In The News

Hampshire Life February 20, 2009 The Story of David Ruggles

Demolition Delay Speech
delivered at the Leverett Town Meeting April 24, 2010 as a member of the Leverett Historical Commission

"My name is Kris Thomson. My family and I live at 257 Montague Rd. in the Susan and Ely Dickinson homestead, built in 1857. I'm an 11th generation Yankee and I am here to tell you that it was my people who wrote the book on "Don't tell me what I can and can't do on my land." In fact, in 1789 Ezekiel Thomson was jailed for refusing to pay his town's newly required property tax. These are proud roots for me. In fact, it is one of the reasons that I do what I do — I am a restoration carpenter.

I believe that there was a time for 'Don't tell me what I can and can't do on my land.' But guess what? Those days are over. Massachusetts is too populated, land is too valuable, and specifically the Pioneer Valley, including Leverett, is too desirable a place to live. Unfortunately, our stubborn and wonderful ways could lead us to lose the opportunity to protect some of the very places that make Leverett so special to us.

So what's our stake in little old Leverett? It has taken Leverett's early families 200+ years to build up our complex architectural fabric, leaving us with a legacy of in-town dwellings, outlying farms, mills on the river, stonewalls, and barns. We live in them, drive, bike, walk, and ride by them every day. Our forebears brought with them framing and carpentry skills and traditions from France, Holland, Germany, and of course Britain. These were techniques borne from 100s of years of guild traditions, passed from father to son. Some techniques are literally medieval in origin. Leverett has dozens and dozens of examples of buildings built with the old techniques.

The economy will recover and the developers will ramp back up. We cannot assume that just because a local prominent dwelling is in good repair, or is beloved by neighbors, that it will be saved by new owners. I have seen wonderful buildings torn down many times, with people energized too late to save them, and without the tool of a demolition delay.

I'll tell you as a restoration carpenter and licensed general contractor that a demolition delay isn't actually that scary. I've had personal experience in Northampton working with the Historical Commission to date buildings that come up for potential demolition. First of all, it just plain doesn't happen that often. In the five years in Northampton with hundreds of demolition permits issued, to my knowledge there have only been two structures where the ordinance was actually enacted (and both ended in fantastic success stories).

A demolition delay does not stop demolition. It slows it down to create an opportunity for the town to decide if the structure is valued enough, and come up with a more creative solution than plowing it under. Or if no alternative can be reached, there is at least the chance to document the building before it is gone forever.

Nobody likes restrictions on their property. Like my great-great-great-great grandfather Ezekiel, I don't either. Hey, I live on a property that has a Conservation Restriction, is in an aquifer protection zone, and is surrounded by wetlands. You want to talk about restrictions!

Ezekiel, by the way, did get out of jail and eventually start paying his property taxes. In fact, our family continued to pay those taxes for the next 220 years or so until the sad day in 2006 when my Uncle John Thompson could no longer afford to pay them. He had no choice but to sell the farm to a developer. The land was "too valuable" for any local to buy. The buyer promised to save the house, then as soon as the papers were signed, he demolished it. He used the foundation stones to build up the road to access up back, blasted out the ledges, and proceeded to build three particleboard McMansions. I'm here to tell you: In this stubborn Yank's opinion, that is not progress.

There was no demolition delay ordinance in the town. Had there been one, you mark my words that man would have found another solution to what he saw as the problem of Ezekiel Thomson's homestead. And even if he hadn't, we would have had the opportunity for documentation, pictures, and a chance to say goodbye.