JPNC lawsuit settlement deal reached

With a deal for more affordable housing and a pedestrian path, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) has agreed to settle its lawsuit against an apartment project at 161 S. Huntington Ave.

The deal announced today would end the JPNC’s controversial, nearly year-old suit against the Boston Residential Group (BRG) and the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals. The JPNC alleged that zoning variances for the redevelopment, now called Olmstead Place, were improperly granted. A judge threw out the case, saying the JPNC had no right to sue, but the council appealed and used expensive delays in the project to leverage a settlement deal.

“We’re pleased to reach this agreement,” said former JPNC chair and lawsuit plaintiff Benjamin Day in a joint press statement with BRG. “We asked BRG to make extraordinary increases in affordability for this project, and they’ve come through. With the changes, this development will become one of the largest affordable housing developments in JP.”

“Olmstead Place will bring much-needed rental housing to Jamaica Plain and will lead the transformation of the S. Huntington Avenue corridor into a vibrant residential and pedestrian-friendly area,” said BRG CEO Curtis Kemeny in the same press statement.

The deal will boost the number of “affordable” units in the future 196-unit building from 33 to 37, with all the new ones being “family-sized,” the statement says. In addition, the deal will “significantly lower the rent” on the previously planned affordable units, the statement says without specifying dollar amounts.

A public pedestrian pathway through the site—frequently requested during community planning meetings—is another element of the deal.

BRG’s plans for the former Home for Little Wanderers site were controversial even before the lawsuit. They involve knocking down a historic building and building dense, market-rate apartments with such high-end amenities as concierge service and a fitness center. The project became a flashpoint of the local gentrification debate and was widely criticized, though the City and the Boston Redevelopment Authority approved it.

The JPNC’s lawsuit to block it was controversial as well. The council had never before sued anyone. And the suit was based on an apparently unprecedented claim that the JPNC is a government body—which both the City and a judge said is not true. The JPNC voted to approve the settlement deal on Oct. 29, as the Gazette previously reported.

Day was JPNC chair when the suit was filed. Since then, the JPNC held its biannual election, and Kevin Moloney became the new chair. Moloney, who previously chaired the council in the 1990s, was an advisor to the JPNC on the lawsuit.

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