S. Huntington project approved by City

November 23, 2012
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The City Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted last week to approve the variances requested by the developers of the luxury apartment project at 161 S. Huntington Ave. in the midst of great community opposition.

That, along with the expected approval from the Parks Commission this week, were the last steps in approving the project. The Parks Commission review is triggered by the project’s proximity to the historic Jamaicaway. The Parks Commission hearing was scheduled for Nov. 19, after the Gazette’s deadline.

The seven-member ZBA vote to allow the Boston Residential Group 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 was unanimous.

“This is an exciting opportunity for us to provide much needed rental housing in Boston and help The Home for Little Wanderers divest of the property and significantly add to their capital campaign,” Curtis Kemeny, president and CEO of Boston Residential Group, said in a press release.

“What can I say? The city doesn’t care about opposition from the neighborhood,” JP resident and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member Red Burrows told the Gazette following the meeting at City Hall. “[But] I am pleased they added more affordable housing.”

“I am shocked,” JP resident and Neighborhood Council member Martha Rodriguez said. “It makes me feel that as a community, we’re insignificant. We’re not powerful enough.”

About 20 people spoke for and against the project during the hearing before comments were stopped due to time constraints.

Local union representatives who supported the jobs the project will create made most of the positive comments. Most of the negative comments were made by members of the JP community who rejected the project on grounds of density, the building’s height and changing the historic characteristic of the street and JP as a whole.

Variances were granted to allow a height of 65 feet in a 45-foot-height zone, building of a partially-underground garage and higher number of units than would otherwise be allowed.

City Councilor Mike Ross, who represents Mission Hill, appeared in person to state his support for the project. Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services also voted to support the project.

“We’re excited to welcome new residents, not transient workers, to the neighborhood,” Ross said, adding that opponents to the project should be proud of the increase in affordable units, which was caused by their involvement.

A representative from City Councilor Matt O’Malley stated that O’Malley also supported the project because of its affordable units and because the developer “listened to the community.”

The project was originally proposed to include 26 affordable units, a number that was first increased to 30 before it was finally raised to 33, though the community was not told of the last change before the hearing.

The development team presented the final tally as “20 percent” of the units being affordable. Thirty-three units actually represent less than 17 percent of the building’s units.

“This is smart growth. Change is a reality in city life,” Larry DiCara, the attorney for the project and a JP resident, said during the hearing. “It will become a residential anchor for S. Huntington.”

A change.org petition started by a JP resident, asking Mayor Thomas Menino to halt the development’s process, is still garnering signatures. As of last week, it had 329 names, over 250 of which were added in the previous week, said organizer Thomas Nolan.

“Politicians are ignoring the concerns of people living here,” Nolan said. “[This project] is going to change the face of what we cherish about Jamaica Plain. We don’t have that kind of luxury housing. It’s anathema. It’s an aberration.”

Nolan plans to continue collecting signatures.

The official ZBA calendar did not have the hearing last week listed nor did it send the Gazette a written notice. In fact, the online calendar for the ZBA on the City’s website is completely empty. By law, government meetings must be publicly advertised at least 48 hours ahead of time.

The $75 million project is expected to generate approximately 200 union construction jobs and 10 permanent jobs and will be ready for occupancy in the spring of 2014.

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