Real Estate Today: 73 Sheridan St. still causing debate; abutters hope to work with developer

By Lauren Bennett

Special to the Gazette

The proposed development at 73 Sheridan St. is still the cause of many disagreements between the developer and some of the abutters and other community members involved with the project.

As previously reported by the Gazette, the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC) imposed a 90-day demolition delay on the circa 1868 Victorian era house at 73 Sheridan St.

At the hearing, architect Dartagnan Brown presented several different plans for the property, all of which had eight units, which developer Lee Goodman from Watermark Development said is the number that is allowed by law in that area. One proposal would keep the current house and build new units behind it, and another had three row houses lined up next to each other.

Goodman said that none of these iterations of the plan have changed since the BLC hearing in July.

Many abutters, including Andy King and Lisa Gonsalves, do not believe that the developer has the right to build eight units on that property, and they would like to see six units as a starting point. They think eight is too many and too large of a project for the area.

“In that area what’s allowed to be built by right is eight units in row house form,” Goodman said. He called this situation “complicated,” and “not one that we’ve really seen in JP.” He said several people, including the Zoning Board of Appeals and a zoning attorney, have explained the situation to the direct abutters, but “they continue to ignore it.” He said they have been working in the Jamaica Plain community for years, and they have successfully worked with the community on many projects in the past.

Goodman said that Watermark would be willing to meet with the abutters and “we’re happy to do these [already proposed] iterations…what they’re asking us is to build less than we’re allowed to do.”

But Gonsalves and King told the Gazette that they have reached out to Watermark in hopes of meeting to work out a plan that works for everybody, but their emails have not been answered.

King said they did receive a letter from Watermark’s lawyer that contains all of the proposed plans, asking them to choose one of the plans or else the developers will go with the as-of-right plan.

“No one has been able to clarify what is as-of-right based on their reading of the law,” Gonsalves said. King said they would like to ask the Inspectional Services Department or a court how to interpret the language of the zoning code, so they can better understand what’s as-of-right.

“So far, our strategy is to give them design ideas in hopes that they would come back with a more creative solution,” King said.

Gonsalves said that they would like to see a plan that fits in with the community landscape, and that two triple decker buildings with three units each would do that.

Gonsalves and King said they would also like to see the property be far enough away from abutter Ellena Haile’s house, since this project affects her view. They would also like to see the development built more towards the front of the property towards Sheridan St. to preserve more green space. This would also help with drainage issues on the sloped terrain on the property.

Though they said it would not be ideal to tear down the historic house, “as long as they build something appropriate to the neighborhood, we are okay with tearing it down,” Gonsalves said.

“We don’t know what to do,” Goodman said. “We are going to have to build what’s allowed. The people who live there have already waited a year…and we are being forced into building by right.”

Bruce Marks, who has lived on Sheridan St. for 30 years, says he’s noticed a change on the street over the years. He said it used to be low and moderate income people coming together, but “it’s becoming more and more high income yuppies and we shouldn’t have to change the regulations and zoning to encourage more high income and entitled yuppies to move in,” he said.

He, too, said that the structures need to be consistent with what’s built in the neighborhood, and he would like to see the existing building stay. As the founder of NACA, a non-profit organization that advocates for affordable homeownership, Marks said he’d like to see more low and moderate income people on Sheridan St. He wants to see those people in the new units, “because that’s what the area used to be.”

“I want more low and moderate income people as my neighbors,” he said.

Gonsalves said that the developers are portraying all of the abutters as “new people in the neighborhood, and it’s simply not true.” She said that only two of the abutters are new. “We have so many people who have been here forever; that’s probably why we care so much,” she said. “There’s definitely roots here.”

“I don’t think it’s good to frame these developers as community developers without consideration for the neighborhood,” Marks said.

The 90-day demolition period ends on October 22, and Goodman said that after the period is over, they can file a building permit at ISD. He said they have “continued to request” that the abutters consider any of the options they have presented, but they will be forced into the as-of-right if none of the other ones are accepted. He said he will not build any less than eight units.

However, Gonsalves and King have high hopes that they can meet with Watermark and come up with a different solution. “Our hope is that we can move forward and work with them,” King said. “ We really would like to work this out with [Watermark] and are eager to be helpful and supportive.  I hope we can focus on making this a positive project, but I am worried.”

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