Saturday, April 20, 2024

The need for cleanup at a Yerxa Road and Rindge Avenue construction site has landed a developer in court after six years, but area residents want more from Cambridge officials. (Photo: Marc Levy)

Answers about six years of troubled construction at Yerxa Road and Rindge Avenue didn’t satisfy area residents Monday, but city councillor Craig Kelley tabled further discussion.

He vetoed discussion at the council’s meeting by exercising his “charter right,” bumping discussion until June 7, five days after the developer of the construction is next in court.

That court case and the council’s request for answers were sparked by resident complaints that the city seemed unable to rein in abuses by the developer, Bostonian Joseph Perroncello. City Manager Robert W. Healy’s explanation for some of this — “The Inspectional Services Department does not have jurisdiction to impose fines,” he said, “only the judge can impose finds for building and zoning code violations” — merely incited more questions and further pleas for help.

“Why has no one done anything about this? We have complained repeatedly and we are continually told no one has any power to stop this guy, this rogue developer,” Peter Blake said during the meeting’s public comment period. “No one can do anything, and yet somehow he keeps getting permits for certificates of occupancy. He keeps moving forward.”

Perroncello’s 64-unit, 2.2-acre renovation of a former Roman Catholic school got a certificate of occupancy despite slow-moving and ineffectual city orders that his tenants had to leave because he allowed condominium leases without legal permission.

The city filed an application Feb. 10 for a criminal complaint saying the occupied building had to be evacuated immediately “or a certificate of occupancy must be issued by this department,” but it was filed 16 days later, with no tenants moving out and more moving in. The policy order by the council dated March 8 asked that Healy “ensure that no one is living in buildings that do not have occupancy permits,” but the city manager’s response came May 24, a month after temporary certificates of occupancy were issued — technically voiding the need for action.

“We need a plan from the city about how this is going to be addressed, and a very transparent plan so we feel the city is there for us instead of for the developer, who clearly has absolutely no intention of following through on anything he ever promised to do,” said Lizzie de Rham, a neighbor to the construction. “We’re getting incomplete answers. We’re getting the inspectors to come down, but they in February told us that they were going to fine this man. Now we’re being told by the city manager only the courts can fine this guy. There was no plan, no transparency about what’s going to happen with this site, there is no hope that any of the city staff can help.”

Based on the issuing of certificates of occupancy from the city — despite the filing of criminal complaints — the court’s response has also been limited. On April 20 a Middlesex County clerk magistrate decided there was cause to send Perroncello to court for failure to respond to clean portions of the L-shaped construction site.

Healy’s run-down of the situation at the three-building project:

The Inspectional Services Department issued temporary occupancy permits for 16 units of the 19 units at 45-47 Yerxa Road. Three units at this location have not received occupancy permits, as there are still some plumbing issues. Additionally, three of the 19 units are inclusionary housing units. The temporary occupancy permits were issued for 60 days because landscaping that was required by Planning Board Special Permit has not been completed.

The building at 120 Rindge Ave. has 27 units, four of which are inclusionary housing and 124 Rindge Ave. has 16 units, two of which are inclusionary housing. These 43 units are still under construction and are not occupied. The site is secured with a fence.

This dispassionate answer didn’t satisfy the residents complaining about the construction.

“Why have we elected you people? You people need to do something here to help the citizens,” Blake said. “We elected you. You are here to take my interests to heart and take on this developer”

“Help us get more help from Healy and the inspectors,” de Rham pleaded.

Another area resident, Charles Teague, said that if the inspectors can’t issue fines, the council should change it so they can — as Public Works can issue fines for trash infractions and the Traffic Department can for parking issues.

“The Building Department should be able to issue fines. A daily fine would expedite everything,” Teague said to the councillors. “You should give them the authority to do their job.”