Norbert project criticized for prices, parking

November 2, 2012
By

HYDE SQ.—Response was mostly critical of the proposed plan to turn the Norbert School building into 21 market-rate studio and one-bedroom apartments during a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) meeting Nov. 1 at the Hennigan Elementary School. About 45 people attended the meeting.

The Norbert building, which is located at 26 Sunnyside St., is part of the Blessed Sacrament Church campus. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development purchased the site in 2005. The Norbert building originally housed the COMPASS School, but it left in 2009, leaving the building abandoned.

Opponents cited the apartments’ lack of affordability and parking issues as areas of concerns, while proponents said the housing is needed and that it will boost the local economy.

The developer, Norbert School Associates, said given the purchasing price, offering affordable housing is not a viable option, but would look at it. Rent is expected to range from $1,400 to $1,600 for studios and about $1,900 for one-bedrooms. The developer did say more study needs to be done regarding the parking issue.

Norbert School Associates consists of Matt Kiefer, Nan Porter, Drew Leff and George Cole. Kiefer and Porter, who are married, are longtime JP residents. Kiefer is also the lawyer for the controversial 105A S. Huntington Ave. project, which is slated to be luxury apartments.

“We all live in the city,” said Kiefer. “We all want to give back to our community. That’s why we are involved in this project. We believe we are meeting a housing need.”

JPNDC, a nonprofit community development corporation focused on helping low- and moderate-income people, has come under fire for the lack of affordable housing in the Norbert project and the proposal to turn the Catholic church on the site into luxury condos.

Leslie Bos, chair of the JPNDC board, said at the meeting financial obligations on the Norbert building, such as debt owed to the bank, forced JPNDC to sell it at the current price. The developer said that price does not allow affordable housing.

Bos said the sale of the Norbert building would enable JPNDC to turn its attention to other projects, such as the proposed housing for homeless facility at 461 Walnut St.

“The context counts,” she said.

Ken Tangvik, a JP resident and member of the campus’ community advisory committee (CAC), said he has been a longtime supporter of JPNDC, but said he feels it is abandoning its mission of providing affordable housing. The CAC is a City-appointed group that formed when the Blessed Sacrament campus was purchased in 2005.

“I don’t but this, ‘We need the money,’” said Tangvik.

Ray Stockwell, who lives on Sunnyside Street, also took issue with JPNDC’s financial argument. He said JPNDC was told that it was a “bad decision” to buy the campus site and he doesn’t feel the need to help it out of that decision.

Tangvik said the area is known as the Latin Quarter and is friendly to immigrants, but the proposed project will not enhance that.

“What about preserving our culture? What about preserving our neighborhood?” he said.

Tangvik also took issue with how members of CAC found out about the proposed Norbert project. He said the only reason they learned of the project was because the Gazette broke the story. Tangvik and several others said the CAC was being disrespected.

A handful of proponents, who included several local real estate brokers, said studio and one-bedroom apartments are badly needed in JP. Tom O’Malley, a longtime JP resident, said the 21 units would create jobs and help support the local economy.

“This is a good thing,” he said.

O’Malley, who is a neighbor of Keifer and Porter, spoke highly of them, noting that Keifer is on the board of Historic Boston Incorporated, a preservation organization. But he did say the developer should have to abide by the City requirement of having at least 15 percent affordable housing in residential projects.

The developer is exempt from this requirement because the project is part of the Blessed Sacrament campus master plan. The campus currently has 81 affordable housing units.

Critics of the Norbert project also said traffic and parking problems will increase. The Norbert building will have 17 parking spaces, which Keifer said residents will mostly likely have to pay for. Opponents said visitors and those residents who don’t want to pay extra will spill into the streets.

“The number of cars parking is an issue,” said Brian Harkins, who lives on Westerly Street.

The comment period for the project ends Nov. 13. Comments may be faxed to 617-742-4464, emailed to lance.campbell.bra@cityofboston.gov or mailed to Boston Redevelopment Authority, One City Hall Square, 9th Floor, Boston, MA, 02201.

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