Residents and developers meet on proposal for 121 Brookside

By Laura Plummer, Special to the Gazette

       About 20 people attended a public meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) on Wednesday, January 23, to discuss the proposed project currently being planned for 121 Brookside Avenue. Those in attendance included representatives of the local neighborhood associations, members of the public and a team of developers hoping to transform a parking lot at the corner of Green Street.

       The development team included project developer Scott Johnson of Cedar Hill Residential, project architect Cheryl Tougias, project attorney Jim Green, and Tim Czerwinski representing Aisling Kerr, the project manager from BPDA.

       The proposed project is a four-story condo building. At street level would be an eleven-space parking garage and two live/work condos. The first, second and third floors would each contain seven condos, featuring a mix of studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom units. There will also be a roof deck featuring a head house and a communal entertaining space. At 45 feet high and 19,347 square feet, it is considered a small construction project.

       The comment period for the project opened on January 4. Prior to filing their Small Project Review Application (SPRA), the design team met with Brookside neighbors to hear their feedback. Originally, neighbors expressed concerned about the affordability of units.

       Prior to Wednesday night’s meeting, the team’s proposal contained nine larger units, which meant it wasn’t subject to the city’s inclusionary zoning. At the urging of community members, they revised their proposal to contain 21 smaller units, which means it must meet the city’s standards for affordability.

       According to the BPDA website, the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP) helps to “preserve access to affordable housing opportunities in all of Boston’s neighborhoods.”

       “The project is being proposed in the spirit of PLAN: JP/Rox, with an increase in IDP affordable housing,” said Kerr in an email.

       “The two largest units in the building, the live/work spaces, will be affordable units and reserved for certified artists,” Kerr continued, “and two of the upper floor residential units will also be designated as IDP units.”

       Developers initially offered no affordable units in their original proposal. Their new proposal contains four affordable units, or roughly 20% of their saleable square footage.

       However, this didn’t seem to satisfy some in the audience.

       Helen Matthews, a resident of Green Street and member of Green Street Renters Association, suggested that the development should feature rental properties. She was concerned that a lot of the people living in the area couldn’t afford to purchase their home.

       Johnson responded that he had done the math to figure out the monthly cost of renting one of his units versus purchasing and they had come out to roughly the same figure. Not only that, he stressed, buyers could see their property appreciate over time and be eligible for tax deductibles not available to renters. Moreover, he emphasized that they are condo developers and not interested in managing rentals.

       Another concern was parking. One attendee suggested they reduce the size of the parking garage in order to add ground-level accessible units. In place of the eleven cars included in the design, he proposed having a couple shared vehicles and bikes in stead. Another resident disagreed, saying that providing no parking would only result in condo owners and their visitors parking in the street, “exacerbating the problem we already have.”

       Some residents expressed concern about the roof deck, claiming that the addition of a head house on the roof technically counted as a fifth floor. Developers argued that the head house–which will have an elevator, bathroom, sink and counter–is not large enough to count as a separate floor. Furthermore, they insisted that is was necessary in order to make the roof deck accessible to wheelchairs.

       While there seemed to be a general consensus that the Brookside Community does need more housing options to accommodate a growing population, and especially affordable housing, resident April Morales of Greenley Place is not a fan of what she calls “massive properties.”

       “This is turning into condo after condo after condo,” she said, highlighting her preference for the two- and three-family dwellings so common to the neighborhood.

       BPDA will be working with the City to determine whether another public meeting will be necessary.

                  For updates on this project, visit bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/121-brookside-avenue. Neighbors and residents can still submit commentary on the website until at least February 4.

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