JP Neighborhood Council Still Has Three Openings

Special to the Gazette

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, June 25, via Zoom. Chair Renee Stacey Welch presided over the session that was attended by Caroline Peters, the liaison to Jamaica Plain from the mayor’s office, and Jordan Frias, the Director of Policy and Communications for District 6 City Councilor Ben Weber’s office.

JPNC members in attendance were vice-chair Bernard Doherty, at-large members Purple Reign, Sarah Freeman, Michael Reiskind, and David Baron; Area A  members Willie Mitchell, Peter DeCotis, Esther Beillard, and Danielle Sommer-Kieta; Area B members Lorenzo Bartoloni and Caliga; and Area C members Katherine O’Shea and Gert Thorn.

Upcoming community events noted were the JP Open Streets that is set for July 21 and the BAMS Festival at Franklin Park’s Playstead Field, set for this weekend, June 29 and 30, that will feature two days of R&B, funk, soul, hip hop, house, and more performed by nationally-acclaimed artists and homegrown talent.

Reiskind presented the report of the Public Service Committee. He asked for a vote to support the request of Rafael E. Veras, doing business as Latino Restaurant at 302 Centre Street, to amend his 7-Day Common Victualler Beer & Wine Beverage License to a Beer and Wine with Liqueurs License and for a change in the closing hour from 12 midnight to 1:00 am. Reiskind noted that the upgrade to a liqueurs license is a means of serving after-dinner cordials such as Sambuca without obtaining a full liquor license, which can cost as much as $500,000 on the open market. The city has an official list of cordials that are not deemed spirits .

The members unanimously approved the request.

Reiskind also presented an update on the status of the Centre South Streetscape project, a longstanding project by the city that has been ongoing since 2009, extending from Jackson Sq. to Forest Hills. The goal of the project is to provide a pedestrian-friendly urban landscape with bump-outs and wider sidewalks to accommodate tables and chairs for restaurants. The portion of the project from Jackson Square to Hyde Square has been completed.

Resikind said the second portion of the project met with community opposition about 10 years ago and was put on hold. However, Reiskind reported that the issues finally have been resolved and the city now is ready to move forward to complete the project starting in the fall.

Baron presented the report of the Zoning Committee of which he is the chair. He said that his committee took up three matters at its recent June meeting. The first pertained to 6 Slocum Rd., involving a rear addition to a single family house. He noted that the Jamaica Hills Assoc. had heard the application and was not opposed. He also said that emails had been submitted in favor of the project by neighbors. Baron said the Zoning Committee gave its approval to the project and asked the full JPNC to affirm the Zoning Committee’s recommendation.

Baron said the second matter was an application by Viva Taco, the former Across the Border, at 378A Centre St., for a take-out food license. Baron noted that the adjacent Brendan Behan bar is in favor of the new restaurant’s application. He said that though the lack of parking and double parking have been problems for businesses in the area, there was no opposition to the application.

The full JPNC approved both matters unanimously. The applicants now must go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals to obtain their variances and licenses.

Baron said the third matter involved the construction of eight residential units and a ground-floor retail space at 3336-3338 Washington St., the former Canto 6 location. However, the matter was not resolved at the June meeting and will require a further  hearing before the Zoning Committee to allow various community groups to meet with the developer.

The next committee report came from O’Shea, the chair of the Outreach Committee. She said the discussion at its meeting centered around the city’s grants (up to $750) for neighborhood Block Parties. She said Outreach Committee members are offering to assist residents with the application process. She said the deadline to apply for a grant is July 31 with a 30-day review period by the city. O’Shea also noted that she has applied for a table for the JPNC  at the upcoming Open Streets festival.

Chair Sommer-Kieta presented the report of the Housing and Development Comm. She said that tenants from the Forbes Building were invited to attend. Sommer-Kieta noted that all of the 147 units in the building will be affordable.

She said one of the concerns raised by the tenants was the reduction of parking spaces in order to increase green space on the property. In addition, the tenants expressed dismay with the lack of process of the decision to reduce the parking area, which means that a number of tenants will be forced to park on the street. There are 180 residents in the Forbes Building, but now there will be only 15 total parking spaces.

“The issue that really got me about this is that there was no notice to the residents, of whom 78 own cars, of the changes that were voted on by the BPDA (Boston Planning & Development Agency). Where is the rationale for this? Is pushing them out to the street the best way to handle it?” said Doherty, who is a member of the Housing and Development Committee.

“Why was the city acting without talking to the residents and notifying them of what was going to happen?” added Thorn, another member of the committee.

Sommer-Kieta said the Housing Committee will be sending a letter to city officials seeking an answer as to why the parking has been reduced so drastically.

During the time allotted for the presentation of the Parks and Open Space Committee, JPNC members discussed the ongoing problem of bicyclists using the footpath around Jamaica Pond, which makes the pathway dangerous for pedestrians.

Sue Cibulski presented the report of the Arborway Yard Subcommittee. She said the committee discussed the MBTA’s budget, which includes funding for the design of the new Arborway bus garage. However, the budget being considered by the legislature includes no funding for the actual construction of the garage.

She said that the subcommittee will be seeking to have a table at the upcoming Open Streets event to inform JP residents of the issues surrounding the construction of the new garage that will house 200 of the T’s anticipated electric bus fleet.

Regarding the controversial issue of the use of a portion of the promised eight-acres of community development land at the garage site for a parking area for 150 employees, Cibulski said the discussion centered around the possibility of underground parking to preserve as much of the promised eight acres for community development as possible.

However, Thorn said that the possibility that underground parking will become a reality is minimal because of the cost.

Toward the end of the meeting, Peters discussed the issue of rat control and noted that the city is becoming more proactive about controlling the proliferation of rats in the city. Although some members noted the brazenness of the rat population, even during the day, Peters pointed out that JP is “not in the top-10 areas for rats in the city.” However, Peters noted that for any rat control program to be effective, it requires the cooperation of all residents in order to be effective. If only one resident is careless with their trash, their dog waste, or bird seed, it can affect an area within a wide radius.

Doherty noted that in his neighborhood near the Arboretum, feral cats, which have been “adopted” by residents, have proven useful in keeping down the rat population. However, a resident attending the meeting noted that the downside to feral cats is that they are hugely detrimental  to wild bird populations.

The meeting concluded with Welch reminding residents that there are three open seats (two in Area B and one in Area C) on the JPNC and urged anyone interested in joining the council to apply for the openings.

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