By Sara Selevitch
Special to the Gazette
Roughly 25 community members gathered on July 27 at Doyle’s Cafe for a joint Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and Stonybrook Neighborhood Association meeting to discuss the first draft of the Plan: JP/Rox study, which seeks to develop the 250 acres between Forest Hills, Egleston Square, and Jackson Square.
The BRA has held more than 15 community meetings and workshops over the past year to hear from the community about how best to serve the area and enhance overall livability.
BRA project team members Marie Mercurio and John Dalzell presented their ideas to the meeting’s attendees, highlighting their goals of neighborhood character and land use, housing affordability, transportation, open space, and sustainable development.
One of the biggest concerns on everyone’s mind seemed to be how this development would affect 76 Stonley Road, a project that’s proved a major point of contention among residents. Jennifer Uhrhane, co-hair of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association, noted that in the JP/Rox plan, 76 Stonley Road is designated as green space.
“You’re trying to lock in and set green space in this kind of plan, but there’s private developers and private land,” Uhrhane said. “How do you get a whole block’s worth of green space where it’s a private developer who’s going to do what they can to not put in accommodations like that?”
Dalzell emphasized that the plan’s drawings were suggestions and not proposals.
“We do have to keep some flexibility in mind due to timing and ownership,” he said. “76 Stonley Road is absolutely a problem; it’s where we struggle.”
Part of what makes Stonley Road such a contentious project is its potential to set unwelcome precedents. The JP/Rox plan would allow for mixed-use buildings ranging from 6 to15 stories, raising concerns about neighborhood character and density issues.
“If I wanted to live in 15-20 story towers, I’d sell my property and move to New York City,” resident Karen Doherty said. “That’s not what I bought into. That’s not what I’ve been fighting for.”
Dalzell responded, “I want to point out that this is not coming from the city. It’s growth pressure that we’re experiencing in the city that are driving up rents and cost of housing. Those pressures are causing displacement…The JP/Rox strategy is to make sure that there’s a robust supply of affordable housing.”
Residents are also uneasy regarding the new developments’ relationship to the existing homes around them, due to inconsistent zoning variances.
“If someone comes in and buys a light industrial and asks for a variance to make it residential, to me the agreement should be that now you need to meet residential setback requirements,” resident Scott Glidden.
Uhrhane voiced her agreement.
“A big concern is where we have three-family buildings with something much bigger proposed across the street or next door, where they’re not being required to respect residential setbacks,” she said.
“Asking for a variance is like asking for permission,” said resident Nancy Allen. “So if someone wants to ask for permission to build residential under the light industrial zoning, that doesn’t seem remotely right. I don’t understand why the BRA can’t have the muscle to say no.”
“The variance process is a wide open space,” Dalzell offered. “There are no set rules.”
Dalzell and Mercurio couldn’t speak to what will happen with 76 Stonley Road, nor the variance inconsistencies, nor the Arborway bus yard, which is part of the JP/Rox plan and has been an ongoing headache for residents.
Jamaica Plan Neighborhood Council member Carolyn Royce spoke of many years of collaboration and an eventual agreement made between the council and the MBTA to build a permanent bus yard and turn over 8 acres of land for affordable housing and other community uses.
“Now it’s like a no-go,” she said. “The MBTA won’t move the bus yard, the Department of Transportation said they won’t move it in the foreseeable future. The BRA is planning to use that land for affordable housing, but it’s really locked up.”
A specific meeting regarding the bus yard will be held by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council on Aug. 16.
In the meantime, the JP/Rox plan asks the MBTA to free up a strip of the yard’s land on Washington Street for residential and commercial uses.
“I don’t see the Arborway yard decision being made any time soon,” Dalzell said. “There’s no sense of movement, and the idea that we live with that condition for another ten years seems unnecessary…this seems like a reasonable ask.”
Dalzell and Mercurio will be gathering feedback regarding these and other concerns until the third week in August. They hope to produce plan’s second draft by September.