Local hospital starts meeting zoning rules

May 29, 2009
By

JOHN RUCH

JP CENTER—Arbour Hospital has started living up to its 30-year-old promises to the surrounding residen-tial neighborhood, shedding some illegal parking spaces and undergoing city review of its landscaping, ac-cording to the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD).

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is being brought in to conduct design review on several land-scaping features the hospital will have to create, according to ISD.

Arbour Chief Executive Officer Joe Murphy did not return a Gazette phone call for this article.

Arbour, a private mental health facility at 49 Robinwood Ave., was allowed to exist on the site under a zoning decision that included several “provisos,” or requirements the hospital had to meet. But the hospital never lived up to several of those provisos. Neighbors for decades have sought solutions to proviso-related problems, including rampant illegal parking.

As the Gazette previously reported, a three-year process of negotiations between Arbour and the Robin-wood-Parley Neighborhood Association (RPNA) ended abruptly this year. ISD pledged to enforce the original zoning decision and its provisos.

The enforcement process is now under way, according to ISD spokesperson Lisa Timberlake and a recent let-ter to Murphy from ISD Assistant Commissioner Darryl Smith obtained by the Gazette.

Years of debate over how much parking Arbour can have appears to be over.

“ISD informed the hospital that any parking beyond the allowed 66 spaces needed to be ceased immedi-ately,” Timberlake said in an e-mail to the Gazette.

Timberlake said that included illegal fire lane parking that the hospital reported as halted as of last week. An ISD inspector will check on that, she said. Like anyone else, Arbour is always free to apply for increased parking, but that would require the normal licensing and review process, which would take the zon-ing decision into account.

The BRA design review will cover several significant items the hospital never fulfilled. They include building a sidewalk on Robinwood and some property-line fencing; tree-planting in an area that the hospital instead used for parking; and a maintenance plan for “conservation land”—a wooded park area—on Parley Vale.

ISD, BRA and Arbour officials will meet and walk through the property, probably early next month, accord-ing to Timberlake. She said ISD intends to make sure that a RPNA member is involved in the design review process.

RPNA member Ellen Goodman expressed concern to the Gazette the BRA’s design review could be opening up the provisos to some form of negotiation or change, as “review” does not sound like enforcement.

But, Timberlake told the Gazette, the BRA review is only about how to make the changes, not whether to make them.

“The intent of the BRA design review is to ensure that the provisos placed on the property in 1979 live up to today’s [design] standards,” Timberlake said. “The BRA design review process is not intended to allow additional growth.”

“Any intent to expand the hospital’s operations in any way will require new permit applications and re-view,” she said, adding that parking spaces specifically will not be under discussion in the BRA design re-view.

It appears one item remains controversial: the zoning decision’s limits on Arbour’s outpatient visits to 30 per day and inpatient beds to 118. Residents have speculated that Arbour is violating both, based on the amount of traffic and the existence of the so-called Parker/Thomas House, a residential day program. Arbour has said its visits are well below 30 per day, while making fuzzy statements about the nature of the Parker/Thomas House.

In the recent, failed negotiations, Arbour reportedly sought to increase both its parking spaces and its outpatient visits limit. As the parking limit is now being strictly enforced, at least part of that issue appears to be moot. Traffic volume, however, could still be a concern.

But the Parker/Thomas House remains controversial. Residents have long questioned its legality, noting another zoning decision proviso that prevented the hospital from expanding into new buildings.

But, Timberlake said, “The [Parker/Thomas House] building was built under its own permit…and under its own variance.”

“This building is not included in the 1979 [zoning] provisos,” she said.

In her e-mail to Smith, Goodman agreed the Parker/Thomas House was not part of the original agreement, but said it is a troubling “gray area” that needs to be accounted for directly.