At a Nov. 30 meeting, about 65 residents listened to Criterion Development’s proposal to construct a six-story, mixed-used development at the parking lot across the street from Forest Hills Station. Community responses to the proposed “Residences at Forest Hills” development were mixed.
The development would have 252 residential rental units, 5,500 square feet of retail space, and about 140 parking spaces, some of which would be underground, some at-grade.
“It’s all about balance,” Jack Englert from Criterion Development said.
Englert said his idea of balance reflected the design’s basic considerations, including how much affordable housing to create versus market rate, how much parking to include versus open space.
The general reception of the proposal seemed to be all about balance as well: some residents supported the proposal for its affordable-housing percentage and design, while others opposed the design. Other concerns about the development were parking and scale.
Criterion filed a project notification form (PNF) with Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on Oct. 20 of this year, and had held an Impact Advisory Committee (IAG) meeting on Nov. 22. An IAG is a City-appointed group of residents and other stakeholders that advise the City on potential impacts of building projects. The BPDA’s public meeting on Nov. 30 was to hear comments and questions from the community regarding the development.
Abutting residents and businesses at the meeting commented that earlier in the planning stage, developers had been considerate to their needs, such as loading, parking, and building height. As a response to these concerns, the design includes a 50-foot wide parking area to allow 20 spaces for the funeral home, and the height of the building abutting smaller residential streets will step down to four or five stories high, as opposed to six in the rest of the development.
“This site is probably a planners dream,” Englert said in his presentation.
He described how centrally located the site is in relation to the train and local parks, and how flat most of the location is. The site is roughly bounded by the Arborway, Orchardhill Road, and Washington Street. Its current use is a parking lot, which is used by commuters for the MBTA.
The site consists of two parcels of land that are separated by a strip of land that belongs to the City of Boston for water and sewer maintenance. The proposed design creates three buildings to be centered around that strip of land, which can be improved above ground but not dug into.
The plans were designed considering the new alignment of the surrounding roads as part of the Casey Arborway renovation, and if approved, the development would not begin construction until that street construction is theoretically completed in 2018.
A parking garage to be built under two of the buildings would accommodate for a ratio of 0.58 cars per unit. The design includes a roundabout for residents to use for pick-up and drop-off.
The building would be clad in a metal shingle with some decks that will be set back or pushed out of the building alternatively. There would be brick on the first floor of retail, and a small overhang to protect against weather along the sidewalk.
Laz parking lot, the current use of the site, has the capacity for 306 cars. Representing the project, Robert Michaud of MDM Transportation said that this project could reduce traffic at peak hours due to the current influx of commuters entering and leaving the parking lot.
The community seemed concerned about parking, and asked where the commuters that currently use that parking lot will park, and where the residents who will move into the site will park.
For the commuters, Englert said that the Arborway Yard might be a solution for those commuters. Englert reached out to the MBTA to seek a solution to the possible problem of commuters no longer having a lot to park in. The community held a public meeting, which representatives of the MBTA attended, and the idea of allotting space in the Arborway Yard for commuter parking was ultimately rejected, said the developer.
The Arborway Yard, at the Arborway and Washington Street, is currently home to an MBTA administration building and a decade-old “temporary” bus maintenance facility. After more than 15 years of stop-and-start planning, the MBTA has yet to build a permanent bus facility there.
The commuters who park in the existing lot were not notified about the meeting, and no commuter commented at the meeting. Englert said that commuters wouldn’t have a say in the project because it affects the local community first and foremost.
For the residents, Englert said that people aren’t driving as much as they used to drive, so many of the potential tenants of the building wouldn’t have cars. Residents would also have to sign a lease which would stipulate that they could not apply for a resident parking sticker, and would have to park within the garage of the residence. The lease would also ensure that tenants could not rent out their apartment using services like Airbnb.
Some residents expressed concern about loiterers that currently frequent the parking lot at nighttime, and wondered if the plan’s layout to have a mini park on the front corner would promote that occurrence.
Englert said that the currently unsupervised parking lot enables that to happen.
“Onsite management and residents will add a lot of eyes on the ground and help that situation,” Englert said. “We will make it nice so people will want to be there.”
Several people commented that the community has a need for housing, and that they appreciated the design.
Some community members were pleased that the project offers 20 percent affordability (50 units). The affordability would be split into eight units at 50 percent of the area median income (AMI), 37 units at 70 percent AMI, and five units at 100 percent AMI. A unit at 50 percent AMI would cost $700 to 800 per month, at 70 percent would cost $1,000 per month, and at 100 percent would cost $1,200 per month. Market rate rents would be between $1,600 and $3,000, depending on the size of the unit, which could be anywhere between studio and three-bedroom.
Some community members, however, spoke up about the need for more affordable housing. George Lee, a local affordable-housing activist, encouraged Englert to look into options that would increase affordability, such as loans and funds from the City.
“It is important to make housing for all people and protect diversity in our community,” Lee said.
“I get the problem, I want to help, and this is the only way I can do it,” Englert said, referring to the current plan of 20 percent affordable housing. “We’re not an affordable-housing developer, and this is a market rate sale [of land].”
The developers do not own the site yet, and the price of the land will depend on the final approved design for the development.
Some residents were concerned about the scale of the development, since the zoning for the area currently limits buildings to three stories, and the development would double that height in some areas. Some residents thought the scaling would be appropriate.
“I think the scale is perfect,” said Clay Martin. “The surrounding areas will have wide streets, and this project does a good job of defining that space.”
Martin added that no neighborhood should be a park and ride for commuters, a sentiment that many, but not all, other residents resonated with.
The comment period deadline was originally set to conclude on Dec. 9, but will be pushed back to Dec. 23. For more information on this project or to comment, visit bit.ly/2ghiviS.