Moss Hill woodland up for sale

March 4, 2011
By
 

Multiple bids in for 15 acres

JAMAICA HILLS—A 15-acre woodland in JP’s ritziest neighborhood is up for major development as a Catholic religious order reviews private bids for the land, the Gazette has learned. The bidding is already over, with one proposal calling for 40 housing units.

“This is just excess property,” said Sister Nancy Usselmann, treasurer of the Daughters of St. Paul (DSP), about the woodland behind the order’s 50 St. Paul Ave. headquarters in Moss Hill. “We are looking at options. We may not do anything.”

Usselmann declined to comment on the asking price and the number or details of the bids. No matter what, DSP, a women’s order that publishes Catholic media, will remain in its building complex. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said.

“We don’t have anything in particular in mind” in terms of types of development, Usselmann said. And DSP would not necessarily choose the highest bidder if someone has a better plan, according to bidding documents obtained by the Gazette.

But the process is leaning toward high-price, high-density development, according to bidding documents and a source familiar with the offering. A bidder who proposed 40 housing units was told by the sales agent to “nearly double” his offer to be “competitive”—which would require 75 to 121 units to make a profit, according to bidding documents.

That unidentified bidder decided not to boost his proposal out of concern that it would spark public controversy like that over a similar woodland sale on JP’s Hellenic Hill, according to the source. [See related article.]

The bidder “didn’t think it was going to fly, didn’t think it was right,” the source said. “It makes me think there’s probably a proposal out there that’s six to eight units an acre.”

The sales agent, Mike Ryan of Greenwich Group International, declined to comment about the offering.

Criterion Development Partners, a major housing developer with an offer on Hellenic Hill, looked at the DSP land but did not place a bid, according to company principal Jack Englert, a JP resident. “I wish we had [bid],” he added.

DSP sits atop a hill on the JP/Brookline border. Its wooded property is roughly bordered by the Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture; residential Malcolm Road and Whitcomb Avenue; and the Boston Police K-9 Unit and Allandale Farm on Allandale Street. It is accessible only from St. Paul’s Avenue and JP’s Westchester Road.

The property is valued at more than $4 million by the city’s Assessing Department. A privately circulated sales offer obtained by the Gazette marketed the woodland as “one of the largest available parcels of land in the city of Boston.”

“The site provides excellent views of Moss Hill and the Boston skyline,” the sales offer continues.

The deal could include two DSP buildings as well, according to bidding documents: a 46,000-square-foot former bookbinding factory, and a single-family residence. The documents solicited proposals for both sale and lease of the property.

The woodland is not entirely empty. A mausoleum containing the remains of DSP sisters sits on the hillside. DSP would move the mausoleum for the right development plan, Usselmann said.

The property offer went out in September and bids were due in January. Greenwich Group then asked the bidders to submit more details by Jan. 31 “with an eye towards improving the offers,” according to the bidding documents.

“Nothing has been finalized or decided,” Usselmann said, adding that there is no deadline. She described the property offering as a “very simple inquiry” to see what the land is worth. Even if DSP accepted a proposal, it would need approval from the order’s government in Rome, which would take time, she said.

The woodland is zoned as a Conservation Protection Subdistrict (CPS), meaning that any redevelopment must be “protective of its special natural and scenic features,” according to the Boston Zoning Code.

Housing is the main use allowed under CPS zoning. But that comes with many restrictions, including a maximum density of three units per acre. That density can be boosted if the city approves zoning variances or rezoning.

Any large-scale redevelopment of the land would require detailed review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, including public comment and community meetings.

DSP has been on the site since 1954. About 70 sisters live there in residential facilities that include a novitiate for new sisters and retirement housing for older sisters. There is also a variety of media facilities for Christian evangelism, including a recording studio and a computer lab for making iPhone apps.

The order is independent of the Boston Archdiocese. Archdiocese spokesperson Terrence Donilon referred all questions about the property offering to DSP.