, Gloucester, MA

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June 30, 2009

Still standing on Eastern Point

Court of appeals backs city board, and owner's right to build bigger house

For more than seven years, Virgil Martinonis' large Eastern Point home has been one court ruling away from being razed to the last yellow brick.

Built to replace a stately Victorian that burned in a gas-fueled 2001 explosion, the new house has views of Gloucester Harbor, a red-roofed Mediterranean design and a silhouette challenged repeatedly by the Boston hotelier who owns a gated-estate across the street.

Last week, the state court of appeals ruled in Martinonis' favor, upholding a Gloucester zoning board ruling that the owner of a catastrophically destroyed house has leeway to rebuild in more modern style and slightly larger.

But even now, the future of the house on Eastern Point Boulevard adjacent to the historic Beauport mansion is uncertain.

Yesterday, the lawyer representing Donald Saunders, the Boston real estate developer who has tried to block construction of the Martinonis house, said he and his client are "contemplating" appealing the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.

The legal battle over the Martinonis' house carries implications for not only Eastern Point, but other exclusive coastal enclaves, where residents are quick to challenge plans for buildings they consider eyesores or that may block their views of the sea.

Saunders, the plaintiff, also adds intrigue to the case.

While he and several members of his family own multiple properties on Eastern Point, Saunders is rarely seen on the exclusive, private peninsula, a neighbor said yesterday, and the grand estate across the street from the Martinonis property is often vacant.

Saunders has been married to Liv Ullmann, the acclaimed Norwegian actress known for her work in films by the late Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, to whom she was considered a muse.

Saunders and Ullmann are both listed in the 2008 Eastern Point residents guide, which gives Saunders' permanent address in Boston's Back Bay.

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