Figure 5).  Trolley service was initiated in 1895 and the last trolley run was in 1940.
Figure 5 - 1894 Map of Longmeadow Town Green 
[click image to enlarge]
Below is an Emerson photo- Figure 6 (courtesy of the Longmeadow Historical Society) showing the trolley tracks traversing the Town Green.
Figure 6 - Springfield Street Railway- Looking North on Town Green 
[click to enlarge]
 The next increment of this story is Town Green in the 20th Century- stay tuned!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Saving the Brewer-Young Mansion and Our First Open House

Longmeadow Historic Preservation Partners wish to share this letter with town residents about their plans to save the Brewer-Young Mansion....

Since we announced our plans to save the Brewer-Young Mansion by converting it to professional offices we’ve been gratified to hear from so many who support our plans. It’s wonderful to see how many recognize this structure as an important part of Longmeadow’s history. We look forward to welcoming everyone to see the interior of the building at our first open house on Saturday, November 18, from noon to 3pm.

[click image to enlarge]

Our plan for this property is based on the following factors.
  1. The mansion is too large and too costly to maintain for it to ever be a private residence again.
  2. The deterioration of this structure has reached a point that we must act soon if it is to be saved.
  3. The only long-term solution for this building will be for it to become self-sustaining.
The mansion was put on the market seven years ago and has had no interest from any residential buyers. Restoring it will cost more than $2 million and the annual cost of living there, according to a prior owner, was approximately $100k (including taxes, insurance, heat, electric, grounds maintenance and routine repairs).

If this historic building is going to be saved, it has to be now. We don’t have the luxury of waiting more years, hoping for a buyer to appear who can afford to spend $2-3 million on a home. We have all seen the mansion degrade to the point that it has become an eyesore and embarrassment to our town. The new columns put up by the bank look nice, but this is quite literally a façade because the rest of the structure has endured the same degree of degradation that caused those columns to collapse years ago. The shell of this building is rotting away before our eyes.

It is natural for any change to engender questions and concerns. Here are some important things to know.
  1. Re-zoning this property would be for professional office use only, not commercial. So it can never be a retail store, restaurant, industrial park, or anything else. It can only be offices.
  2. Re-zoning this property in exactly this manner was set forth in Longmeadow’s 2004 long-range plan which foresaw the need for large, costly homes on Longmeadow Street to one day be converted to professional offices in order to survive.
  3. The Longmeadow Historical Commission has unanimously endorsed our plan. This group of historically minded public servants has spent the last seven years studying this problem and searching for alternative solutions. They evaluated our plan, feel it is consistent with preserving the history of Longmeadow, and believe saving this landmark is beneficial to the historic district and the town of Longmeadow as a whole.
  4. The parking area will be set back from the street and almost completely shielded from view. The necessary parking will begin more than 100 feet from the street and the entry drive will be curved to limit the line of sight into this area. There is already an opaque hedge that runs across the front of the property and another layer of opaque landscaping around the parking area will further obscure it.
  5. The impact on traffic should be minimal. A traffic study is being completed, but we already know that the traffic generated currently by our primary tenant, Dr. Glen Brooks, at his current location four doors away from the mansion will now simply move to our location, on the same street, approximately equidistant from the same intersection.
  6. Fully restored, the mansion would generate about $50,000 in property taxes for the town. If the mansion were to be lost, the property would generate practically no taxes.
  7. The Longmeadow Historic District Commission (HDC) will forever protect the historic appearance of this structure. No future owner can change its appearance without approval from the HDC. If the mansion were to be struck by lightning and burn down, the design of any new building would also have to be approved by the HDC. Therefore, anything built at this location in the future would look historically appropriate.
  8. Professional offices are the only use that can generate enough stable income to restore and maintain this property long-term for our town. We have analyzed numerous other commercial uses. If we fail to be re-zoned we will not be coming back with another business idea (such as B&B, condos) because no other idea is fiscally viable given the mansion’s high restoration costs. In addition, with professional offices, much of the historic interior can be preserved and we hope to install a permanent exhibit that the public can come and enjoy that will highlight the history of the mansion and its importance to Longmeadow.
  9. There is no historical foundation or benefactor that will rescue this mansion. Members of the Historical Commission labored for years searching for such an entity, to no avail.
  10. Re-zoning this property does not mean it will suddenly be easier for other houses in town to be re-zoned. Any such properties would still have to go through the very arduous and robust process we are currently pursuing and could be blocked by multiple boards along the way and at town meeting. To suggest that re-zoning the Young Mansion would lead to the re-zoning of many other homes is to ignore the obvious uniqueness of this structure and this circumstance. There is simply no other home like it in town. Its size and prominence sets it apart from all the other buildings in the historic district. We can trust that future planning boards and town meetings will recognize this and realize that this action was necessary to save this irreplaceable structure on our green.
It’s true that our town will always have a penchant against re-zoning. The only reason why we are hopeful that our request will pass is because it is clear that this building is too large to be a single family home but too important to lose, both historically and architecturally. To be re-zoned, we need a 2/3 vote at a special town meeting (probably in early January), which is a tall order. We are definitely the underdogs. We will need everyone who cares about saving Longmeadow’s history to come out and vote.

