Homeless care project wins in court

PARKSIDE—After nearly a year in court, the developers of a care and housing facility for the homeless on Walnut Avenue have won the right to proceed with construction.

The developers, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and Boston Healthcare for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), plan to make the former Barbara McInnis House at 461 Walnut Ave. into a respite care facility with 20 beds on the ground floor and 30 studio apartments for medically frail and elderly homeless people on the upper two floors. Pine Street Inn would manage the studio apartments while BHCHP would manage the respite care facility.

A group of 11 residents filed a lawsuit against the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the developers in December 2010, hoping to halt the project.

Judge S. Jane Haggerty heard the suit in Superior Court. The plaintiffs alleged that construction of the facility would diminish their property values and increase traffic, demand for on-street parking, artificial light and noise. The judge ruled in favor of the defendants both in standing and merit. Standing refers to the right to sue, not the merits of the arguments.

The ruling was announced by JPNDC today.

“It’s exceptionally good news,” said Robert Taube, executive director of BHCHP. “We’re delighted to have this behind us.”

“We’re still looking at the decision,” plaintiff Walter Pollard told the Gazette before directing further questions to his lawyer. Daniel Wilson, the plaintiff’s attorney, did not return a Gazette call.

“Both JPNDC and BHCHP have been involved in the neighborhood for a long time,” said JPNDC Executive Director Richard Thal. “We’re looking forward to working on something that everyone can be proud to be a neighbor of.”

JPNDC and BHCHP will now resubmit funding applications, Thal said, to reconfirm commitments and garner more financial support for the project. Ideally, construction would begin in the fall and the building would open for residents late next year or early 2014. The developers have been working on the redevelopment plan since early 2010.

“Completion can’t happen soon enough. The need for housing and additional medical respite beds has continued and the relief that this will provide can’t happen quickly enough,” Taube said. “We’re very committed to doing this as quickly as we can.”

The lawsuit plaintiffs were Pollard, Kingsford Swan, Jason Heinbeck, Catherine Fitzgibbon Pollard, David Nagle, Siana LaForest, Stephanie Heinbeck, Luis Prado, Alex Rhem, Kirsten Patzer and Judy Sullivan.

The redevelopment of the building, approved by the BRA board in November 2010, has been fraught with controversy, as neighbors have been vocal both in their support of and opposition to the project.

The building has been vacant and falling into a “blighted, decadent or decayed” state, as described in the November 2010 BRA ruling, since BHCHP moved McInnis House to a larger location in the South End in 2008. It was originally built in the 1960s as a nursing home.

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 BHCHP materials.

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.

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