Berta Rosa Berriz hated to leave the old jewel of a neighborhood. It’s a place where neighbors take care of each other and big snowstorms mean potluck dinners at one of the nine well-kept houses that corkscrew up and away from a busy Jamaica Plain rotary toward the lush serenity of Forest Hills Cemetery.
As a Boston public school teacher, Berriz walked to work through that cemetery, cherishing its trees so much that she planted a hemlock of her own that now towers over the circa-1900 home she put on the market last year so that, in her retirement, she could join her son and his young family in South Carolina.
She gave her real estate agent just one instruction: Sell to a family that will love this neighborhood as much as I have.
The open house at 21 Yale Terrace last spring was packed. Buyers flocked in, and the house she put on the market for $539,000 fetched a $600,000 offer from a bidder so eager she wanted an answer pronto — by 5 p.m. that very day.
“I was thrilled,” Berriz said. “The person making the offer was a grandmother who grew up in JP and wanted the house for her family to be able to stay near her.” Perfect, she thought. Where do I sign?
But the woman making the offer, Dorothea E. Sullivan, may not have fallen in love with the beautiful old place after all. Within weeks, she flipped it for just $1. The newest buyer? Bicon Dental Implants, Berriz’s next-door neighbor with whom she and other residents have battled for years. Bicon had approached her before, she said, and she was firm: no sale.
“We couldn’t believe it,” Berriz said. “We were in total shock. We took so many precautions for this not to happen and it happened anyway.”
Bicon seems to be a reputable company. And, judging by its staff parking lot where Lexus seems the brand of choice, it’s doing very well — so well that company officials were too busy to talk to me about their wily efforts to buy a home it apparently intends to demolish.
“Their arrogance is just so fundamental to the way they deal with this neighborhood,” said Gail Sullivan, who has lived there since 1998 and is not related to Dorothea. That arrogance includes ignoring basic promises to enclose the company dumpster, a rusted-and-dented blue hulk that sits in an open parking lot without shielding shrubbery that neighbors said Bicon promised long ago but never delivered.
Let’s dispense with the NIMBY charge here. Before Bicon moved in a decade or so ago, the place used to be where women prisoners were transitioned back to society. An affordable senior housing complex is across the way, a development embraced by the neighbors.
“This is beyond duplicitous,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley said. “They actually took time to find a woman and concoct this elaborate story. It’s very weird.”
I tried unsuccessfully to reach the 79-year-old Dorothea Sullivan. Did she know about Bicon’s plans? Unknowable. Her real estate agent, Mike McGuire, said he believed what Berriz believed about Sullivan’s intention for the house.
In other words, that she would be baking chocolate chip cookies for neighborhood kids and putting warm blueberry pies out on the windowsill to cool off.
“I was surprised, to say the least,” McGuire said.
Bicon’s apparent intention is to tear down the house to make room for a parking garage and a hotel-style dormitory for its trainees.
The Boston Landmarks Commission has reviewed Bicon’s request to demolish the home, invoking a 90-day delay period that expires April 14.
The neighbors say the only thing that stands between Bicon’s bulldozers and a gaping hole in their tiny neighborhood is Mayor Martin J. Walsh, whom they are imploring to intercede.
It seems implausible, if not impossible, that a mayor who is making affordable housing a centerpiece of his agenda will stand idly by as Berta Berriz’s old cherished home is reduced to rubble.
Thomas Farragher is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.