We know that there are some opponents to our plan who would rather see the mansion demolished than be re-zoned for anything but residential. They sincerely believe it is better for Longmeadow if there are no changes at all with respect to the green. We respect their views, and we truly wish the mansion could simply be a family’s home in perpetuity, but we think it is obvious that this will not happen. Quite frankly, if the mansion is lost and an empty lot took its place, that in itself would be a significant change in the appearance of the green.

We feel it would benefit Longmeadow and the historic district to preserve this building so that it again looks grand and beautiful, while also serving the community in a useful way. The character of the green is comprised of the buildings that surround it. If we lose those buildings, we will lose that character, and it cannot be replaced.

It is important to remember that the green is not a museum like Sturbridge Village. Nor is it entirely residential. There’s already a business, school, library, church, and community house in the historic district. These institutions, even more than the houses, are what give the green its vitality because they bring people to it. The green is not static; it continues to change with time. In the past, there were several businesses in the historic district. Some even reverted back to residential homes, such as the “Old House on the Green,” which was a restaurant and B&B next to Center School at 797 Longmeadow St until the 1960s, or the house at 857 Longmeadow St, on the other side of Center School, which used to be a doctor’s office.

Please follow us on Facebook where our prior posts have addressed topics like why offices are the best use, why condos won’t work, and the parking area in more detail.

And we hope everyone will come to our open house on November 18 and see firsthand why this building is worth fighting to preserve.

Longmeadow Historic Preservation Partners
Chris Orszulak
Andrew Lam
Henry Clement

Monday, October 30, 2017

Longmeadow's Long Range Plan Anticipated Brewer-Young Project

About 17 years ago the Town of Longmeadow sponsored an intensive study of long range issues facing the town.  The report issued in 2004 highlighted and recommended the possible need at some time in the future to allow selected conversion (repurposing) of large historic homes on Longmeadow Street to professional office use.

[click to enlarge]

Here is some background information about this study...

In May 2000 a task force of 14 people- including both town residents and elected officials was formed to study long range issues facing Longmeadow.  There was $60K of funding to hire consulting companies Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. of Watertown, MA and RKG Associates, Inc. of Durham, NH.  The Pioneer Valley Planning Commission of Springfield, MA also played a key role in this study.

A public forum held at Bay Path College in February 2001 which I as well as many other town residents (120+) attended in order to provide inputs to be considered by the task force.

After almost four years and many hundreds of hours of effort a 116 page report: Longmeadow Faces the Future: The Longmeadow Long Range Plan (click link to view full report) was issued in April 2004.

One of the issues studied and detailed in the report was Housing.
Here are some details developed by the task force and the professional consultants.

Longmeadow Street Overlay Zone
"In the future, if large houses on Longmeadow Street no longer prove desirable for single family residences, and either do not sell as residences or begin to fall into disrepair, the Town may wish to consider an overlay zone with strict design guidelines to permit some homes to be converted into professional offices, bed and breakfasts, or condominiums. Creative site and design review would preserve the historic character of the area."

