Woburn's Todd Home

New Legislation currently being considered by the Woburn Planning Board and Woburn City Council could provide additional options for owners of historic properties in Woburn. 

Woburn's roots reach back to the era before the United States even existed.

Like many municipalities across Massachusetts, the city's streets are peppered with reminders of that rich history.

For example, residents in Woburn's West Side can still walk along the remnants of the same wooded trails that Colonial-era militiamen used in response to British troops slow 1775 march to Lexington and Concord, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired.

In East Woburn, just off of Montvale Avenue, visitors can find a stone marker denoting the location of the Goodyear Green, where legend says inventor Charles Goodyear in 1839 accidentally discovered the process for vulcanizing rubber by tossing materials into a fire. Woburn's downtown is also home to a myriad of historic structures, including the First Congregational Church, which dates back to 1642 and features a 196-foot tall steeple that is believed to be tallest wooden church top in all of North America.

As any commuter knows first-hand, Woburn is no opponent to progress and new development. But as a number of large-scale projects break ground, city officials have begun contemplating how to preserve its oldest buildings from the wrecking ball.

This past summer, Ward 6 Alderman Edward Tedesco, whose district includes a number of industrial properties in North Woburn, introduced legislation aimed at saving the Tidd Home, a 9,900 square foot building that dates back to 1809.

Until earlier this year, the Federal era estate, situated on Elm Street by Woburn's Linscott-Rumford Elementary School, was managed by a non-profit entity as a senior living complex. The original charity was first established back in 1887, when a group of prominent Woburn women pooled their resources to establish a group home for 15 elderly female patrons.

According to historical accounts, the first such house was situated on Pleasant Street by Woburn Center, but in 1889, William and Harriet Tidd donated the sprawling Federal Era estate on Elm Street to the organization, which was then known as the Home for Aged Women.

The charity was renamed the Tidd Home in light of the local family's donation.

Situated on just .74-acres of land in a two-family zoning district, there was scant interest in the property after the non-profit shuttered the 20-plus room mansion as a senior living complex last year. Appearing doomed to fall into disrepair, the estate was fortunately purchased by Woburn native John Flaherty, a wealthy philanthropist who has donated millions to his hometown. Soon after, Tedesco emerged with legislation aimed at allowing the conversion of the building — and others like it in North Woburn — into an apartment complex.

"It's to protect historic homes like [this building]," said Tedesco this September, when explaining the rationale behind his zoning amendment.

Specifically, the legislation, modeled after a similar initiative adopted by the City of Lowell, could be utilized by any owner of a structure containing more than 4,000 square feet that is at least 100-years-old.

Under the process, landlords would have to approach Woburn's Historical Commission and ask that their property be declared as historically significant. Applicants could then apply for a special permit from the City Council, which could grant a special permit so long as the applicant is able to meet certain criteria, including:

• The exterior design of the building is not substantially altered;

• The applicant is able to provide at least one parking space for every bedroom situated within the apartment building;

• That any new additions do not increase building's footprint by more than 10 percent of its original floor area;

• That no new setback or dimensional non-conformities are created.

So far, Woburn's Planning Board, serving in an advisory role to the City Council, has been slow to make a recommendation on whether the zoning change should be adopted. At issue is the belief that the proposal should be reworked to apply to historic buildings across the city.

"There's clearly merit to entertaining this for not only the Tidd Home, but many other properties that might be similarly situated," said Planning Director Tina Cassidy during a meeting in September.

Last month, Tedesco revealed he will introduce several changes to the legislation to make it applicable to historic buildings citywide, including firehouses and old church rectories.

The owner of ADA Solutions, a firm that manufactures ADA-complaint warning panels for visually-impaired pedestrians, Flaherty has invested a small-fortune back into his hometown for a variety of educational and historical initiatives.

Besides purchasing and renovating the Burdett Mansion off of Mishawum Road, the historic building that is home to Woburn's Historical Society, Flaherty and his wife, Kathryn also footed the entire bill for the construction of the Woburn Common's War Memorial.

The family also donated the funding needed to construct the John F. Brennan tennis courts at Woburn Memorial High School and later paid for the construction of the press box and handicapped ramp at Connolly Stadium

Ironically, another project initiated by Flaherty resulted in the city's last major initiative aimed at encouraging the preservation of historic properties.

In 2015, after Flaherty purchased the former St. Joseph's Church building in East Woburn, city officials enacted legislation regarding the conversion of houses of worship into apartments.

As with the current Tidd Home proposal, the original St. Joseph's Church rezoning plan dealt exclusively with the subject property on Washington Street. However, at the Planning Board's urging, the scope of the initiative was carefully expanded to apply to all old religious houses across Woburn.

Prior to enacting that adaptive reuse legislation in 2015, the city had just one major tool to convince developers to preserve historical buildings. Known as a demolition delay ordinance, those regulations enabled Woburn's Historical Commission to declare a structure as historically significant and postpone the razing of that building for up to one year.

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