Berkeley St. homeowners met last night to plan a strategy against a Cambridge developer who intends to tear down three century-old buildings in their neighborhood and replace them with high-rise apartments.
Louis F. DiGiovanni, Cambridge lawyer and developer, received building permits April 5 authorizing the construction of apartments at 22-28 Garden St., Concord Ave. and Parker St., and Concord Ave. and Healy St. These locations border on Berkeley St. and the planned construction will require demolition of two houses dating from 1836 and 1842. DiGiovanni now owns the houses and leases them as apartments.
"All the houses that will be torn down are in good shape at present and they may be of historical interest," said John Brode '52, organizer of the "Emergency Neighborhood Meeting."
But, Brode told the eighteen residents present, they face an uphill struggle to "preserve the neighborhood." "Since DiGiovanni owns the property and the plans for the buildings fulfill zoning regulations, it will be tough to stop the construction," Brode said.
At the meeting Berkeley St. residents particularly objected to the construction of condominiums, but DiGiovanni said last night that the apartments will be rented out. "These are not condominiums," he said.
High rise buildings now in the Berkeley St. area include the Sheraton Commander Hotel, the Hotel Continental, and the apartment house complex at 1 Waterhouse St. But "these are spaced far enough apart and with small buildings in between," said Charles Rockwell, a Berkeley St. resident who donated his living room for the meeting.
"With these apartments there will be a wall of high rise buildings from beyond the Hotel Continental all the way down Concord Ave.," Rockwell said. "And this will bring a closed-in feeling to Arsenal Square, which we now like to think of as an open square, uncrowded by large buildings," he added.
"The high rise, high-priced apartments will drive out the students who now rent in the neighborhood. This is a collegiate town and we would like to keep our section part of the Harvard-environment," Rockwell said.
DiGiovanni said last night that the planned buildings will be no higher than structures currently in the neighborhood. "My duty as an owner is to keep my property in the best condition possible and to give it to the market," he said.
The new construction will improve the safety of neighborhood residents by eliminating the "archaic construction" of the buildings to be torn down, DiGiovanni said.
"Other people want to live in the neighborhood and because they have more money than students they shouldn't be kept out. I have no moral or legal obligation to provide student low cost housing," DiGiovanni said.
If one of the houses has historical value, DiGiovanni said, "I will give it to anyone who wants it. But I can't afford to have it moved."