"The third strategy considered for this analysis was to allow certain properties on Longmeadow Street to transition from single family residential to office or mixed-use over time. There are many stately and historic homes located along this corridor, and there is strong support in the community to preserve the historic character of Longmeadow Street. There is also no evidence at this time to indicate that these homes have become too expensive to maintain as single-family residences. Property values on Longmeadow Street are high and the corridor remains a desirable residential location."

"It is not the Town’s preference to change Longmeadow Street into a commercial corridor. However, offering property owners the flexibility to locate office uses within larger homes on adequately sized lots may be necessary in the future, if the cost to own and maintain these residences continues to escalate. The consultant team proposes that the Town consider allowing some commercial uses along the corridor, in strictly controlled cases, within larger structures and on lots with sufficient area to accommodate off-street parking." 

"There was a recognition by the group that most houses on Longmeadow Street were either too small in size or lacked sufficient land to be consider for a home conversion to professional offices." 

[click image to enlarge]

It is interesting, possibly only coincidental, but the above diagram showing a potential home conversion to professional office points to 734 Longmeadow Street- the Brewer-Young mansion.  

Figure 7 (see below) from the Long Range Plan report shows a possible conversion of this property with suitable landscaping and necessary to maintain the look from Longmeadow Street.  

This design is very much in keeping with a similar design proposal being offered by the Longmeadow Historic Partners, LLC group.
 [click image to enlarge]

The plan outlined by the Longmeadow Historic Partners to preserve the 132 year historic Wolcott-Brewer-Young mansion and repurpose it to professional office use is in keeping with the recommendations as outlined in the Longmeadow Long Range plan issued in 2004.

Let's allow the property at 734 Longmeadow Street to be rezoned to Professional

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Fragility of Great Homes

This opinion column was submitted to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Alex Grant, a resident of Longmeadow and a former member of the Longmeadow Select Board.

The Brewer Young mansion was the home of rich people, and the house, its outbuildings, and grounds had the trappings of grandeur from a bygone age.  The Town of Longmeadow will decide whether it will permit that mansion to be converted from residential to professional use, which is the only viable plan to save the deteriorating structure.  This residence of more than 10,000 square feet rests in the historic district on the green, and we must decide whether to hold fast to an abstract notion of historical purity, even if it means losing the mansion altogether.

The mansion was built in 1884 and had a succession of short-lived owners until Mary Ida Young, reaping the fruits of the Absorbine Jr. fortune, took hold of the property from 1922 to 1960.  It had its heyday during the Mary Ida era, boasting a large carriage house and a racetrack for horses that extended down toward the river.  The historical record shows that the mansion was the very picture of an extinct gilded age, of teas and dances and garden parties, a world of servants and footmen and gardeners, straight out of the Great Gatsby.

 [click to enlarge]

In recent years, the owners of the mansion have either had a lack of money or lack of willingness to maintain the place.  The racetrack is long gone.  The carriage house has been sold and converted to a residence, and the great house has been ravaged by time and neglect.  The peeling paint, evident for years, is just the most outward sign of decline as the house has suffered from more fundamental failings.  One of the great columns supporting the porch roof collapsed and had to be replaced with an unsightly wooden beam.  Water has leaked through the roof, destroying plaster and causing other damage.

The property has suffered many indignities, including foreclosure by the bank and occupancy by a renter who had to be evicted.  The house is probably close to being unsalvageable.  The days of orchids growing in the greenhouse, the pond stocked with koi fish, a menagerie of horses, peacocks, swans, pheasants, deer, and sheep residing on the expansive grounds are dim memories.  As one writer put it, Mary Ida Young is probably rolling over in her grave.

Into the breach has stepped a group of investors, willing to invest a king’s ransom to restore the mansion, but to make it into professional office space.  After all these years, not a soul has come forward with the funds and desire to live in the house in the grand tradition of Ms. Young.

There are some who want to keep the mansion a residence, as improbable as that option appears to be.  They want to keep the mansion just as it was.  To them, there is a psychic benefit in knowing that some wealthy tycoon is living in the property even if they themselves never set foot in the place.  

