JPNC Housing and Development Committee Discusses Affordable Senior Project on Washington St.

The Jamaica Plain Housing and Development Committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met on December 15, where a proposal was heard for a five story building at 3371 Washington St.

The project at 3371 Washington St. is being developed by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development, and consists of a five story building with 38 one bedroom residential units for low income seniors, as well as a new space for El Embajador restaurant, the current tenant of the building. The project has also received funding from the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).

Samantha Montano of the JPNDC provided some background on the project, saying that the site is home to El Embajador, which, about three years ago, faced displacement when they received an eviction order. She said that the JPNDC “helped navigate what was at first a rent hike and then an eviction order,” and was able to “push off City Realty” from taking over the building. JPNDC purchased the property from City Realty, and is now proposing this project.

Ingrid Bengtson, an architect with Utile Architecture & Planning, said that the 38 one bedroom senior units will be “service enriched,” and the building will also include one live-in manager unit. All units will be affordable at or below 60 percent of the Area Median Income, she added, and will include common areas and green spaces for residents, as this project will be compliant with all compact living guidelines.

 There will also be bike storage, along with meeting space, offices, and a community space for the residents that has the potential to be opened to the public, Bengtson said. Parking has been removed from a previous version of the project, she added, and the space for the restaurant includes cafe seating with an overhang above.

Bengtson said that one bedroom units have been successful in JPNDC’s other senior buildings, so that’s why they chose to implement those here. She said there are also “generous ceiling heights and windows,” also to comply with the compact living guidelines.

She said there are also “ambitious sustainability goals,” including the goal of achieving passive house certification for the project.

Bengtson said that in complying with the compact living guidelines, the team will not be making bedrooms or living rooms smaller, even though the guidelines allow “for smaller room dimensions than the typical DND guidelines,” she said.

“We didn’t set out to do compact living,” said Bill Madsen Hardy of New Atlantic Development. “We designed it and said, ‘hey we’re meeting compact living standards in most regards,’ so we’re sort of following that path. It is our goal to meet all of the standards of compact living.”

The committee went through their checklist for BPDA Article 80 projects, which is used to write a comment letter to the BPDA. Chair Carolyn Royce started out with the affordability aspect of the project, which she said is “great.” She added, “I like the idea of senior housing,” and other members of the committee were also excited to see an all affordable project, especially with a live-in manager, which Royce also said she liked.

There was some discussion around the transit-oriented design aspect of the checklist, and Royce brought up potential issues with pickup and drop-off as there is “no vehicle access to this site that’s regular.” The project will, according to the team, meet guidelines for the city’s Complete Streets initiative.

On the sustainability front, committee member Aidan Foley said there was potential for concern with building materials and indoor air quality that were not addressed in the presentation.

Brian Goldson of New Atlantic Development said that the team is “not quite there yet with materials,” but “can support the indoor Healthy Homes standards [of the Boston Public Health Commission]. Our values should align there.”

 He said that they plan on having electric heat and the rest of the building will be “fully electric with the potential exception of domestic hot water heating,” but added that the building will be prepared to have electric hot water once the technology has advanced further.

The committee also talked about urban design, and committee member Kevin Rainsford said he thinks “the design is attractive,” but wondered how it stacked up against PLAN: JP/Rox guidelines, which he said allow for a maximum height of 55 feet.

Goldson said that the proposed building right now stands over 56 feet high, which he said is a “product of conflicting goals and standards,” as the compact living guidelines require higher ceiling heights.

Carolyn Royce said she wants to see more strict adherence to PLAN: JP/Rox guidelines, and a comment was also made that it should be recognized that the Union Ave. Neighborhood Association wants to see “further mitigation” on this project.

 Overall, the discussion pointed to the fact that committee members felt that the project’s affordability was favorable, but some people were concerned that getting hung up on some of the other details might prevent more affordable housing from being built in the neighborhood.

 The committee voted to recommend to the full JPNC that a supportive letter on this project be written, but mention some of the outstanding concerns.

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