161 S. Huntington project vote canceled

September 14, 2012
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The controversial luxury apartment project proposed for 161 S. Huntington Ave. was removed from yesterday’s Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board meeting agenda, where it would likely have received an approval. The change was announced Monday.

“The developer needs to do more work on it,” BRA spokesperson Melina Schuler told the Gazette.

“That’s great news. Virtually anybody who knows about this project is opposed to the current proposal,” Impact Advisory Group (IAG) member Kevin Moloney told the Gazette.

Boston Residential Group spokesperson Janey Bishoff did not return a Gazette phone call.

The BRA announced that the project would be on the agenda last week. BRA staff only submits projects to the board when it considers the plans ready for approval.

An IAG is a city-appointed group of residents and other stakeholders that advise the city on potential impacts of building projects. Two thirds of the IAG opposed the original proposal and eight out of 14 members signed a letter to the BRA opposing the project even after the developer made changes. Some IAG members were upset at the fact the project was up for a vote before they were satisfied with the design.

Meanwhile, the Home for Little Wanderers, the current owner and occupier of the site, has already mostly vacated its longtime home.

The developer, Boston Residential Group, plans to 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.

Many Jamaica Plain residents have raised numerous concerns about the project, including expected high rental prices; the small size of the proposed units; its “ugly” facade; the number of units; expected low percentage of affordable units; the proposed removal of 53 mature trees; and failure to restore or adapt the historic 1914 building; and hidden identities of investors in the project.

“The project should meet the needs of the folks and families who live in Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill. We don’t want it to be Medical Area South,” Moloney said. “The message of opposition is geeting through.”

Boston Residential Group has a list of current funding partners on its website. They include Morgan Stanley Real Estate Fund; Lehman Brothers; GMAC Commercial Mortgage, now known as Capmark Financial Group Inc.; ING Clarion; and Brookfield Real Estate. It is not clear if that is a comprehensive list or whether any of them are directly investing in the JP project.

Those companies are all either major national or international lending companies.

The plans were submitted to the BRA in March and have already undergone one round of alterations, following strong community opposition.

Projects submitted to the BRA board for a vote have a high likelihood of being approved, as BRA staff only submits projects to the board when it considers the plans ready for approval.

The Home for Little Wanderers, the site’s owners and occupant for almost 100 years, meanwhile, has moved most of its operations out of the S. Huntington Avenue buildings.

“The kids have already moved out” to their new home in Walpole, Home Director of Public Policy and Advocacy Brian Condon told the Gazette. The kids’ move was timed so that they could start the new school year at their new home.

While the sale won’t be final until the end of the year, and so, is subject to change, it would not impact the Home’s move.

“We couldn’t afford to renovate that facility,” Condon explained. “It’s completely out-of-date.”

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