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Residents Fight Linnaean Condos

Petitioners Say Proposed Development Threatens Historic Site

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A meeting today of the city's Planning Board will decide the fate of a historical Linnaean Street property, and, some neighbors said, the future of a community.

Stephen Cohen, a developer with the Cambridge-based CEA Group, purchased the property at 33 Linnaean St. in April. Residents said he plans to build a four-story, multiple-unit condominium complex on the site, which currently houses an 1871 house and a private garden.

Members of the neighborhood said the proposed development threatens the rustic character of their "village," which forms the northern boundary of Radcliffe Quad.

Cohen could not be reached for comment last night.

Residents said the trend in their neighborhood has in fact been away from development. In 1978, for example, several of the properties on Linnaean Street underwent a "downzoning"--a change from commercial to more residential zoning.

"There are more little kids up and down the street, more old people, more gardens; it is more neighborly...than 10 to 15 years ago," said Mary P. Rowe, a resident of 39 Linnaean St.

"It's gotten, interestingly enough, more like a village," said Emery Professor of Organic Chemistry Elias J. Corey, who lives behind 33 Linnaean St. on Avon Hill.

Since 33 Linnaean St. was not downzoned like neighboring properties, it may be developed.

But neighborhood residents have started a petition drive to downzone the residence. They have already collected over 280 signatures towards the effort, according to organizer Dexter A. Eames.

The Planning Board will decide at its meeting tonight whether to recommend that the City Council downzone the property to single-family or two-family residential, or to leave the zoning as it is and allow condominium development.

Neighborhood residents--including several members of Harvard's faculty--said the 33 Linnaean St. property holds special value for the community because of its historic garden.

The garden contains a giant red-leafed Japanese maple imported only a few years after the opening of Japan in 1861, when the first such trees were brought to North America.

Peter Del Tredici, assistant director for living collections at the Arnold Arboretum, wrote in a letter that the tree is the largest of its kind he has ever seen, and is "of considerable historical interest."

In his letter, Del Tredici called the tree a "truly magnificent specimen" and wrote that the chances of it surviving transplantation were slim.

Neighbors further oppose development because they fear increased traffic--including what they call a "blind entrance" into a proposed underground garage--would endanger the many children and senior citizens who live on the street.

Lastly, residents are lamenting the loss of open space: In a community that prizes its rustic feel, the destruction of even an ordinary garden would be mourned.

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