Upham's Corner Online

Recommendations & Comments - Maxwell Flea Market Eviction

Posted: Wednesday, November 3, 2010
Nancy J Conrad

Editor's note:

The Maxwell Flea Market story begins on December 3, 2009 - not one day before.  While 65 E Cottage Street has a long, long history with the City, we have no interest in that.  We examined one issue only - how the building was handled by the City from the day it fell into their domain and how the "eviction" and post-processing occurred.

We say AGAIN:  We have the utmost respect for our governmental officials and workers.  That doesn't mean any of us is perfect - neither you, nor us, nor me, nor thee and certainly not "them" (whoever that might be)..

Upham's Corner News has nothing to "gain" in writing the Maxwell Flea Market expose except as it relates to what our newspaper stands for.  We stand for the development of a better Upham's Corner community.  

When we identify a situation related to, or impacting Upham's Corner that could have been handled more effectively, we will address it so that the entire community can move forward - no blame, no scapegoats, no harm, just community bonding and community growth.

Facilitation, reconciliation, healing - that's what this article is about.  

Well, ... it is just a little more.  We do believe that our fair city would benefit by implementing the changes we are recommending below.  
Who are we going to blame? The answer is NOBODY.  

Managing 65 E Cottage Street was a complex and challenging endeavor.  This, after all, is not the only building under DND's  care.   When a building also supports ongoing businesses, as in the case of 65 E. Cottage Street., whatever decision DND makes impacts the future of these businesses and ultimately the livelihoods of the people who work there.  According to Ms. Warsh, all along DND had been working with Mr. Cohen on how to make best use of that space.

The Fire Department is morally (professionally) obligated to take action in situations involving the fire safety of buildings and people.  Filing a complaint against DND was reasonable under the circumstances.  DND had not complied with the requirements of abatement #38415 in a timely manner.

Each city organization was doing their job in the best way they knew how yet something obviously went wrong.
Yes, the Boston Fire Department and ISD are both here to assist in the assessment of property.  
  • Time -- and therefore money -- were expanded by the City of Boston -- the taxpayers -- in handling this property.
  • The same holds for DND at an even higher level. 
  • But it gets worse when you add in the cost of the magistrate's time and Boston Housing Court.
  • As far as the owner of the flea market is concerned and the 50 or so people who worked at the flea market, should we add in a dollar amount for pain and suffering related to how they were evicted from the building?
Was all of this really necessary?   We suggest to you it was not.  There appears to be a disconnect among the city departments.  
  • DND, quite rightfully so, called upon the technical knowledge of the Boston Fire Department and ISD
  • BFD and ISD provided an accurate assessment of the condition of the building
  • Then full responsibility fell on DND to carry through and comply with the abatements and the violation notices
Well, doesn't this make sense?  After all, DND is charged with doing this.  Right??
Comparison with other Abatement Situations

Imagine a homeowner who gets an abatement from the Fire Department.  The standard protocol is to give the homeowner or responsible party 15 days to fully comply or begin work to achieve compliance.

If, in the Fire Department's opinion, the responsible party has not taken sufficient steps to at least give the impression they're working on solving the problem, then the escalation process begins.  

Ultimately, the status of noncompliance can get both parties into housing court and that is exactly what happened to DND.
If you read the narratives carefully (and remember UC News did not change one word of their narratives), you will find that both DND are the BFD are making guesses regarding the why and how of the other department's behavior.
  1. The BFD guessed that the City was taking its time to put out public bids and that they ran out of money.  Ms. Warsh said that is not true.
  2. DND is guessing that the BFD did a tour of the building in August and decided to take action accordingly, but according to the BFD narrative that isn't true   
Did we forget we have telephones? or maybe email?  
Do you take your "brother" to court?  The answer to this question is: "Yes, sometimes."

We ask you step back, rising, for example, to the height of the moon, looking down on earth.  Watch as the people,  departments and organizations run around like little ants.  
  1. So here we see the Department of Neighborhood Development sending its property managers -- several of them -- over to 65 E. Cottage St at least several times a week.  From up at the moon level we see little ants running to and from 65 E. Cottage St. and back again to their offices at DND.  

    They are talking; they're brainstorming; they're trying to figure out what to do with this place.  
    Time is passing.  It's status quo.  
    Rent is being collected.
    Problems are being handled
    Time is passing.
    DND has full confidence they will figure out what is best.
  1. In the meantime the City of Boston Fire Department has carried out its role.  

