Split BRA board approves controversial 3200 Washington St. project

August 28, 2015
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The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board approved the 3200 Washington St. project during its Aug. 13, according to spokesperson Nick Martin. The vote was 3 to 2.

The project has been a source of controversy in the neighborhood. The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council voted against the proposal and a grassroots group held several demonstrations, including at the BRA board meeting, calling for the development to be 100 percent affordable housing. Some residents have supported the proposed development.

A spokesperson for the developers said they are “happy” of the approval and “proud” of the affordable-housing units offered by the project.

BRA board members Timothy Burke, Paul Foster and Michael Monahan voted to approve the project, while Consuelo Gonzales-Thornell and JP resident Ted Landsmark voted against it. Martin said split votes aren’t that uncommon for the board, but also said he has never seen the board vote down a project.

The developers, Dan Mangiacotti and Paul Iantosca, have plans to build a 76-unit development project at 3200 Washington St. with 18 affordable units. That number of affordable-housing units exceeds the City affordable-housing policy. The development will have three building sections, retail space and a parking garage.

The developers raised the number of affordable housing units to 18 after earlier this month winning a bidding contest through the City’s Department for Neighborhood Development for 52 Montebello Road. That site will now be part of the 3200 Washington St. project.

The property at 52 Montebello Road has been vacant for several years and drawn complaints for illicit parties and squatters. It has been on JP’s Problem Properties Committee list since mid-2012, when the City’s Inspectional Services Department boarded it up. The 6-unit apartment building was taken over by the City, unit by unit, through foreclosures.

One grassroots group that does not have an official name has held numerous demonstrations against the project, including partnering with the JP-based housing advocacy group City Life/Vida Urbana for a “tent-city” protest at 3200 Washington St. The group has called for the project to be 100 percent affordable for households making $26,000 and has rallied against the gentrification of Egleston Square.

“The BRA and developers have failed to meet our expectations and think it works to build apartments that still aren’t even affordable to us,” Jezmarie Rodriguez said through the group’s email address. “Many renters in Egleston make less than $26,000 a year and what they’re talking about being affordable is for families making $60,000. With the numbers they keep bringing up, it’s obvious they’re building homes for people to move into the neighborhood and kick people of color out.”

The group released a statement to the Gazette after the board meeting, saying the group was shut out of it. The statement said members chanted outside the meeting and that “We’re proud that we’re showing the BRA and developers that if they try and build in Egleston without listening to the community, then we will fight. We’ve made our voice heard since we found out about the project in March, even though the BRA and developers kept shutting us out.”

The statement went on to say that the process was a “joke” and the “true objective is to push people and shut them out of the process and their own neighborhoods. The BRA and developers run off greed and want more money off the backs of families they want displaced out of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury.” The statement said that BRA head Brian Golden had promised to meet with the group before the vote and then didn’t.

Martin said he had not heard of that meeting request and that some demonstrators were inside the board meeting, though he was unsure if they were part of the grassroots group. He said that the meeting room was filled to capacity (140 people) and that was why the group was outside. Martin said that some people left the meeting before the project was presented and that the staff offered to allow some members of the group inside, but that they declined.

He said that the proposal had “more vetting” and “more public testimony” than most projects, noting that the impact advisory group met several times, that the comment period was extended and that there were “two or three community meetings.” Martin said he understands that “feelings were strong on both sides of the issue.”

Martin also responded to the affordability of the project. He said to take the “big picture,” the City, the BRA and the DND is looking at revising the affordable-housing policy, which was last updated in 2007. He said that the conditions of the housing market are much different now. Martin said that affordable housing is a complex issue and it “can’t be solved by one project.” The City’s affordable-housing policy currently states that 15 percent of a development with 10 or more units should be affordable.

He also said that the affordable-housing policy seems to be a “point of confusion.” He said that some people look at the numbers and find them not to be affordable. But, Martin said, the affordable-housing policy is meant to hit the “sweet spot” between market-rate housing and low-income housing, such as federally funded public housing developments.

Rosy Gonzalez, spokesperson for the developers, said that the opposition was calling for 100 percent affordability, which no private developer has ever done in the city. She said the developers are “proud” of the project’s 18 affordable units and that they are “happy” that the project was approved. She said the project will appear before the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals Sept. 15 for the variances it needs.

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