Church zoning gets approved

January 5, 2007
By

JOHN RUCH


Courtesy Photo
Ethos volunteer coordinator Olga Yulikova is surrounded by 700 cookies baked by local youths from the Eliot Community Human Services STARR program in Jamaica Plain that were delivered the week before Christmas to Ethos meals-on-wheels clients. Ethos is a non-profit agency in JP that provides home care and other supportive services to seniors such as cooking, grocery shopping, meals-on-wheels and protective services.

Abutters might sue

HYDE SQ.—The redevelopment of the former Blessed Sacrament Church complex could begin as soon as this summer after the city Zoning Commission unanimously approved a controversial rezoning of the site last month.

“I think it’s a beautiful proposal,” said commission vice chair Bob Fondren at the Dec. 14 City Hall meeting.

But some abutters may fight the decision in court.

“Definitely, we expect to see an appeal,” said Joel Parry, vice president of the local Sunnyside Neighborhood Association (SNA), after the meeting.

An appeal would be filed in Suffolk County Superior Court, according to Zoning Commission spokesperson Jessica Shumaker. Parry said the state Land Court may hold jurisdiction as well. There is a 30-day deadline for appealing either way. Parry said on Wednesday that the appeal has not yet been filed.

Asked if abutters would sue the developers if the appeal failed, Parry said, “That would be my best guess.”

Parry and unnamed other residents recently hired attorneys to fight for their claim that the planned redevelopment is too dense. The move is reportedly separate from the SNA’s efforts.

The church site at Centre and Creighton streets was zoned for single-family houses. The redevelopment plans, which include condos, retail space and other uses, would have required scores of variances.

The developers—the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation and New Atlantic Development—asked for a zoning change to reduce the number of variances. Known as a zoning map amendment, the change will turn the front of the site into a Neighborhood Shopping zone and the rest into a Multi-Family Residential zone. Both are essentially high-density zones.


A quorum of seven commissioners approved the map amendment in a special business meeting. That did not include commissioner Nelson Arroyo, who is also chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council. Arroyo is a staunch supporter of the redevelopment and a strong critic of the SNA. He previously said he would tell his fellow commissioners that many SNA members are secretly bigoted against people who live in affordable housing, a major component of the redevelopment. He has recused himself from the council’s and the commission’s Blessed Sacrament decisions.

Referring to a previous hearing about the project, Fondren said, “I left here thinking that this is probably the last site in the city that should be zoned single-family. If anything’s wrong, that’s wrong.”

“The city needs this desperately,” another commissioner said of the project, noting its high amount of affordable housing.

The decision essentially means that the overall redevelopment has been approved. Now the developers need to get all the separate building projects in the complex approved, with continuing review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Boston Landmarks Commission and a city-appointed community advisory committee that has been controversial for its unpublicized meetings.

New Atlantic president Peter Roth said the first project likely to be approved and built is a new condo building on Creighton Street. The Hyde Square Task Force’s expansion of youth programming into the former Chevrus School will likely happen much sooner.

However, legal action by abutters could throw any timelines out the window.

“We feel we presented our concerns [to the Zoning Commission],” said Parry. “They were not seen as important in light of the need for affordable housing.”

Parry added that he agrees with that need, and said the SNA surely would approve of the redevelopment “if it was just less dense.”

The developers have said that reducing the number of housing units—planned at 118—would be financially unviable.