BROOKSIDE—A long-vacant lot at 131-135 Brookside Ave. will now be developed by Maple Hurst Builders, probably into a commercial project, after the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development backed out.
The lot, diagonally across Amory Street from the Green Street T Station, is known as Parcel 53a. An MBTA parcel left over from the construction of the Orange Line, it has a controversial history of being advertised for sale to the highest bidder without community process.
JPNDC and New Atlantic won the most recent round of bidding on the lot and proposed a mixed-use project with some affordable condo units following a series of community meetings. But construction never began.
JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal acknowledged to the Gazette that his team quietly backed out of the deal almost a year ago.
“We would have loved to go forward on that,” Thal said. But, he said, it was a struggle to get the MBTA to pay for environmental testing of the site. And when preliminary results showed some contaminated soil, he said, the MBTA refused to pay for more testing.
“They weren’t willing to do additional testing,” Thal said. “Our team couldn’t be in the position to put down a non-refundable deposit for a still unknown situation.”
“They asked for a material change in the bid, which is against the law,” said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. “That all would’ve been the responsibility of the developer,” he said of additional environmental testing.
JPNDC officials told the Gazette a year ago that pollution study funding had delayed the project, but that those issues were resolved and they were seeking potential commercial tenants. JPNDC has been involved in several other major projects recently, including the Blessed Sacrament Church project with New Atlantic, but Thal said the decision was based on the pollution study, not other priorities.
When JPNDC and New Atlantic backed out, the site went to the second-highest bidder, which is Jamaica Plain-based Maple Hurst. The sale went through in June, according to Pesaturo.
Maple Hurst is building the condominium project at 131 Green St., on the other side of the T station, which was developed by Cathartes Private Investments. Maple Hurst has developed other projects around the neighborhood, including the new Willowbank condos at Jamaica Pond.
Maple Hurst head Chris DeSisto said there is no pollution issue to stop him. “There’s not an environmental problem at all,” he said. “We’ve looked at it, and it’s not a problem.”
Asked about his plans for the site, DeSisto said, “I don’t know right now. Likely it will be an office/retail-type project, a commercial project … It could be a good spot for a whole host of things.”
He said he’s leaning away from a housing component because that would require zoning variances, and he’d prefer to build as of right, meaning variances are not needed. Some Maple Hurst projects, including 131 Green St., have gone through bruising series of controversial public meetings because they required zoning review.
DeSisto said no work has begun on the site, and does not expect to have a plan in place until winter or spring.
Bidders for the lot were required not only to offer the highest money, but to meet community goals and a legal agreement that governs the sale of old MBTA lots. Those principles essentially call for a mixed-use project with ground-floor retail and some affordable housing. Some nearby Green Street condo owners strongly opposed the size and affordable components of the JPNDC/New Atlantic project.