JPNC Housing Committee Elects Three New Members; Hears of Plans for 1822 Arboretum Rd. Project

Staff Report

The Housing and Development Committee (HDC) of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held a regular monthly meeting this past Tuesday. Chairperson Renee Stacey Welch and the committee and community members who were in attendance took up a number of issues. The committee initially elected new members to fill its vacant seats. The JPNC’s by-laws provide that each of its sub-committees may have five members who are members of the full JPNC and 10 who are community members. There were four candidates, Danielle Sommer, Lorenzo Bartoloni, Omer Hecht, and Peter DeCotis, all of whom are members of the full JPNC, for the two open seats for JPNC members. After each presented the reasons why they desired to serve on the committee, Sommer and Bartoloni received the most votes from the committee members. In addition, the committee voted to elect John Harding, who works for a non-profit housing developer, as a community member of the committee, though his election is subject to approval by the full JPNC. Three other residents also expressed their desire to serve as community members. They will have to attend next month’s meeting of the HDC because the JPNC’s by-laws require that prospective community members candidates must attend two successive meetings of the sub-committees on which they wish to serve. The development team from Veleney Development made a presentation of its proposed project at 1822 Arboretum Rd. The project is a so-called Article 80 development for which the JPNC will provide comments to the BPDA. The project, which presently is the site of an abandoned industrial building, is bounded by Arboretum and Lochdale Rds. on the edge of the MBTA commuter rail line with direct access to the Arboretum. The structure will be six stories high (with a parking a garage on the ground floor) and will consist of 230 apartments (52 studios, 86 one-bedrooms, 88 two-bedrooms, and four three-bedrooms), of which 38 will be affordable (which exceeds the city’s current 13% threshold for affordable housing units in new housing developments), with 124 motor vehicle parking spaces. 230 resident bicycle parking spaces, and 46 visitor bicycle spaces for those who wish a gateway to the nearby Arboretum. There also will be a public dog walk. The lot size totals just under 100,000 sq. ft., of which 25,000 sq. ft. will be open to the public. The building will be sustainable and will be LEED-certified. The developers already have conducted a number of community outreach events over the past year. “We’re focused on making this area better and improving it as much as we can,” said one of the presenters, who added that the community feedback has been overwhelmingly positive by residents who are desirous of seeing an improvement in the area (especially for the triple-deckers that front Washington St. and back up onto the site, which presently is a trash-strewn, overgrown corridor) and better access to the Arboretum. Members of the committee voiced a number of concerns: Some noted that although the project will consist of 16.5% affordable units, that figure falls short of the JPNC’s stated goal of 25% affordability; others pointed out that the “affordable” threshold of 70% of average median income in reality is not affordable for many potential residents; another noted that the removal of the industrial building eliminates the possibility of bringing in a business that would create jobs for local residents, which was the original intent of the zoning for that area; and others noted that the high percentage of small units will create a high-turnover of tenants that will not aid in the establishment of long-term residents of the community. Construction is not slated to begin until 2024 with an anticipated completion date of 2026. The committee voted to draft a comment letter incorporating the viewpoints expressed by the members for presentation to the full JPNC. The committee then heard from representatives from the Pine St. Inn who explained the concept of Permanent Supportive Housing. They noted that there presently are more than 15,000 homeless persons in Massachusetts, an increase of more than 20 percent since 2007. The goal of Permanent Supportive Housing is to provide permanent housing with necessary services for these tenants in order to eliminate their homelessness in a manner that is cost-effective compared to providing homeless-shelter beds. The presenters noted that sobriety is not a requirement for Supportive Housing tenants. The issue of housing for those who are homeless and dealing with substance abuse issues has risen to the forefront in the JP area because of the placement of temporary housing modules last summer by state and city officials in the parking lot of the soon-to-be-shuttered Shattuck Hospital in order to address the issue of the homeless encampments at the now-infamous Mass. and Cass intersection. However, the residents, particularly in the adjacent Stoney Brook neighborhood, have been vocal in their concern that their community has become a highly-concentrated area for drug users and drug dealers, with needles littering the premises on a daily basis, creating obvious safety concerns for themselves and their families.

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