Cheaper, bigger units wanted at Forest Hills project

August 30, 2013
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Jamaica Plain residents called for more affordability and more family-friendly three-bedroom units in the Commons at Forest Hills Station apartment project proposed at 3593-3615 Washington St. at an Aug. 21 community meeting.

The developers, John M. Corcoran and Company and The Brennan Group, would not commit to any specific project changes. At least one more community meeting will be scheduled by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

Currently, the 280-unit development proposes 10 three-bedroom units and 37 affordable units, or 15 percent. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council asks that residential developments in the neighborhood have at least 25 percent affordable units.

“In general, we support the development team’s plans to create a dense, mixed-use, transit-oriented development that will bring new life to a long-neglected stretch of Washington Street and introduce new neighbors to our community,” Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) steering committee member Carl Lowenberg told the Gazette last week.

But the SNA has a list of changes it would like to see made to the project, including higher affordability rates and more three-bedroom units, an “urban character” to the street frontage, and the creation of a Southwest Corridor Park extension between the project’s western edge and the MBTA train tracks.

Project spokesperson Connie Kastelnik declined to comment on whether the developers would comply with the community’s request for more three-bedroom and affordable units.

“From the beginning of this process we have listened closely to and considered feedback from the community,” she said. “We believe strongly that The Commons at Forest Hills Station will be a transformative development and will incorporate constructive ideas to make a strong project even better.”

Some members of the community also had reservations on the proposed 0.6 parking-to-unit ratio, while others supported the low parking, transit-oriented nature of the project. Other community members were concerned about the proposed rents for the market-rate units, which are planned to be in the range of $1,700 for a one-bedroom and $2,200 to $2,300 for a two-bedroom unit.

Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America (NACA) CEO Bruce Marks, one of the two current tenants expected to be evicted to make way for the development, frequently interrupted the meeting, asking whether it was prudent to develop housing units on a “toxic waste dump.”

For 100 years the approximately 3-acre site was used as a petroleum product distribution depot for former owner Hughes Oil. Environmental cleanup of the soil is nearing completion, according to the developers.

Egleston Square Main Streets (ESMS) committee member Tim Reardon told Marks at the meeting that ESMS would be willing to help both NACA and fellow tenant Forest Hills Electrical find new homes in Egleston Square. He told the Gazette this week that he hasn’t heard back from either NACA or Forest Hills Electrical.

“We would be happy to work with either of those tenants,” Reardon said. “[But] I think for us [ESMS], the most important thing is a project that really has potential to jumps start the revitalization of Washington Street.”

“People want to live in this neighborhood. We have to create the [housing] supply,” Reardon said at the meeting.

The BRA’s Back Streets program has offered to help the tenants find new homes.

“We’ve worked with the two business holders at the site of the proposed development and have identified options for them to pursue. We hope they both can find a great resolution in the City of Boston,” Schuler said.

Gazette calls to Marks were not returned by press time.

The current owner of the site, Arborway Corp., has not returned numerous Gazette phone calls. The developers’ purchase from the current owner has not yet been finalized.

The BRA is accepting public comments on the project at tylern.bra@cityofboston.gov or 617-918-4349.

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