This attempt at historical purity shows a willful blindness to the lessons of history.  The train of human events is an unending pattern of fortunes made and fortunes lost.  Rising action and falling action.  Ascension and decline.  Periods of prosperity and periods of depression.  Empires rise to great heights, and they collapse.  Nothing is guaranteed, and nothing stays the same.

Great men and women can achieve immense wealth and power, they can hold the fates of multitudes in their hands, and yet they are as mortal as the rest of us.  When they die, they cannot take their fortunes with them, and they cannot control the upkeep of their properties.  Mary Ida Young may roll over her in her grave if she could see the desecration of her home, but that is all she can do.  Mansions, like any other house, require constant affirmative acts to maintain their splendor, and it is left to the living to choose whether to take those actions.

Time is not kind to great homes.  Monticello, the architectural marvel designed by Thomas Jefferson, fell into decay soon after his death.  His heirs lacked his aptitude to consistently secure loans he could not repay.  Mount Vernon, the house and estate owned by the great George Washington, nearly fell into ruin a few decades after he died.  It was left to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, a philanthropic group, to bring the property back from the brink of complete destruction.  Even today, those two estates depend on a steady stream of paying visitors to stay afloat.

It should be no surprise that a mansion in Longmeadow with a less impressive pedigree would decay over time.  The plan to restore the mansion and to achieve its original look, albeit with some interior modifications, is a remarkable gesture toward a property whose significance may be driven less by its impact on local history than by a fascination with the lives of the rich and famous.  For historical preservationists, this is as good a deal as the Brewer Young mansion will ever get.

Alex J. Grant is a lawyer living in Longmeadow. 
His email address is

Thursday, October 26, 2017

$50,000 is real money....

This article was sent to the LongmeadowBuzz blog by Mark Gold, Member, Longmeadow Select Board for publication.
To the Citizens of Longmeadow,

Thank you, Richard Foster, for correcting an error that could have cost the taxpayers of Longmeadow $50,000.  The issue is the purchase of a snow plow.  The story is complex.

I must preface this letter by noting that over my eight years as a member of the Longmeadow Select Board I have tried very hard not to extend select board differences beyond the discussions that are held during our meetings.  Although we may oppose one another during our meeting, sometimes quite vigorously, we pride ourselves on being able to “agree to disagree” and move on to the next topic, either at that meeting or the next.  Criticizing my fellow Board members in public is not healthy for the work of the Board, nor for the town.  The intent of this note is to thank Mr. Foster and to let the people in Longmeadow know that the system again worked, although it is clear to anyone who followed this story as it unfolded that not all town officials are singing from the same hymnal of “treat the town’s money as if it were your own.”

At its meeting on October 21st, the Longmeadow Select Board was asked to authorize that Article 5 be placed on the warrant for the Special town meeting that is being held on Tuesday, November 7th.  Article 5 seeks town approval for the purchase of a truck, plow, and sand spreader to replace the vehicle that was destroyed in the tragic accident that took the life of DPW employee Warren Cowles last winter.  The town manager proposed that the town appropriate from various funds, a total of $225,000 for the purchase of a replacement vehicle.  The “leftover”, but new, 2016 model vehicle was available immediately, and would assure that the DPW entered the 2017-18 snow-plowing season with a full complement of plows.  The requested vehicle was, by several thousand pounds and over 100 horsepower, larger than any that had previously been purchased by the town.  During the discussion on accepting this warrant article, Mr. Foster opposed its adoption on procedural grounds: the specifications had not been vetted through the town’s Capital Planning Committee and there had been no review of the vehicle with the fleet management study and plan that had been adopted by the Select Board several years ago.  I opposed the placement of this article on the Warrant because I felt the vehicle was too large and $50,000 more expensive than the purchase of an equivalent replacement.  The Town Manager and DPW Director argued that the timing and availability made the purchase of this vehicle essential to assure the proper care of town roads this coming winter.

On a vote of 2-2 (Ms. Angelides and Chairman Lachiusa voting for the measure, Mr. Low being absent) with Mr. Foster and me voting against the placement of this article on the warrant, Article 5 did not receive the majority vote needed to approve its placement on the warrant.  The Select Board proceeded to consider additional warrant articles.

