Commission Says Hangar Project Unworthy of Historic Tax Credits

April 3, 2024

The Bedford Historic Preservation Commission has reversed its support for historic rehabilitation tax credits benefiting the Navy hangar at 154 Hartwell Road.

The shift followed a presentation at Tuesday’s commission meeting by a leading activist opposing the proposed massive hangar expansion at Hanscom Field that includes renovation of the Navy structure.

Neil Rasmussen of Concord, president of Save Our Heritage, said the hangar’s owner “is on track to get a $4.8 million subsidy for the project from the state.” Indeed, $1.8 million has already been authorized.

“We believe the proponent has misled the public and this commission about the historic significance and public benefit of the project,” Rasmussen said. The Navy hangar “is not historic and meets none of the criteria to warrant consideration as historic. It is clearly not eligible for credits as a historic building.”

Tuesday’s agenda included a request from the Public Archaeological Laboratory for an updated letter of support for the hangar rehabilitation to be filed for the next round of tax credits.

But the commission voted 4-0-1 to inform that agency there will be no letter of support, and that the local panel no longer favors the tax credits.

“I feel we’ve been duped at some level,” said member Jessie McAleer. 

“I don’t think we’ve been getting the full story,” said her colleague Stephanie Keep. 

“Is it architecturally significant? If it’s not, then why are we discussing it?” asked member David Goldbaum.

Veteran commission member John Linz said he was under the impression that the project consisted of a commemorative plaque, which was required to accompany demolition several years ago of a hangar once used by the renowned scientist Charles Draper.

“To determine whether a building is historic, federal historic standards are used,” said Rasmussen, who has restored historic buildings. These include: “Does the building have important architectural elements? Is the building associated with an important historic event? Is the building associated with any important historical people? Is the building accessible and viewable by the public?

“Nobody has suggested that this building has any architectural value,” said Rasmussen, answering his own questions. “Nobody has suggested that this building is associated with any important historical event. Nobody has suggested that this building is associated with any important historical people. Furthermore, the building is neither open to the public, nor is it even accessible by the public as it is behind a large fence with public access prohibited.”

To qualify for state rehabilitation tax credits, he continued, criteria include “how the building contributes to the character and fabric of the town, how it contributes to local employment, and whether it provides affordable housing and other public benefits.”

“This building is a very large plain metal box with two big doors on it. It is behind a fence in a restricted area. It is intended to serve a small number of very rich people as a garage to house their private luxury jets,” he said. “If you go to the Massachusetts inventory of old buildings, you will find it is listed as being built in 1959, having no designations, and no architectural style at all.”

If the commission opposes rehabilitation credits, Rasmussen said, “it won’t stop the project,” but it could forestall a windfall for the developer.

Meeting minutes show that on May 4, 2021, the commission approved a letter of support for state historic rehabilitation tax credits, which so far have totaled $1.8 million.

Commission Chair Alethea Yates did not advocate for the tax credits at Tuesday’s meeting, but she pointed out that the process is for rehabilitation of a building that the state Historical Commission considers historic and should not be conflated with the larger hangar project. 

Yates said she expects the proponents to seek time on the commission’s next agenda. Members said they are fine with that prospect. Yates ended up abstaining on the motion.

Rasmussen encouraged the commission to “tell the state historic preservation officer that you did not have all the necessary information when you previously approved these credits, and that you suggest to her that the project may not qualify and that proponent’s qualification under the program should be additionally scrutinized.”

For many years, the mothballed Navy hangar and surrounding property were eyed by the Massachusetts Port Authority as likely hangar space. But Massport backed out when it learned that the state would require preservation, and the Navy divested the property to a private buyer.

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