Tensions run high during Washington St. development meeting

By Josie Grove

Special to the Gazette

Opposition to the proposed apartment building at 3353 Washington St. escalated into a confrontation between residents, the developer, and the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) during an April 28 community meet.

About 40 residents gathered for the meeting to voice their opinions about the proposal at the English High School. A few residents said that there should be a full moratorium on development along Washington Street until the JP/Rox planning study is finished. The BRA has said previously that that is not going to happen.

The 3353 Washington St. proposal would be a modern, boxy building with varying windows and a jagged roofline that would sit at the corner of Green Street and Washington Street, and at six stories, would stand above its neighbors.

“We see the site as an important corner in a diverse neighborhood,” said Deb Katz of Interface Studio Architects. “We believe the building can hold the corner in a bold way with a bold piece of architecture.”

The building would have ground floor retail space and 44 apartments, six of which will be affordable housing.

Giovanny Valencia of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation pointed out that six affordable units was the minimum required under the City’s affordable-housing policy. “Can there be more?” he asked.

“We are not proposing luxury housing here,” said Terry Bruce, one of the developers. “If we are pushed to create more affordable units, that raises the price of the other units, and they no longer become affordable to the market that we’re hoping to achieve.”

When asked to name a price for the apartments, Bruce said, “Our commitment is to middle-income housing. We don’t have those numbers yet.”

Residents had questions before the presentation began, asking BRA representative Lance Campbell about what they saw as anemic efforts to inform neighbors of the meeting. There was no mention in the Latino press, said Edwin Argueta of MA Jobs with Justice, a current occupant of the space at 3353 Washington St. Weezy Waldstein, a longtime neighborhood resident said, “I think this is a bad process if there is no outreach.”

BRA spokesperson Nick Martin has since said that the agency will host a second community meeting because the lack of community outreach over the meeting. The second meeting had not been scheduled at the Gazette deadline.

The questions about the project kept coming from attendees at the meeting: Would there be enough parking? Where will the occupants currently at 3353 Washington St. go? Will the affordable housing units go to current Jamaica Plain residents? How many zoning variances would the building require?

There would be 24 parking spaces for the project, but several people said that was not enough. Eric Herot said, “I actually want less parking.” Katz and Bruce both called the development “transit-oriented.” Bruce said she has met with leadership of JWJ, which has an office at the 3353 Washington St. and had found them new office space. But Argueta disputed that, saying he had not heard anything about that.

The affordable units will go into the City’s Fair Housing Commission lottery. Eligible people will be randomly selected for the units, with no weight given to their current neighborhood. The question about variances was not answered, but according to the project’s PNF, it will need several, including for exceeding height limit and for not meeting the minimum parking requirement.

In an effort to contain the meeting in its time limit, Campbell said several times, “I’m going to save you from yourself if you go beyond ninety seconds.” His tone did not make him sympathetic to residents.

“I find you very condescending,” said Argueta to Campbell.

Periodically, the focus of residents’ umbrage shifted from the BRA to the developers. Bruce’s partner in the project, Mordechai Levin, was asked pointed questions, such as, “How many people are you going to displace, and how much money will you make?”

At one point, the meeting devolved into a shouting match between Levin and Bruce Marks of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America. Marks angrily asserted that Levin’s tenants do not like him as a landlord, and that he has let properties sit vacant rather than lowering rents. Levin defended his history in the neighborhood, pointing to his Stop & Shop development in Jackson Square and reminding people at the meeting, “People forget, over 25 years ago, no one wanted to be in JP.”

Now that many people want to live in Jamaica Plain, the demand for housing is pushing up costs. Some residents who spoke at the meeting were concerned with both lowering the cost of living in Jamaica Plain and maintaining the ‘character’ of the neighborhood. Herot pointed out that these goals were contradictory.

“Everybody is asking for more affordability and shorter buildings,” he said. But, he added, in order to create enough housing to drive down prices, neighborhoods will have to become denser, and taller buildings will have to come.

The comment period for the project has been extended to May 27. For more information or to comment on the project, visit bit.ly/1T9GaNY.



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