Concerns voiced over parking, traffic at meeting for 125 Amory St. redevelopment

May 26, 2017
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Residents of the Amory Street area expressed their concerns about parking and traffic at a May 16 community meeting that was held on an initial design proposal for the 125 Amory St. redevelopment project.

Boston Housing Authority (BHA) owns the mid-rise building at 125 Amory St., which is federally subsidized and provides about 200 units of elderly and disabled public housing. BHA issued a request for proposals in 2015 to revitalize and redevelop the building, and Amory Street Partners’ proposal was selected for the project.

Amory Street Partners consists of Urban Edge, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, and Community Builders.

Kate Bennett of the BHA said that the request for proposals was released because there has been a shortfall of federal funding for many years.

“We are struggling to maintain this property to the level that we would like and that our residents deserve,” Bennett said.

Bennett said that BHA was happy with Amory Street Partners’ proposal because it plans to retain all of the affordable units and add housing as well. The project has not gone through the Boston Planning and Development Authority’s (BPDA) official review process, and the May 16 meeting was held to gather feedback from the community.

The proposal involves new construction of approximately 350 new mixed-income units, in addition to preserving and improving the 200 existing units. About 35 percent of the new homes will be affordable, creating a total of 60 percent of the total units being affordable. The proposal also involves improvements to parking, traffic circulation, and open space.

There will be an additional three buildings built. The existing building and one new building will have 100 percent affordability, with the two other new buildings having 25 percent affordability in each. In total, there will be approximately 562 units. The new units will consist of 63 studios, 138 one-bedrooms, 137 two-bedrooms, and 15 three-bedrooms.

Noah Sawyer from Community Builders said that the goal is to provide more affordable units at a deeper level of affordability. Affordable units will be available at 30 percent, 60 percent, and 70 percent area median income (AMI).

Parking will be distributed across the site with the goal of “meeting parking needs, but discouraging car use,” according to Sawyer. Forty-seven percent of households at the site will have a parking space, totaling 262 spaces. This parking would be assigned and cost a fee for residents. It involves replacement parking for existing residents, parking for BHA and Senior Center employees, Zipcar or another car share service, and new spaces for each building.

Sawyer also said that with the proposed additional parking, there would be an impact on traffic, but at a “relatively minimal amount.” Sawyer said that congestion would be alleviated by having multiple exits.

Residents of the area did not seem to believe that the impacts would be “relatively minimal.”

“We compete for parking on a daily basis. We got to now compete with 350 units for parking? How is that going work?” one resident rhetorically asked.

Most residents at the meeting were concerned about potential traffic and parking related impacts on the surrounding community, but were mixed in their views of whether or not the project should include more parking or less.

“The dichotomy of too much parking or not enough will never end,” said Debbie Lubarr, resident of Atherton Street. “The question is, what makes people not drive their car? If I had a child, I would drive my car to get that child to daycare. If there was childcare on-site, that would reduce car use.”

Other residents added that if the residents are charged to park on the site, they would take advantage of the free street parking instead. An idea was brought up to create a proviso in the leases of the residents stating that they could not apply for a resident parking sticker. Brian Beisel, the project’s transportation engineer, said that this often isn’t an effective rule because it does not hold up if challenged in court; a resident who lives in a neighborhood cannot be denied the right to park there.

Eric Herot, a resident who often advocates for minimal parking in new developments in Jamaica Plain, said that parking should be made more expensive and scarcer.

“I get that people need to commute to the suburbs or get their kids to daycare, but parking cuts into the amount of housing you can build,” Herot said.

The new traffic circulation also includes creating a road behind the site close to the train tracks. Residents were concerned that this would function as a cut-through. Developers said that this feature was included as a means of emergency vehicles to access all parts of the site, and that cut-throughs would be discouraged by speed bumps.

Some other site improvements proposed are broadening the front stoop area and adding a tot lot (playground for children). Thirty-seven percent of the site would be green space, including a courtyard and park.

One resident who declined to be quoted said that the front stoop of the building is not appealing or inviting because of the residents hanging out outside and smoking.

In response, Giovanny Valencia of JPNDC said that it’s important to the developers to maintain an area where residents can hang out and connect with the surrounding community.

Other comments brought up at the meeting were that it’s important to preserve the mature trees at the rear of the property, that the setbacks of the buildings from Amory Street be consistent, to prioritize local and diverse construction workers, and to address the escalating issues of rodents and pests in the area.

So far, Amory Street Partners have taken inventory of the conditions of the existing units, assessed the structure of the building, and had conversations with Amory Street residents and the Task Force on community areas and outside areas. A contractor has developed the initial pricing for renovations, and the initial request for financing has been submitted.

Amory Street Partners hopes to file the proposal with the BPDA in June, and will have more community meetings as part of the approval process in July and August.

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