Zoning Committee deadlocks on 106 Forest Hills St. development

Abutters were angry and committee members were divided at a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Zoning Committee meeting on May 2 regarding a proposed development of a 13,000-square-foot residential building at 106 Forest Hills St.

The proposed project would demolish an existing building to build a new one with nine residential units and 10 parking spaces. Alan Sharaf, the owner and developer for the site, has had two meetings with abutters prior to the hearing at the Zoning Committee.

The lot is 15,170 square feet, and the intention is to build a 38-foot, three-story building with an elevator. There would not be a basement.

There would be seven two-bed units at around 1,010 square feet each, and two three-bed units at 1,770 square feet each. The project is seeking many variances, including for height, floor area ratio, and side yard setback.

The building will also need to meet requirements for the Greenbelt Protection Overlay District, since it is in a certain distance from Franklin Park.

The original idea for the project was to include 12 parking spaces, but that was reduced after a meeting with abutters who wanted more open space. The developer is now seeking an additional variances for not having enough parking, since the requirement is for 12 spaces.

The developer did not give any numbers at all in terms of the price of the units except that they would all be market rate.

Members of the Zoning Committee, mainly Max Glikman and Marie Turley, said it seemed like an intentional choice to build nine units instead of 10, because that is just under the minimum to be considered part of the City’s Inclusionary Development Policy, which would require that 13 percent of the total units be “affordable.” When developer was asked if he had considered more units, Jeff Drago, the developer’s attorney, said that he had not because there were concerns from the community from the beginning about increasing massing or creating many small units.

Sharaf said that he was not intentionally skirting the Inclusionary Development Policy, that it was more of a coincidence that the total number of units was nine.

“I’m afraid that a lot of the conversation and concerns here are public policy issues,” Sharaf said. “You may say cynically that we’re under 10 [units], so we’re not affordable. I mean this is the project that the architect came up with, not paying attention to that directly. A public policy issue could be that the affordability number is nine, or eight, or seven. By all means, go to your City Council and say that every project should have an affordability limit. This project is under the limit, so it doesn‘t need to have that. We are in the business of developing and renting. This is designed to be sold to family, and we’re committed to selling this to families.

Other residents argued that the Inclusionary Development Policy was created a long time ago, and that families wouldn’t be able to afford the market rate units.

Eric Harot, a resident of JP but not an abutter to the project, made many comments that members of the committee and abutters directly disagreed with. He said that he would like the project to have more small units because he felt that the three-bedroom apartments attracted more college students and roommates rather than families. Drago said that the abutters talked a lot about green space and not increasing height, so that they would not consider that option.

Harot also said that the traffic in the area likely came from people who lived outside the neighborhood, not people who lived there, so advocated for less parking on site, which might increase open space and reduce costs of the units. Mary Regan from Glen Road directly disagreed with this because the street parking was overwhelmed because of parking from renters.

John McCurdy, a Rossmore Road resident, had doubts that the original building was “dilapidated” and considers the building a historic building that should be preserved.

“Are we going to raze every historic building in Jamaica Plain as they get sold so that we can make way for more modern buildings so we can increase our density?” McCurdy asked.

Because the building is over 50 years old, the developer is required to go through the Article 85 demolition delay process through the Boston Landmarks Commission.         Regarding preservation of the existing building, Drago said that it would be impossible.

“This building in uninhabitable,” Drago said. “It’s literally falling apart. Squatters have been living there.”

Forest Hills Street resident Jeff Richardson wasn’t concerned about the affordable housing, but was concerned about the demolition and construction process and how it related to the health of the abutters. He referred to 92 Glen Road, and problems with the renovations that exposed asbestos and lead paint, and was concerned that the demolition on this project would unearth those toxins as well.

John Delider, an abutter, was happy that in the proposal the developer had attempted to preserve a particular old tree, as per abutters request at previous meetings. However, he was concerned about flooding and drainage that comes down the street, and strongly requested that others trees are not removed, because the drainage could cause damage to other houses down the hill. The parking surface at the moment is proposed to be impermeable. Dan Artigas, the architect on the project, said that they would consider a permeable paver to offset flooding.

“The traffic is next to impossible,” Delider added. “We have a canyon of condominiums on Washington Street, and I’m afraid that Forest Hills Street is going to end up the same way.”

“I would argue that the nine cars that are going to come with this aren’t going to make the traffic worse than it already is in the grand scheme of things,” Drago said.

A resident from Glen Road was concerned about the project on several levels: the historical significance of the existing building, the drainage and runoff, the traffic, and the affordability.

“I feel like Boston is going through this big explosion and it is pushing people out,” the resident said. “I moved to JP because of its diversity and because of the artists – how much are these units going to cost? What about the affordability piece?”

Jennifer Uhrhane, member of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association, said that she had many issues with the project.

“I don’t believe in density for density’s sake,” Uhrhane said. “I think there has to be a benefit to somebody else besides the developer. What I see here is massive profits for the developer and detriments to the neighborhood because these are not units that any normal person would be able to buy, so it’s not addressing the need for affordable housing in this area.”

Uhrhane also said that she believes in transit-oriented development, and that there is no need for a lot of parking since the project site is so close to the train station. She was concerned about the parking for increased traffic, but also for environmental reasons.

“The more car accommodations you make, the more cars will come, the more traffic it will create,” Uhrhane said.

Michael Cain, a resident from Glen Road and an affordable housing advocate, said that while there were a lot of improvements in the changes made in the design from the abutters meetings, there were still issues about affordability. He believed that there should be a moratorium on building market rate buildings in Jamaica Plain, and that the site should be used for public community use.

“It’s better to have the land vacant until we get the resources to we need to get what we want,” Cain said. “This is not going to enhance the community.”

The committee discussed the project in order to vote on it.

“This is a significant parcel, and when you have this many people come out with this many issues, I think it warrants another look,” Turley said, who voted against approving the project.

Baron disagreed with Turley because he felt there were many opposing views on what people wanted from the project, whether it regarded density, parking, or preserving the existing building, and wondered whether any agreements would come of it.

“I don’t see what the advantage would be to further the community process because people are saying exactly the opposite things about what they want. Nobody is happy about it, but nobody would agree about what the solution would be,” said Baron.

The committee’s vote came to a deadlock of 5-5, with one member abstaining from vote. After that, another motion was raised to defer the project, which the developer accepted, meaning he will revisit the project and come back to the Zoning Committee with a revision.

The developer does not have a Zoning Board of Appeals date set.

[This article has been updated.]

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