New plan, same criticism for 161 S. Huntington

Opposition to the 161 S. Huntington Ave. apartment project remains high despite changes made by the developer, Boston Residential Group, after an initial round of public comment on the project.

Most of the about 40 attendees who spoke during a community meeting at the Back of the Hill Apartments on Aug. 15 voiced much displeasure over the project, including questioning the scale and criticizing the demolition of the historic 1914 Knight building currently on the site.

“This project is not what the community wants or what the community needs,” said Kevin Moloney, a member of both the Jamaica Pond Association and the project’s Impact Advisory Group.

A few attendees spoke in support of the project, citing positive effects on the local economy and an update to an aging infrastructure.

“I think we need to stop the fear of change and move forward,” said Boston resident Steve Tewksbury.

He said the developer is trying to upgrade the property, which it needs.

The Aug. 15 community meeting comes after the developer made several changes to the plan, including a revised facade with a public pocket park facing S. Huntington Avenue, five new three-bedroom “family” units, reduced parking and an increase of affordable-priced units from 26 to 30.

The project would create 196 units consisting of studios and one-, two- and three-bedroom units in a four- to five-story building on the current site of the Home for Little Wanderers.

Before the changes, the developer had announced the projected price range for the rentals. A 550-square-foot studio would have rented for $1,900 to $2,200. One-bedroom units would have ranged from $2,000 to $3,500 and a 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom would have rented for $2,500 to $4,000.

But Curtis Kemeny, president and CEO of Boston Residential, said during the meeting that it is too early to determine the rent structure of the new proposed project. He said Boston Residential needs to wait until it knows what type of building it can build.

Jesse White, a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member, said rent structure is a really important part of a project and it is hard to support a project that doesn’t have one.

Judy Neiswander, advocacy coordinator for the Boston Preservation Alliance (BPA), said BPA found fault with the developer’s plans to demolish the 1914 Knight building. She said the group appreciates the Boston Residential creating alternatives that would have saved the building, but the developer’s claim that it is not financially feasible cannot be verified.

“We join with other constituents in Jamaica Plain in continuing to believe that this project is too aggressive and not respectful of the character of the site,” said Neiswander, reading from a prepared statement.

She added, “We feel that the claims of economic hardship are exaggerated and primarily the result of over-paying for a site that should be developed at a more modest scale.”

Other attendees expressed concern with the rushed nature of the project, increased traffic, the possibility shaky finances might lead to a similar fate as the hole in the ground at the former Filene’s store site at Downtown Crossing and the lack of leadership from the City. Some attendees asked why there isn’t a master plan for the area given that there is another apartment project planned for 105A S. Huntington Ave.

“Just because change happens, we don’t need a master plan for that change to happen,” said John Fitzgerald, senior project manager at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

Comments on the project may be emailed to [email protected], faxed to 617-742-7783 or mailed to the BRA (One City Hall Square, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02201).

The comment period ends today, Aug. 31. After that, the BRA can ask the developer to redo the plan based on the comments or it can vote on the project.

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