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Staff Writer

PEPPERELL — The land around it may change but a historic Shirley Street house will remain in place thanks to a recent Zoning Board of Appeals decision.

MacGregor Fiske, owner of two existing Shirley Street lots, asked the board for relief from a requirement that house lots maintain a minimum 150-foot width for a depth of 50 feet. With a waiver, his historic house at 11 Shirley Street could remain in place while the abutting 9 Shirley Street lot would conform to the zoning bylaws.

Attorney Elizabeth Aherne, representing the elderly Fiske who was not present, said that without a variance Fiske’s house could be demolished or moved. The latter would put the aging dwelling at serious risk.

The land is in the sewer overlay district but the Sewer Department has no immediate plans to extend the system there, Aherne said. The neighborhood contains several old homes, some of which are set forward and some set further back on their lots. No excess traffic will be generated, she said.

A variance would carry a proposed deed restriction that the house at 11 Shirley Street must be preserved.

In a letter to the board, Historical Society President Susan Smith wrote that the house is one of the few 18th century structures still standing in Pepperell.

It was probably built by Isaac Wood, Smith wrote, who married Tryphena Parker of Groton. She died in 1756 of the mysterious Pepperell Fever at age 20. The couple had at least two children, Smith wrote. Isaac later married Amy Willard, who also died from the fever at the age of 27. Wood then married Mary Wood, with whom he had nine children.

“During this time he was a member of the local militia and held the position of captain,” Smith wrote. “Further research many reveal that Isaac Wood and his son, Isaac, were with Colonel William Prescott at the Battle of Bunker Hill.”

“This is the home of one of this country’s earliest (if not famous) patriots. The variance requested is a minor consideration compared to the demolition or removal of this piece of Pepperell history,” Smith wrote.

Zoning board member Sherrill Rosoff, who operates a business that restores old houses, recused herself from a vote because she said she is familiar with the property.

Town counsel Ned Richardson wrote that the ANR (approval not required) plan for 9 Shirley Street meets all requirements except for the modification to save the existing house. The only alternative he could envision is moving the house, he wrote, but he endorsed the board’s legal right to grant or deny the request.

“Personally, I’m in favor of a minor adjustment to save historic homes,” town engineer Robert E. Lee stated at the end of his own letter.

The Planning Board wrote that there would have been enough room on the second lot, had not 87,000 square feet been sold to Clark’s Retirement Homes and realtor Roger Goscombe (who was also present at the hearing) has assessor records that prove Fiske has always owned two lots.

“This plan actually makes the original non-conforming lot into a conforming lot,” Goscombe said.

Abutters favored leaving the old house alone but expressed concerns about water runoff from the wet lot. Spring-fed water is diverted to a culvert under the street and into a wetland area beyond 10 Shirley Street.

Goscombe said the height of the front of the lot could be increased to direct water back onto the lot and that, if necessary, stone-lined dry wells could be built.

“Without doubt my feeling is the house doesn’t move,” said board member Christine Morrissey after the hearing was closed. The variance was granted unanimously on a motion by Annette McLean.

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