Plan to seize Lynn's Hawthorne ok'd

March 16, 2011
By Chris Stevens/The Daily Item

The Economic Development and Industrial Corporation Board of Directors voted Tuesday to accept a plan that marks the first step in EDIC taking Anthony's Hawthorne Restaurant by eminent domain.

EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell called the property located at 380 Washington St. a key site to the downtown business district. In his pitch to the board he noted that the Athanas family, which still owns and has consistently paid taxes on the land, shut the doors to the restaurant in 2003 and has done nothing to develop the site since.

EDIC Executive Director James Cowdell addresses the board at Lynn City Hall Tuesday. (Item Photo / Reba M. Saldanha)

Attorney Theodore Tedeschi, who has represented the family for nearly two decades, took exception with Cowdell's characterization of the Athanases as oblivious to the city's overtures to do something with the property.

"This suggestion that we do not return phone calls is absolute nonsense and I'm distressed that it is being repeated," he said.

Tedeschi called it telling that Cowdell noted the last time the Athanas family presented a plan to develop the property was in 2008.

"I think everyone knows what happened in 2008 with the economy," he said.
The pair also sparred over Cowdell's comparison of Anthony's to the long-closed General Glover restaurant, another Athanas family property, located in Vinnin Square, Swampscott. Cowdell said the Athanases had also essentially abandoned that property, a notion Tedeschi called irrelevant and untrue. He said over the years the family has tried to develop the property into a grocery store, an assisted living establishment and residential condos to no avail.

The real issue in dealing with the Anthony's property, Tedeschi said, turning the debate back to point, is addressing the contaminated parking lot attached to the restaurant. Wig Zamore, an advisor to the family, said the parking lot, which is located across the street and down a slight incline from the former Whyte's Laundry, a one-time dry cleaners. The site has been tested several times and is, in fact, contaminated with, among other things, extremely high levels of vinyl chloride, which is dangerous if disturbed.

Charles Gaeta, chairman of the Board of Directors, asked Tedeschi and Zamore if the Athanas family would allow the EDIC to test the property as well, at its expense.

Zamore replied, "It would silly for us not to cooperate."

Board member Magnolia Contreras asked if the family has a short-term vision for the property and Zamore admitted it did not. However, he said he would be willing to talk to the family about possibly tearing down the old restaurant and doing some minimal landscaping.

Gaeta was wary of voting for a definitive plan but the board's attorney Paul Keating pointed out that accepting the plan was simple a first step in a long process.

Keating said there would be public hearings where all stakeholders such as the Athanas family, abutters to the property as well as other business owners and even residents would be invited to speak out on the project.

Cowdell said he hoped that if the board voted to accept the plan it might push the Athanas family to act on the property.

"To me eminent domain isn't the first step, it's the last," Cowdell said. "I would love for them to say they were going to sell the property."

With Lisa Panakio-Rowe recusing herself from the hearing because she is an abutter to the property and Dominic Ferrari absent, the board voted 5-0 to accept the plan and to enter into an agreement with the Athanas family to being testing the parking lot area.

Cowdell said he was pleased with the hearing.

"It's moving forward," he said. "I think the message is doing nothing is not an option."

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