    They have issued several abatements dated February 22,  2010.  
    While their standard protocol is to give the offending party 15 days to comply, they are well aware of how long city processes take.  
    Time passes.  
    Lots of time passes.  
    It's no longer 15 days.  
    It is now almost 7 months.
Remember our location on the moon.  We have been watching the Fire Department.  They made one or maybe a couple trips to 65 E. Cottage Street but most of the time they stayed at home at Fire Department headquarters.

Finally, "Enough is enough."  

The Fire Department follows its standard protocol and begins the escalation process.  August 18, 2010 -- complaint filled out and signed by Mr. Cummings of the Fire Department.

What we don't rightly understand is the notion that the Fire Department should take their "brother or sister" to court.  

Of course, we may not know some of the circumstances behind the scenes.  Perhaps the Fire Department did contact Evelyn Friedman, Director DND and she was simply uncooperative.  

Really?? Not likely.
There is absolutely no doubt that the steps taken by the Fire Department in filing a criminal complaint against DND amounted to a wake up call.  

Again imagine your position on the moon looking down.  
  • We can see the little ants at the Fire Department holding the trump card.  
  • We can see the DND folks in a tizzy trying to figure out how to clear their name.
So what happens?  That's easy to figure out.

The complaint called for an immediate removal of what the Fire Department deemed the greatest source of a potential problem -- the flea market - due to the fire load of the booth contents.  

DND had almost no choice but to comply -- immediately.  It was easy to beg out and not give any consideration to due process for the owner of the flea market even though DND documents specifically provide her with 30 day rights.  "We had no choice."

What likely convinced DND to respond in the way they did was a fortuitous and yet terrifying event on the weekend of August 21 but days following the Fire Department complaint - the huge fire on Norfolk Ave in an abandoned building - with huge headlines as well.  We can just hear City Hall saying: "We don't need another one of these."
It's time to look at a solution.

We offer a suggestion which recognizes that neither BFD nor DND are wrong and yet what happened is wrong.  

Our recommendation lies with the organizational structure of Boston City Hall departments. The 65 E. Cottage St. building is too complex to land fully under the jurisdiction of one department.  What is needed is a higher level coordinator with authority.  

Let's return now to our position on the moon.  Let's invent a new position entitled "Building Project Director" who has the authority to get differing city departments to work more closely with each other to accomplish the task of full project management.

This person would be charged with looking at timelines regarding the ultimate disposition of city-owned buildings especially if there are safety and structural issues involved or neighborhood concerns.  This individual would be charged with scheduling periodic meetings or assessments calling together inspectional services (ISD) , the fire department, property management (DND) and any other organization needed to effectively manage the building as appropriate to the task at hand.

Let's imagine this person in an appointed position January 1, 2010.  
  • DND executes its role of building management
  • The fire department and ISD execute their roles in determining the condition of the building and what must be done to bring it up to standard
  • The police execute their role of enhanced observation
  • A business relocation specialist executes their role in assessing needs
  • ETC
As time passes (as it did in the case of 65 E. Cottage St.) the Building Project Director could determine progress against a timeline and take internal escalation steps, not involving the courts.

If, as in the case of 65 E. Cottage St., a decision were made that the flea market really had to leave, then appropriate meetings/due process notices could be provided to the owner of the flea market and all other commercial tenants of the building.

Yes, there would still be consternation at the potential loss of jobs and income but maybe, just maybe, the pain of adaptation and change could be minimized.

Before drawing to a close, we note that Fire Marshal Kodzis aluded to Boston Housing Court, "a higher authority" performing this role, the role of a coordinator.  In other words, the need for a Building Project Director has already been identified.  But because it does not exist, the City uses the next best alternative and that is the courts.  There is a better way.
As one person told us, this is water under the bridge.  Why are you talking about it?  

The answer lies in our humanity to each other.  It lies in the belief that things will get better if we try.  After all, it is only from looking at the history that we can learn how better to move forward.  

What can the City of Boston do at this stage to ameliorate the harm, to display  improvement in its operations and help the Upham's Corner community heal?  We do not know the answers to these questions.

We place these questions into the hands of the City of Boston and we wait here in Upham's Corner for your reply....

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