Roslindale Neighbors: Walk Hill St. development heads to BPDA board

May 12, 2017
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The 289 Walk Hill St. residential development in Roslindale is slated to go before the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board, according to BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin.

The BPDA board will review the project during its May 11 meeting, which is after the Gazette deadline, and will likely approve it. The BPDA staff only submits projects to the board when they consider the plans ready for approval. This reporter has never seen a project voted down by the board.

The project site is at 289 Walk Hill Street at the corner of Walk Hill Street, The American Legion Parkway, and Canterbury Street. The Residence at Walk Hill LLC are proposing the project, working with architects at Embarc Studio.

The project notification form (PNF), as required in the BPDA’s Article 80 Large Project Review process, was submitted in October of 2016. A new proposal was submitted earlier this year in response to feedback from BPDA about the original project, and some changes have been made to meet certain requirements.

The original project was a 136-unit, 167,000-square-foot concept. The community was concerned that this proposal was excessively dense, and the proposal has since been reduced to 106 residential apartments with a total of 115,430 square feet. The building massing has been reduced by a floor from five to a maximum of four stories, and setbacks have been incorporated along Walk Hill and Canterbury streets to establish a height of three stories along those streets,

The current plan involves building 61 one-bedroom units, 41 two-bedroom units, and 4 three-bedroom units. Fourteen of the units will be affordable. There will also be 126 underground and surface parking spaces.

Another change that was made from the original PNF is that the units will be rentals instead of condos in order to secure funds from investors who have not been interested in financing a condominium project based on changing market conditions.

The developers have had meetings with the City and the community in the form of public meetings and advisory group meetings.

Public comments on the original proposal were predominantly opposing or urging revisions to the project. The comments were collected and posted in a document on the BPDA website at bit.ly/2qaVt29. Some residents asked for more “tangible” public benefits to the proposal, such as Elizabeth Russo, who wrote a comment that was posted in the document asking “Can you help solve the escalating traffic speeds of Walk Hill Street? Can you help bring retail to the vicinity that will appeal to residents? Can you add improved access to green space or safe walk/bike-ways? This current proposal does little to offset the inconvenience of having more people and cars that weren’t there before.”

There were some public comments submitted that were positive, however, like Paul Flynn’s comment: “Having lived in this neighborhood for many years, I feel this would be a wonderful improvement to this section of Roslindale. This would be nothing but positive in my eyes.”

The proposed building still needs zoning relief in several areas, including maximum height, rear yard setback, and allowable use. Current zoning mandates that the allowable use should be commercial for the first floor, and mixed use for the other floors; however, the building would be all residential use. Zoning also states that maximum height should be 35 feet, but the current proposal would be 55.5 feet high.

The BPDA commented on the original PNF that the public benefits to the project were insufficient, including the number of affordable units. Walk Hill Residences responded that the project does have proposed public benefits that include compliance to the City’s Inclusionary Housing Policy, and long-term maintenance and management of the building.

BPDA was also concerned that apartments “will not create the same level of investment/commitment to the community as home ownership and therefore is not an acceptable alternative.” The developers responded in their updated proposal that though the original plan was to build condominiums, “it became apparent the project was not as viable as ownership but only as rentals [because] the City continues to have a need for all types of housing, especially moderately priced rentals and responsible renters are no less committed neighbors.”

[Peter Shanley contributed to this article.]

[This article has been updated to reflect where the public comments came from.]

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