The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Zoning Committee met virtually on December 2, where the main topic of discussion was the proposed project at 97-99 Williams Street to build a six unit residential building on the vacant lot at 99 Williams while retaining the existing there family building at 97 Williams.
More than 40 people tuned into the Zoom call and many neighbors had concerns with the project. Members of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) were present to express their dissatisfaction with the community process for this project, as they believe it was not carried out properly and they still have concerns about the proposal. Others had concerns about the nine zoning variances the project requires.
Architect Elaine Scales presented the proposal, saying that the original plan was for eight units, but after discussion with the community, it was brought down to six. Scales mentioned several times that the project overlooks the Minton Stable Community Garden, and has a “wonderful view of that.”
Parking was a large concern with the original proposal, as many neighbors were not happy about the idea of an eight car mechanical stacking system in the neighborhood. The new proposal eliminates the stacking system and replaces it with garage and surface parking for five cars. Scales said that cars will enter a driveway for the building off of Stedman St.
Scales also talked about the street context, and how she wants to position this building similarly to the existing buildings at 108 and 97—on an angle towards Williams St.
For the building itself, “the idea is that we would build two forms that are similar in size and scale to the other three families on the block,” Scales said, and connect the two by a common stair and entry in the middle. The building is “just under 35 feet tall,” Scales said, and would consist of six condos for sale.
“We have a chosen a form that is 27 feet wide and it presents itself as a tall, slender form and we can fit three cars here into the garage on the right hand building,” she said.
The proposal includes five three bedroom units and one two bedroom unit, and there will be roof decks and air conditioning condenser units on the roof as well. There will also be an area in the basement for bicycle storage, she said.
On the front facade of the building there will be balconies and porches with a glass entrance in the middle and a skylight to “illuminate the stair hall,” Scales said. The facade will appear to have clapboard siding with stone at the bays, and a flat roof.
Additionally, she said that “as many of the existing trees as possible” will be preserved, and replacement trees will be planted where preservation is not possible.
Members of the Zoning Committee as well as many members of the community asked questions or provided comments about this project. Members of the committee were mixed on whether to support or oppose the proposal given the circumstances.
“This proposal has not appeared before the SNA for a full vote of the membership,” said Jonathan McCurdy of the SNA. “It’s still in subcommittee.” He said that more than one email had been sent to the project’s developer, Joe Federico, inviting him to present before the SNA at its December 14 meeting but said that no response was received. The original presentation of this project to the SNA was in February of this year and the subcommittee and the proponents had been in contact over the summer regarding changes.
“My worry is that this has skipped steps and as a local civic association, I feel that the neighborhood association should be able to work with the developers to work out ongoing issues,” he said.
Scott Glidden, co-chair of the SNA subcommittee for this project, said that “we feel that if the process had continued a bit further and there was more sincere effort to come to a compromise, the project could have been wrapped up in relatively short order.” He added that “the SNA takes its responsibility very seriously,” and that the SNA would vote to oppose the project “as it stands” because there are outstanding concerns related to the zoning variances and they believe the building is too large for the lot.
Glidden said that reducing the west side elevation by reducing the building on the right slightly to make it equal with the building on the left would “allow for shifting on the site” and “certainly would alleviate some of the violations in the project that it has currently,” he said. “We feel that an adjustment in the side of the building would allow for better placement on the lot.”
Joe Federico responded with a chronology of what he said happened after the original presentation in February, which included responding “within a month” to questions and concerns from the SNA, and making changes that included reducing the number of units and the Floor Area Ratio, as well as pulling back the western portion of the building “so it was compliant with the 20 feet” that is required,” he said.
He also said that the originally proposed gabled roof was changed to a flat one as a compromise requested by the SNA.
Federico said that he “continuously asked to be added to the agenda for a vote” at the SNA, but “every time they continuously declined.”
Baron said that the Zoning Committee does traditionally “wait for a neighborhood organization to say they’re done” before a project comes before the committee, but this time, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services “intervened” and asked the Zoning Board to schedule this project because there were concerns about how long it was “stuck” with the SNA.
Zoning Committee member Max Glikman said he “commends” the SNA subcommittee for the work they have done so far on the project and making it better fit the neighborhood than when it was first proposed.
“There are six new families moving into the neighborhood,” he said. “I think six new families is always better than an empty lot.” He also said that the SNA is “putting in the same amount of effort” as they would for a “40 unit project,” which he said could lead to a loss of credibility with the Mayor’s Office and others. “They need to see some give and take,” he said.
Jennifer Uhrhane of the SNA said that the “subcommittee is not arguing against a six unit building,” but they do believe that what is currently on the table is too large for the lot.
“The new design was not shown to the folks in the SNA,” said Zoning Committee member Kevin Moloney. “I think we need to support the locals. There’s still time to have a final negotiation here.” Zoning Committee member Marie Turley agreed with him, and member Jake Hart also said he was against the proposal until the issues with the SNA can be “ironed out.”
Zoning Committee member Andrea Howley said that she believes a 10 month process for a six unit building is a “long time,” and it’s “important that these processes get pushed along. We’re in a tough time and people need to move forward. I do support this project.”
Zoning Committee member Jerry O’Connor agreed with Moloney as well, saying he would vote against this proposal, but added that he was “disappointed with the SNA.” He also said that the SNA could “lose credibility” if this continues.
“It’s a small project until it’s being build next to you,” McCurdy said, encouraging the group to listen to those who came to speak about the proposal.
Zoning Committee member Michael Reiskind said that he would vote against the proposal, but was “surprised the SNA has not bent enough in not realizing their intransigence is not in their favor. You have to learn to bend in these projects and I have not heard that here.”
Baron said that while he was in support of the proposal and “I think that we’re all in favor of the local process,” he continued, “there’s something wrong with your process, SNA. We do support local neighborhood organizations.”
A motion was made to approve the proposal, but it failed with four in favor and five opposed and Lee Goodman abstaining because he is the developer for the the Doyle’s project with Scales on the same street.
After more discussion, Federico told the Committee that he is willing to come back before them at a future meeting, so the project was deferred and no further action was taken by the Zoning Committee on Wednesday evening. There has not been a Zoning Board of Appeal date set for this project, but one is forthcoming, said Lindsey Santana of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services.