105A S. Huntington project draws praise, concerns

August 17, 2012
By

S. HUNTINGTON—Community feedback for the proposed luxury apartments and retail space in a 130-foot-tall building at 105A S. Huntington Ave., named “The Serenity,” is split between support for the developer and criticisms over the appearance of the project.

At a community meeting on July 31 at Back of the Hill Apartments, the developer was praised for the project and his local ties. But concerns about the expected high rents, the “ugly” design of the building and loss of trees were expressed at the community meeting and during a Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) meeting on Aug. 6.

The 195 luxury rental units in the multi-building development would include townhouses and apartment buildings of one-, two- and three-bedroom units targeted at graduate students and families. The project would also include 26 affordable units, 1,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 176 parking spaces in an underground garage.

While there were many concerns, most people in the 50-person July 31 crowd reacted favorably to the project. Feedback was more negative at the Aug. 6 JPA meeting, member Kevin Moloney told the Gazette. Moloney is also a member of the project’s Ipact Advisory Group (IAG).

An IAG is a city-appointed group of residents and other stakeholders that advise the city on potential impacts of building projects.

“There was a lot of criticism of the project. It’s too big, too high, looming over everything,” Moloney told the Gazette. “We voted to oppose it.”

“We need to fill those gaps” between Hyde Square and S. Huntington Avenue, Michel Soltani, owner of the Mission Bar & Grill in Mission Hill, said at the community meeting. “I think it’s a beautiful project. After it’s done, everyone will love it.”

The fact that there are other parcels for sale or already under development in the vicinity was brought up at the community meeting, and attendees asked if the BRA would consider a master plan for the area.

BRA representative John Fitzgerald stated that he doesn’t think there will be a master plan for the area. It would take two years to develop one, he said, during which time developments in the area would need to be halted.

Developer Anthony Nader said that the luxury units, expected to rent for more than $2,000 for a one-bedroom, will reduce housing pressure in the neighborhood.

“This drives up the price of housing and will drive out the people who live next to you. The last thing we need is another luxury apartment building,” Jamaica Plain resident Adam Sandofsky said at the community meeting. “Within 10 to 15 years you will not be able to live here.”

Many residents, however, were supportive of the project and of the Nader family’s presence in the community. The family owns 11 small buildings in Mission Hill and Nader has worked in the neighborhood for 25 years, he told the Gazette.

The project will likely require zoning relief. Variances are expected for the height of the building, the lack of a front yard and unit density. Due to a technicality concerning the steep incline of the property, some of the ground-level units are officially classified as basement units, which also require relief. Another variance might be needed depending on the occupants of the ground-floor retail space and other potential accessory services.

“We don’t need the retail. We want it to serve the people here,” Nader said at the meeting. “We want to support local businesses.”

The developer stated at the community meeting that many of the trees currently on the property will be removed and that many of them are non-native or unhealthy plants. Some of the trees will be replaced by native flowering trees, the developer said.

Some residents also did not like the facade of the building, calling it “ugly” and “hulking.”

“It looks like a shoebox sitting on a grand piano,” Rosemary Jones, a Mission Hill resident, said of the building’s design.

Cedar Valley Development, managed by Nader, purchased the 1.1-acre parcel at 105A S. Huntington Ave. from the state in 2005, amid controversy. The site had been used by North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) since the 1970s.

Comments about the project can be sent to the BRA at john.fitzgerald.bra@cityofboston.gov through Aug. 27.