Group home details laid out

John Ruch

Real Estate Today

PONDSIDE—Vinfen Corporation laid out the details of its new group home in a Jamaicaway mansion at the Oct. 5 meeting the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) board.

JPA board members and local residents generally voiced support for the group home at 424 Jamaicaway.

The Gazette first revealed in March that Vinfen had bought the single-family mansion at the Jamaicaway and Lochstead Avenue from controversial local landlord Roger Smith. Vinfen, a non-profit human services agency, is now renovating it into a group home for 10 “medically fragile individuals with developmental disabilities,” most of them elderly.

All of the residents will be clients of the state Department of Developmental Services (DDS). Vinfen’s Joe Gomes said that DDS clients are moving in there and elsewhere across the state “in response to a class-action lawsuit against the Commonwealth” about clients being put in nursing homes instead of living in communities.

Vinfen will act as a contractor running the DDS full-time care program. Technically, it will be two separately funded programs—one on each of two floors—but will serve the same client base and act as a unit.

“This is their home, first and foremost,” Gomes said of the future residents, who may remain there for the rest of their lives.

The house is being renovated into 10 single-person bedrooms, plus medical care facilities and staff space. That included expanding the livable space to about 5,600 square feet—a boost of about 2,000 square feet.

Gomes said the facility will have a maximum of five staff members per shift on the site, including full-time nurses. The program can never expand, including no increase in the number of residents, he said.

JPA members and several Lochstead Avenue residents who attended the Oct. 5 meeting expressed support for Vinfen’s mission and indicated they preferred Vinfen’s fix-up of the property to Smith’s years of ownership.

The group home is an allowed use under the zoning code, and city officials ruled that the expansion of the building did not require zoning variances.

Boston Parks Commission review of the renovation was required because the property is on the Jamaicaway, a historic state parkway and part of the Emerald Necklace park system. The home got the Parks Commission’s approval, which did not require a public hearing, according to Colleen Keller, the Jamaica Plain Coordinator from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services (ONS).

The property also falls within a special review area because it is in a historic neighborhood zoning district. Under that designation, the exterior renovations underwent extensive design review by Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) staff.

Under that design review, the BRA is required to notify the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) about the project to solicit any input on the exterior changes. The JPNC, a neighborhood-wide organization, typically refers such notices, which are made through ONS, to local neighborhood associations for comment.

In this case, Keller chose to go straight to the JPA, arranging the on-site meeting with the association’s chair and Zoning Committee head, and sending the JPA the bilingual meeting notice more than two weeks ahead of time with a request to distribute it, as shown in city e-mails reviewed by the Gazette. Vinfen was responsible for flyering nearby homes.

Several residents attended the meeting, as did at least two JPA board members, Keller later told the Gazette.

At the Oct. 5 JPA meeting, a few residents said they had never received the flyers and missed the meeting. Several JPA board members also complained that JPA either got no notice or got some improper type of notice. It is unclear how that matches the actual notification that went out. The JPNC, which has at least one mutual JPA member, has not complained publicly about not getting a notice.

The JPA board voted unanimously to demand that the BRA always send this type of notice to both the JPNC and the JPA.

In any case, it appeared that residents are generally in support of the group home.

The JPA board also voted 6-4 to ask the BRA for a staff meeting to review the agency’s approval of the project, largely as a kind of substitute for what the JPA believed to be the missing community notice. The meeting request was controversial, with JPA chair Michael Frank and Zoning Committee chair Kevin Moloney questioning the point of the effort when the JPA generally supports the group home anyway.

The meeting request originated with a JPA board member who said he wanted to check a particular detail about whether the house’s basement counts in its square-footage. Vinfen spokesperson Donna Rheaume later told the Gazette that “the basement will not be used” and so does not count in the livable square-footage.

Keller said city and BRA officials are always happy to meet with concerned residents.

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