Concerns voiced about process, residential use
BROOKSIDE—Maple Hurst Builders presented a third parking plan at the third community meeting it hosted Feb. 26 to go over designs for a proposed mixed-use commercial/condominium development on Green Street between Amory Street and Brookside Avenue.
The plans themselves have generally been favorably received by neighbors at all three of the meetings, but some community members have expressed concern about the project in the latest go-round.
Francesca Fordiani of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) said she thinks Maple Hurst is trying to move through its Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)-mandated community review process too quickly. She wants a community review of the development’s proposed affordable housing component, she said.
Victor Dibona, controller, or financial manager, for Carlysle Engineering, located across Brookside from the proposed development, said he is opposed to any residential development in the area. The parcel is zoned for commercial and industrial use, and Maple Hurst will need variances to realize its plan for 154-160 Green St.
At previous meetings, neighbors’ concerns have mostly focused on traffic and parking issues.
The developer’s original plan, unveiled in September, called for only 12 residential units and 12 outdoor parking spaces in the rear of the building. That plan raised concerns among neighbors about congestion because it had cars entering and exiting the parking lot onto Brookside Avenue.
In January, Maple Hurst came back with a second plan that had cars parking underneath the building at ground level. That plan made room for an extra parking space and another residential unit was added to the building. It also featured a one-way driveway where cars would enter via Brookside and exit onto Amory Street.
According to Greg Spalding of Spalding Tougias Architects, that plan raised concerns about congestion on Amory Street, a popular commuter corridor.
“People actually thought it would be a worse disruption pulling onto Amory,” he said.
So in its third pass, Maple Hurst came out with plans for a 13-space underground parking garage that empties onto Brookside.
This plan leaves room for a 500-square-foot open-air café on the corner of Green and Amory streets for patrons of what Hunter said will likely be a coffee shop or eatery in the building’s corner storefront.
The plan will also create room for indoor storage units for the residential units and for a bike shed and enclosed Dumpster behind the building.
While the new features of Maple Hurst’s design did not raise any concerns among the apporimately 20 community members at the meeting, some concerns were raised about plans originally unveiled at the January meeting to install on-street parking spaces in front of the building.
At that meeting, in response to concerns raised in September, Maple Hurst proposed to move its building back about five feet and re-route the sidewalk in order to make space for on-street parking spaces in front of the building on Green Street.
Noting that the intersection of Green and Amory streets is often congested as it is, local resident Ann Sinclair said she is concerned cars pulling in and out of those spaces will create a “logjam.”
“If I separate myself from the experience of moving around in a car, I really like this,” she said.
Chris DeSisto of Maple Hurst acknowledged the plan would create some additional congestion. “I certainly won’t suggest there won’t be any parking issues,” he said.
Maple Hurst is focusing on attracting pedestrian-oriented businesses, he said and the 15- to 30-minute limit parking spaces will help to “avoid people parking in residential areas.”
The parking spaces will be mixed-use, Hunter said. They will likely be reserved for deliveries in the morning, serve as short-term customer parking during the day and be available to the community in the evening, she said.
The details of how the spots will work still have to be ironed out with the Boston Transportation Department, Hunter said.
Representatives from Maple Hurst outlined a quick timeline for the remaining steps of the community process about the development.
The project is undergoing small project design review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA). Hunter said that meeting will take place on Thurs., March 13 at 6 p.m.
Next it will go before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Zoning Committee on, March 13 at 7 p.m. [See JP Agenda, p. 15.]
The other hurdles the proposal must clear—approval by the BRA board and the city zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA)—are scheduled for early April, Hunter said.
Fordiani, who heads the JPNC Housing and Development Committee, told the Gazette she has some concerns about the tight timeline for the process.
She said she would like the Housing and Development Committee, which deals with affordable housing issues, to have a chance to review the project.
Guidelines adopted by the JPNC last year recommend that 50 percent of residential units built on publicly owned land be designated as affordable. The city’s inclusionary zoning rules would require the Maple Hurst development to designate at least 15 percent of its units as affordable.
The JPNC and the city also have different definitions of affordability. The JPNC recommends that the average of all the affordable units in a new development be made available to buyers earning 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Inclusionary zoning targets buyers earning at least 80 percent of AMI.
Hunter said Maple Hurst currently plans to make two of its 13 units affordable, but the developer is in ongoing negotiations with the BRA, she said.
Fordiani also said she is concerned about the length of the required public comment period about the project. At the meeting, Hunter said the BRA is accepting public comments on the project through April 1, but Fordiani noted that, as of Feb. 29, the BRA had not posted notice on its web site that it is accepting comments on the project.
At the meeting, Dibona had a number of complaints about both the plan and what he said he thought was an unfair bidding process for the lot.
He said Maple Hurst had deviated from its original proposal by putting forward a mixed-use plan instead of a strictly commercial development.
Carlysle would have bid on the property “if we had known we could change the criteria,” he said in a Gazette interview.
But he also expressed concerns about the changing face of the Brookside neighborhood. “We have to provide jobs, not more high-rent housing in the area. It’s a major job issue,” Dibona said. “The more residential comes in, the more it forces out commercial [interests].”
The lot, a surplus parcel formerly owned by the MBTA, was going to be developed as a much larger mixed-use development by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development, but that plan fell through in 2005.
Prior to JPNDC and New Atlantic’s successful bid, the JPNDC held a number of community meetings in which the community expressed support for a mixed-use development on the site.
As the second-highest bidder on the property, Maple Hurst won development rights after the original developers backed out.
Dibona said he was not familiar with the earlier process or situation surrounding Maple Hurst’s acquisition of the site.
He said, in part, Carlysle is concerned about its own future in the neighborhood. “If residential closes in on us we will be an island. It’s tougher to live in a residential/industrial zone. The facts speak for themselves,” he said.
As the Gazette previously reported, neighbors expressed concerns about the driveway to Maple Hurst’s condominium parking lot sharing Brookside Avenue with Carlysle at the September meeting when the developer first unveiled its plans. The area is zoned for light-industrial use, and Carlysle Engineering often maneuvers forklifts and flatbed trucks in the street.
At previous meetings, residents have also expressed support for the broad strokes of Maple Hurst’s plan.
Susan Harter, president of the Brookside Neighborhood Association, said in January that she is especially pleased with the inclusion of retail space in the plan. “I think it will reduce crime and increase the vibrancy of the corner. I can’t understand why Green Street is not like Centre Street. I think it could be, and this will help with that,” she said.
Carlysle successfully halted another residential development in the neighborhood recently. Watertown-based Fox Development proposed late last year to build a 30-unit residential complex nearby on property owned by Obin Electric Company.
In response to a January e-mail from the Gazette requesting information about that project, Robert Fox of Fox Development wrote, “We were advised by Carlysle Engineering, an abutter, that [it is] opposed to any residential development in the area …We have decided to develop a retail office project on the site, which is allowed under the existing zoning. We believe there is a gap in the area for retail services and the access of the Green Street T station will make it an attractive location for various office uses.”