Changes to housing facility plan unveiled

September 24, 2010
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Opponents to building changes absent from recent meeting

PARKSIDE— Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP) and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) explained updates and changes they have put in place to their respite home project at 461 Walnut Ave. project on Sept. 20.

Noticeably absent from the recent on-site meeting were the project’s biggest opponents, who were vocally critical at the project’s last community meeting on Sept. 1.

More meetings with those neighbors and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) are scheduled for October.

The former Barbara McInnis House site, across the street from White Stadium in Franklin Park, would house 20 respite care beds on one floor and 33 efficiency-style transitional housing units on the two upper floors.

BHCHP, the owner of the property, has teamed up with JPNDC and Pine Street Inn (PSI) to renovate the building and offer more services. JPNDC would develop the property, and Paul Sullivan Housing, a subsidiary of PSI, would act as housing service provider and property manager, according to Andrew Winter, real estate director at JPNDC.

JPNDC and BHCHP convened the Sept. 20 meeting to “ensure accurate information and to address concerns and questions” Kyle Robidoux, community organizing assistant director at JPNDC, said. That organization has had at least seven community meetings, knocked on 75 doors and handed out over 2,200 flyers regarding this project, he said.

Neighbors Kate Peppard, Mirna Rodriguez and Jason Heinbeck were not present at the Sept. 20 meeting, and Walter Pollard left after half an hour. At the Sept. 1 meeting, those neighbors, among others, opposed the project, citing zoning and transparency issues as their main complaints.

The recent meeting’s format differed from the previous meeting in that small groups took turns discussing concerns and questions in-depth, with project experts in tenant selection, zoning and site design available for information.

Zoning

The meeting addressed concerns over the zoning procedures for the project that were raised at the Sept. 1 meeting.

Winter said that the facility would have to be re-zoned to include the SRO units, noting that almost any project on the site would require zoning relief.

“The reality is very few of the houses [in the neighborhood] fully meet the zoning code,” Winter said.

Winter also said that JPNDC would file Chapter 121A papers with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in the coming weeks instead of following the more traditional path through the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal.

Winter said that this is because the BRA is already familiar with the project, and it would allow the building’s tax status to be negotiated at an earlier point.

Since the building’s previous use was tax-exempt, but its new use will not be since BHCHP will accept rent from its tenants, BHCHP, the owner of 461 Walnut St., will resume paying property taxes. Chapter 121A would allow the City to work out a pre-negotiated tax rate with BHCHP, Winter added.

Design and parking
Nick Elton, the architect for the project, addressed another concern presented by neighbors at the Sept. 1 meeting: the loss of on- and off-street parking.

The building would only need 19 parking spaces instead of the required 33 because of reduced staff from the previous building use and low expected rates of car ownership among residents, he said.

A revised parking lot plan was also unveiled—altered to avoid a second curb cut along Montebello Road, which would cause the loss of one on-street parking spot, a concern voiced at the Sept. 1 meeting. The new parking plan would also create an exit from the parking lot to Walnut Avenue, instead of directing it all down Montebello Road, another concern of the residents along that street.

Tenant selection
Lyndia Downie, executive director of PSI, talked about the extensive selection process for tenants, noting that they expect their single-room occupancy (SRO) units to house older, medically frail single adults. Each of the residents would agree to Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) and Sex Offender Registry Information (SORI) checks as well as meet income criteria and undergo personal interviews. Once moved in, they must also agree to stringent drug and alcohol policies.

“My college dorm had less regulations” than the lease tenants would sign, Katie Taylor, a resident of the neighborhood, said.

“Once people move into housing, there’s an expectation” that they’re at a “stable enough point” to function like any other tenant, Downie said.

Mayor Thomas Menino, state Rep. Liz Malia and City Councilors At-Large Felix Arroyo and Ayanna Pressley all had representatives present at the meeting. Chuck Turner was present in person.

A meeting is scheduled next week at someone’s home for neighbors and abutters who oppose the project. Turner, who has been mediating between the neighbors and JPNDC, said he will be present, as will representatives of JPNDC and other members of the team.

“There needs to be some private space [for neighbors and developers] to discuss their differences in a setting where the politics of the issue is not the focus,” Turner told the Gazette in a phone interview.

The developers also have a meeting scheduled with the JPNC Zoning Committee on Oct. 14, rescheduled from Sept. 23.

BHCHP housed its 90-bed respite care McInnis House at the Walnut Avenue site until it moved to larger quarters in the South End in 2008.

No other organization in the state provides respite care for the homeless, so McInnis House, named after a JP nurse, regularly operates at capacity, according to materials handed out at the Sept. 1 meeting.

Medical respite care is the term used for short-term medical and recuperative services for homeless people too sick to stay in shelters but not sick enough for a hospital stay.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story stated that City Councilor At-Large Ayanna Pressley’s representative was not mentioned as being present at the Sept. 20 meeting. She was present at both Sept. 1 and 20 meetings.

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