Condo plan riles neighbors

(Gazette Photo by John Ruch) The existing law office at 71 South St.

SOUTH ST.—A plan to replace the law office at 71 South St. with a three-story, five-unit condo building is riling neighbors, who call it too dense.

Attorney Peter Fenn was seeking multiple significant zoning variances for the plan at the Dec. 15 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Zoning Committee. He agreed to table the plan pending a meeting with neighbors.

Stan Furash was one of several residents of Atwood Square—a private drive that runs alongside and behind the property—who criticized the plan. Furash called it “way too dense for the area.”

Residents also expressed concern that the project includes only five parking spaces and would use the narrow Atwood Square as a driveway.

Fenn said he agreed with some of the concerns, but added that he has mitigated them as best he can. He also suggested that the neighbor, who live in some large buildings on Atwood Square, have an attitude of, “The lifeboat’s here. Let’s pull up the rope.”

The law office is in a house with a large front lawn. Fenn has owned it for 30 years and said it is too big for his business now. He put the house on the market in 2008 for $595,000, as the Gazette reported at the time.

Fenn plans to demolish the house and cover the entire property with a new condo building. Five parking spaces would go underneath the second floor at the rear, and the building would have “substantial” roof decks. One unit would be handicapped-accessible.

Fenn told the Gazette that the plan requires many zoning variances, including for lot size, open space, number of units, parking and setback from the street.

The existing house is more than 100 years old, with an addition dating to 1909. That means the Boston Landmarks Commission would automatically put a hold on its demolition pending a community meeting. Fenn said he is “not thrilled” about demolishing the house, but that only new construction makes financial sense.

Fenn added that he considered building three townhouse-style units, but is concerned that the higher per-unit sale price would “increase the gentrification” of Jamaica Plain.

Neighbors also voiced concern about the loss of trees on the site. Fenn told the Gazette that the largest is a “trash tree”—a Norway maple, which is a known invasive species. But he is concerned about a 30-year-old rhododendron that he planted from a seedling taken from his father’s home. Fenn will attempt to move that plant, he said.

The plan was scheduled to go before the city’s zoning Board of Appeal this month, but Fenn said he will defer until he meets with neighbors.

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