Residents mostly supportive of 35 S. Huntington Ave. proposal

Most attendees at a Feb. 9 meeting on the mixed-use development proposal for 35 S. Huntington Ave. were supportive, but some questioned whether Jamaica Plain neighborhood groups should be able to weigh-in on the project.

About 20 people attended the meeting at the Parker Hill Branch Library.

The proposal is the second to be considered for the site at 35 South Huntington Ave., a mostly-vacant lot just beyond the intersection at Huntington Avenue. The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) approved an older proposal for the property in 2002, but changes to the proposal necessitate a new review process from the BRA.

The lot has been vacant for many years, and the previous proposal languished for over a decade after it was approved. Now, neighbors are anxious for some kind of development.

“We want this to happen as quickly as possible,” said Michel Soltani, a local business owner and vice president of Mission Hill Main Streets, a business promotion organization.

Real estate development on South Huntington is picking up speed. With two new residential buildings to the south and more development planned along the street, “This was a great opportunity to set up a place-making space on the corner,” said Eric Robinson of RODE Architects.

The new proposal includes 38 one- and two-bedroom units, five of which will be affordable, and just over 7,000 square feet of commercial or retail space.

There was a fair amount of discussion about whether the development is in Mission Hill or Jamaica Plain. The project at 35 South Huntington Ave. falls within the BRA’s Mission Hill zoning district, but is part of Jamaica Plain, according to the United States Postal Service.

Rosemary Jones, the chair of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA), said that the developer and the BRA were wrong to put the development in Mission Hill rather than Jamaica Plain. She said that the JPA should be able to weigh-in on the project. Kevin Moloney, chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC), has also previously told the Gazette that his group should be able to review the project.

Previous community discussions made it clear that neighbors want more commercial space, with the hope that it will make the corner livelier, said Doug George, who owns the property through Walter Huntington, LLC. The 2002 proposal contained no commercial or retail space. Commercial space, said Robinson, would bring more people to the area and make it the energetic corner neighbors want.

“We really try to understand the location and the context,” said Robinson, “taking into consideration the height of existing and planned buildings, and sightlines onto the Emerald Necklace.”

The building’s design, said Robinson, will exist peacefully in the context of brick triple-deckers, but will not try to replicate them.

“It’s not trying to be a turn-of-the-century building, but we’re trying to be respectful to the urban context,” he said.

The southern half of the building will be the same height as the adjacent brick building, while the northern half will step up to be six stories.

Michael Reiskind, a member of the JPNC, questioned the proposed building’s height, saying, “Maybe it’s a little high.”

George defended the height, saying “The BRA encouraged us to step up [to the taller height].”

The development has a long way to go, and many important decisions have yet to be made. George said he does not have tenants for the ground-floor commercial spaces yet. He added, “We’re not looking to bring any national chains in there.”

The residential floors are equally undefined. George said he has not decided whether the units will be apartments or condominiums. He said he will not rent to undergraduate students.

Dermot Doyne was pleased with that statement, saying, “As a restaurant owner in Mission Hill, I could really do with the professional crowd.”

Pedestrian traffic from the nearby transit stops was a concern for some at the meeting, especially when two more businesses are added to the block. To accommodate pedestrians and transit riders, “We’re looking at setting back the ground floor to allow for wider sidewalks, necessary for bus and trolley stop,” said Robinson. “It’s going to be a little covered area, since the ground floor is set back”.

Response at the meeting was generally positive. “The project is beautiful,” said Soltani.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority is collecting comments until Feb. 29.

“We’re trying to form a design around the input,” said Robinson.

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