There are houses that turn into sinkholes and then there are Wellesley houses that turn into sinkholes
A couple from Wellesley Hills are suing their now former architect over what they say are more than $ 15.5 million in overruns and years of delays in extensions and upgrades to their current home, a mess that has them left furious and their Tony Street with a rather unseemly large hole with concrete supports and poorly placed load-bearing walls.
The lawsuit in US District Court in Boston pits John and Amy Berylson – he’s a financier who also owns a second-tier English football team – against a man they once considered a friend: New York architect David Piscuskas and his firm, 1100 Architect.
In 2016, the Berylsons say they signed a contract with Piscuskas to design and oversee what they claim he told them would be a three-year project costing between $ 10.6 million and $ 12.5 million. dollars to update their existing Highgate Road home and add a large, modern-style addition including a ‘dining pavilion’, many more bedrooms and underground parking, servants quarters and a custom dome.
Instead, they say, by the time they stopped paying Piscauskas last year, the project was far from over, but the cost had climbed to $ 28 million, in part because of their need. to find a new architect and general contractor. City records show that in March of this year, when the Berylsons filed a lawsuit, the work was still unfinished.
Piscuskas has not filed a detailed defense in court, but says the Berylsons have simply stopped payment for a still-ongoing project and that he wants the $ 1.3 million he says he owes for the job. that he and his company have already done.
After the couple stopped paying their monthly bills, the architect filed for arbitration, a quasi-judicial process in which an investigator would listen to both parties and then render a decision.
The Berylsons won a round when a U.S. district court judge agreed to stay the arbitration and ask the two sides to sit down for mediation. But it also failed, and the two sides instead recently agreed on a trial trail that they would complete discovery and other pre-trial proceedings in mid-2023, with the actual trial date to then be set by an official. judge.
In a ruling yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Stearns found this pace far too slow:
While the court understands the parties’ desire to avoid costly litigation, a scheduling order that spans years does not help resolve disputes.
Instead, he entered a timeline that requires both parties to complete all their pre-trial work by October 2022, assuming they haven’t reached a settlement before that date.
In their complaint, the Berylsons said they hired Piscuskas and his architect 1100 in part because of his expertise in the kind of high-quality project that is expected at Wellesley, in part because John Berylson and Piscuskas had a good relationship. deeper than a simple business:
John Berylson and Piscuskas were members of the Brown Football Association, they have played golf in the same tournaments and are both board members of the Brown Football Association. Piscuskas had also worked on the Berylsons’ daughter project in Wellesley.
Piscuskas also benefited from his relationship with John Berylson. Mr Berylson recommended and ensured that Piscuskas and 1100 were selected to design the Brown University Football Center.
And so Piscuskas began to design an extension so large that the Berylsons had bought a neighboring house to demolish it to make room for their new large rectory, which would increase the number of rooms from 12 to 37, all resulting in a house. with 12,047 square feet of living space.
But the project encountered major problems almost from the start, the couple say. The demanding Berylson wanted only the best local general contractor to oversee the work, but there are very few contractors in Massachusetts who live up to the demands of a high-caliber Wellesley project, and it turns out that the The contractor they hired on Piscuska’s recommendation when most of the others didn’t even offer any bids was not to be one of them.
The couple say they should have listened to their instincts and extended their search for a general contractor to the rest of New England after learning about the best local plasterer, “whose skills were essential to complete the complex plaster jobs at inside the dome structure designed for the Project, ”said he was so wary of the selected general contractor that he would not work with him.
The Berylsons somehow persuaded the plasterer to come in to work, but it didn’t help much when the contractor made some fundamental measurement errors after he started pouring a foundation and installing structural supports and walls for the rest of the addition.
And still the costs went up.
At one point, after the general contractor said in a meeting that the project would cost at least 35% more, according to the lawsuit, Berylson turned to a staff member at Piscuskas and “made it clear “that” if any of its business managers presented unforeseen costs – overruns of more than 35%, they would be terminated. The Berylsons, according to the complaint, left the meeting “in disgust.”
Then there was the whole problem of the historic house: when work began in 2016, the neighboring house they bought to demolish it should have been demolished quickly, but was not, and in the Meanwhile, the town of Wellesley meeting passed an ordinance requiring the review of the proposed demolition of any house built before 1949, which the town determined to cover the abandoned house.
Work on the entire project came to a halt, resulting in months of delay as the couple waited for the City’s Historical Commission to determine whether the house was historic enough to be preserved (it ultimately decided not, overturning a recommendation of its staff), even after the project passed a Wellesley “big house exam”.
The neighbors were not amused; one wrote to the Historical Commission:
Mr. and Mrs. Berylson have owned this land for approximately two years. Delaying the demolition of this structure at this point seems foolish. Like Mr. Zehner [the town planning director] is fully aware that there has been a lot of commotion on Highgate for over two years now. Delaying this project will only add to the angst in the streets and continue these reconstruction processes for much longer.
It was in 2017. The hole stayed a while, the costume continues, and:
Now their existing house sat next to a fenced hole in the ground, which their neighbors had said was a sore eye. Half of the interior of their existing house was walled up for construction, they lived in the other half and their daily life was totally disrupted.
The couple’s contract with the architect was due to expire 39 months after it was signed, with a clause stating that after that date Piscuskas could bill them by the hour for his work and that of his company, in an effort to cover losses. that he would otherwise have to endure. The Berylsons allege that Piscuskas has gotten to the point of deliberately trying to slow things down and hide impending overruns to get to this point, so that he can effectively start charging them more. They said they learned about it in part through conversations with the general contractor, with whom they were also disgusted, before firing that company.
The couple are now seeking to recoup their additional costs as well as treble damages.