More than 15 minutes after the vote was taken on Article 5, Town Manager Crane asked that the Board reconsider the vote on Article 5.  He noted his concern about the need for the plow and the importance of having the purchase of the plow approved at the November 7th meeting.  The chair accepted Mr. Crane’s request, and a motion to reconsider was approved.  During the reconsideration, an additional 20 minutes of discussion took place.  It was noted that the long lead time for most DPW vehicles was such that if the appropriation were delayed until the May, 2018 town meeting, it was likely that the town would be without a replacement snow plow for both the 2017-18 AND the 2018-19 winters, but by appropriating funds now, although we would be short one plow this winter, we would have the plow in time for the 2018-19 season.  My background as former chair of the Capital Planning Committee gave me the confidence to know what a snow plow should cost, and I was willing to approve the placement of a warrant article for $175,000 on the Special Fall Town meeting warrant as a way of assuring that the Town wasn’t short a plow for the next two winters.  Among the variations considered to get this article approved for placement in the Warrant was indeed to revise the appropriation from $225,000 to $175,000, with the intent of more closely examining the vehicle specifications prior to Town Meeting. 

That proposal was quashed, when the Town Moderator, who was serendipitously present during this discussion, made it clear that a $50,000 increase in the written appropriation request would not be in order, and the Town Manager wanted to retain the ability to authorize the higher amount.  I would not support the warrant for $225,000, believing that we were purchasing a vehicle that was too large, and too expensive for the town.  My ire was particularly piqued when it was noted that because over $60,000 of the appropriation was coming from the accident insurance settlement, the actual cost to the town was not $50,000 larger than in the past.  My comment that most homeowners who receive a $6,000 settlement when losing a $25,000 vehicle didn’t go out and buy a $31,000 replacement was
essentially answered with “well I did”.   When a vote was called, the reconsideration of Article 5 passed by a vote of 3-1, with me being the only dissenting vote.

Early the next morning Mr. Foster called me and noted that his personal review following the Select Board meeting identified that the truck that was being recommended for purchase through Article 5 was indeed too large – it was not in compliance with the DPW fleet study and was probably $50,000 more money than the town needed to spend.  Mr. Foster then took it upon himself, over the next two days, to work with the DPW staff to identify the properly sized replacement vehicle. 

On Wednesday, October 18th, Mr. Foster and I requested that a special meeting of the Select Board be called to change the dollar appropriation request in Article 5 on the Special Town Meeting Warrant.  That meeting was called for 5PM on Friday, October 20th.  Between Wednesday and Friday, the DPW found an appropriately sized truck, plow, and spreader assembly that was available for immediate delivery.  The cost of the appropriately sized 2018 model vehicle was $175,000 – precisely the $50,000 reduction that had been discussed at our Monday meeting. 

On Friday, October 20th, a special meeting of the Select Board was held to revise the wording of Article 5 of the November 7th Special Town Meeting warrant. By vote of 4-0 (Ms. Angelides was unable to attend at that time), the Select Board revised the article to ask that Town Meeting approve the purchase of a truck, plow and spreader assembly that reflects the reduced purchase of the properly sized vehicle for a total cost of $175,000. 

[click to view Warrant article]

Again, I write this story because I believe it is important for Longmeadow Town residents to know that the system does indeed work.  Mr. Foster’s diligence in examining the proposal, and his willingness to turn his realization that his vote was wrong into action, is worth noting.  The initial vote was taken during a regular, televised, Select Board meeting, and based on the communications I received, was noted by many.  This corrective action was taken in a special meeting not widely communicated to residents.

$50,000 is real money, and town residents need to know that although there may be those who would short-circuit the review and approval process in the name of expediency, there are others, like me and Mr. Foster who, in fact, spend the town’s money with the same care as they spend their own.  I have chosen to communicate this story, and thank Mr. Foster publicly in this manner, because I will be on a medical leave that will prevent me from thanking him at the next Select Board meeting or at Town Meeting, and I believe that Town Residents should know that the controversy and disagreement they heard in the televised October 16th meeting have been resolved.  It is in the town’s best interest to approve the revised Article 5 as it now appears on the Special Town Meeting warrant for November 5th.

Mark Gold
Member, Longmeadow Select Board