Letter: BRA is ignoring community on S. Huntington project

October 12, 2012
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Over strong community objections, the Boston Redevelopment Authority is about to approve the construction of a large luxury housing development proposed for the New England Home for Little Wanderers site at 161 S. Huntington Ave. Consisting of 196 rental units, over half of which will be studio or one-bedroom apartments, the developer intends to market the building to the primarily transient employees of the medical area.

Construction will require the demolition of the historic 1914 Knight building and the removal of half of the old-growth trees on the property, producing an aggressively modern wall of four and five stories stretching from lot line to lot line—as wide as the VA Hospital across the street.

Zoning Code Article 80 Large Project Review requires citizen involvement in the review process, which, the BRA published “Citizen’s Guide” states, is to be “guided by comments from the public.”

Community reaction to the project has been overwhelmingly negative. For example, the comment letter to the BRA signed by all members of the BRA-appointed Impact Advisory Group for the project (with the exception of one member who sent a separate letter of opposition) criticized the project as “too large,” “too upscale in price and character,” with “too many units,” “too few affordable, mixed-income, and family units” and for being “disrespectful of the original 1914 building.”

The project was removed from the agenda for the September BRA board meeting for, we are told, “lack of community support.”  Yet, without any significant changes, and still lacking community support, the same plan will be on the agenda for approval at the Oct. 18 board meeting.

The move to approve this ungainly project ignores the views of virtually all of us in Jamaica Plain/Mission Hill. On this project, community voices are consistent and clear: the right way to develop this site is to respect its heritage and scale, and to work with community priorities for affordable family housing.

For over 100 years the western side of S. Huntington Avenue has been home to charitable institutions set in landscaped parks that in recent days have adapted their original buildings for new uses while maintaining the size and scale of the “City Beautiful” plan to which they all originally adhered. The AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center and Mount Pleasant Home are recent outstanding examples.

Is it too much to expect from the BRA that a for-profit developer be required to be as sensitive to the site’s history and context? Apparently, City Hall thinks so, for the BRA has rejected community opinion in its evaluation of this project. Jamaica Plain will bear the burden of the BRA’s disregard of us for a long time to come.

Please attend the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council-sponsored community meeting on Oct. 15, at 6:30 p.m., at the Hennigan School, to let our elected public officials know how strongly the residents of Jamaica Plain/Mission Hill oppose what the BRA intends to inflict upon us.

Kevin F. Moloney

Member, BRA Impact Advisory Group

Jamaica Plain