We were disappointed to read about the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s summary rejection of a proposed rental housing development on Washington Street near Egleston Square (“JPNC votes down 3200 Washington St. proposal,” July 3.)
The decision is problematic for a number of reasons: the lack of due process undermines the Council’s credibility; the decision itself is not based on any coherent set of findings about the proposal’s impacts and is inconsistent with other JPNC decisions; and it ignores the hundreds of neighbors and dozens of businesses who support the project on its merits.
The posted agenda for the June 25 meeting made no indication that the project would be considered for action. Council members voted without clear direction from either of the two responsible JPNC subcommittees, and in some cases without having ever heard first-hand from the development team, which was not invited to present or answer questions. For a group that argued recently, and unsuccessfully, that it was a “municipal board,” such a spontaneous decision appears to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the Open Meeting Law.
The ruling criticizes the project as “too high” and “too dense,” a judgment which seems to conflate the dimensions of a project with its impacts. The buildings would create no new shadows on any abutting homes; and the density is comparable to the immediately adjacent residential properties on Washington Street and is essential to the development’s housing benefits.
Admittedly, the acquisition of 52 Montebello is still pending, and even with it the proposal still falls slightly short of the Council’s ambitious (and as-yet-unachieved) inclusionary housing goal. Yet, in the past two years the council has voted to support 500 units of market-rate housing in other projects with even lower levels of affordability, and it should consider that providing the same 18 units of deed-restricted housing through conventional channels would require $4.2 million of increasingly scarce city or state subsidies.
The council’s statement that the developers failed to “engage sufficiently” with the community to “resolve disputes” implies the only acceptable outcome is the appeasement of the most ardent opponents. The proposal has been actively discussed with community groups in dozens of venues since its first 50-plus-person public meeting nearly a year ago, as reported in the Gazette. Hundreds of residents have spoken out and written letters on behalf of the development and they do not wish to see it watered down.
Organizations such as Egleston Square Main Street have seen their constructive suggestions adopted by the developers, resulting in a proposal that is substantially improved from the one first unveiled last July.
If the Neighborhood Council hopes to have its advisory recommendations taken into consideration by the relevant city agencies, it should avoid taking impulsive and ill-considered positions on innovative and forward-looking development proposals. We encourage the JPNC and its committees to consider anew the facts of the proposal and give it their support.
Dorothy Fennell, Galen Moore, Tim Reardon and Galen Nelson
Editor’s Note: Moore and Reardon are members of the Egleston Square Main Street Board of
Directors, and Fennell and Nelson were members of the BRA-convened Impact Advisory Group
for the 3200 Washington Street project.