Apartment project faces delay, opposition

May 25, 2012
By

S. HUNTINGTON—Eleven out of 13 members of the city-appointed Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the proposed apartment building at 161 S. Huntington Ave. have signed a letter opposing the project.

The opposition came on the heels of a Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) vote to delay demolition of the 1914 Knight Building and a Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) vote to oppose the project, both taken earlier this month.

The project, proposed by Boston Residential Group, would demolish all the buildings on the property currently occupied by the Home for Little Wanderers to make room for 190 to 200 luxury apartments.

“It’s too early to say” what the future of the project will be, said Boston Residential Group spokesperson Jamie Bishoff. “I don’t think we know if any changes are going to be made.”

The IAG letter, sent to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) last week, included 20 bullet points opposing the look, size and scope of the project.

Among the complaints listed in the letter are the small size of the proposed units, precluding families from living in the building; its “ugly” facade; the number of units; expected low percentage of affordable units; the proposed removal of 53 mature trees; failure to restore or adapt the historic 1914 building; and hidden identities of investors in the project.

“The signatories think that there are some very serious issues with the project. We wanted to spell out in detail to the BRA,” signatory and IAG member Kevin Moloney told the Gazette.

“Thank you all for your effort in putting together a concise, itemized, and thorough letter clearly explaining your concerns. It will assist us greatly,” John Fitzgerald, the BRA’s project manager, wrote to the signatories in an email, a copy of which was provided to the Gazette.

The BRA’s comment period on the project ended on May 16.

“The next step for the BRA is to review all of the comments we’ve received, to get a comprehensive view of community and stakeholder views of the project,” said BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler.

While most of the buildings are not subject to BLC oversight, the 1914 building is, due to its age.

“The Commission voted that, in the public interest, it is preferable that the 1914 Knight Building…is preserved or rehabilitated rather than demolished,” BLC staff architect Gary Russell wrote in the BLC’s delay determination.

The BLC encouraged the developer to work with the community for a compromise. The 90-day delay expires Aug. 7.

Part of the JPA’s opposition to the project stems from the fact that another project for 190-200 luxury apartments is planned for 105A S. Huntington Ave.

Concerns raised at the JPA meeting included the very large size of the proposed apartment building and its design, the facade of which would create a very long wall along S. Huntington Avenue, JPA Board President Jack Fay said.

The proposed developments at 161 and 105A S. Huntington Ave. “are both very large in scope and very close to one another,” Fay said. “The impacts for traffic, construction, and on the community need to be considered together and not in isolation from each other.”

“Given the short time frame and the number of concerns and issues raised at the JPA meeting, the JPA board voted to oppose the project as currently proposed,” Fay added.

The developers have previously presented alternatives that attempted to repurpose the existing buildings to the community, but said they were all financially impossible due to the cost of the property.

The site was assessed by the city last year as worth over $8 million.

The project’s BRA-appointed IAG last met on May 3. The BRA did not publicize any of the IAG meetings and previously did not respond to a Gazette request for their time and location.

While one more IAG meeting is anticipated, it has not yet been scheduled, BRA spokesperson Susan Elsbree told the Gazette this week.

The Home for Little Wanderers is moving out of its three-building complex at 161 S. Huntington Ave. this year.

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