By Lauren Bennett
The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) discussed a number of zoning, public safety, and housing and development issues at their meeting on February 26.
After a presentation from Rep. Nika Elugardo, Zoning Committee Chair David Baron reported that the Zoning Committee heard a presentation for 21-23 Wyman St. to change occupancy from a three-family dwelling to a lodging house with 13 bedrooms. This proposal proved to be controversial within the JPNC.
Baron said that the house is currently professionally run by someone who occupies one of the rooms. The rest of the rooms are “all listed on Airbnb or some other app,” he said, and he said he was “surprised by the support this got from neighbors,” though there was some opposition at the committee meeting. He said there are also petitions both in favor and in opposition that have been submitted. He said he recognizes that there is a need for housing in the neighborhood, but there is also a need for places for relatives and visitors to stay close by to their families.
Baron said that the applicant is not proposing to do any work to the building in order to create these bedrooms, and “he has not been doing it in a way that is secretive or concealing it.”
JPNC member Bernie Doherty did not share Baron’s sentiment. Doherty thinks that approving this project would be “rewarding” the applicant’s behavior. “I think this individual just wants to get his or her way and that’s not something we should be involved with,” he said. “We are not here to legitimize this individual’s behavior.”
Baron said that since this building has been operating this way for a while and people who stay there do not typically bring cars, it’s “not so much of an issue for the neighborhood.”
This summer, an ordinance passed that regulates short term rentals, though it won’t really be fully enacted until September 1 of this year when many leases commence. The new ordinance states that Airbnb rooms can only exist in someone’s privately owned apartment or house; investors are typically prohibited from operating Airbnbs out of their properties except for in certain circumstances.
Baron also noted that guests who stay in this building have been patronizing local businesses, which is good for the community. The JPNC voted 13 to 2 to approve the lodging house license with the proviso that it is for this applicant only.
There were four other projects that were voted on and approved as well, including 74 Winchester Road, which is a single family house where the applicant proposed to construct a second-floor addition with a new front porch with roof and a rear balcony off the master bedroom and the extension of living space into the basement with a new garage space and a full interior renovation. At 12-12A Wyvern St., the applicant seeks to add a six foot dormer to the current third floor staircase, at 319-329 Centre St., the applicant is looking o change the occupancy of the building to include massage therapy use, and at 26-28 Chilcott Place, the applicant is looking to change the use from a two-family to a three-family residence, as well as construct vertical and rear additions, renovate existing structure, and add four off-street parking spaces. The next meeting of the Zoning Committee is March 20.
Next up was the Public Service Committee, chaired by Michael Reiskind. He reported that the Ethiopian Cafe at 377 Centre St, which currently holds the only BYOB license in Jamaica Plain, is seeking a full beer and wine license with the closing time of 11pm. Reiskind said that they did recommend approval at the committee meeting, and no vote was needed on this issue.
Reiskind said they also discussed bicycle safety at the last committee meeting, where they heard from Josh Grolman, who is pushing for more safe bicycle lanes across the entire city and especially in Jamaica Plain. Reiskind said that they talked about moving the bike lanes in between parked cars and sidewalks, as opposed to being next to moving traffic like they are now.
“Most of the committee leaned towards this,” Reiskind said, and there is also a petition to support this. He said it was also brought up back in 2008 when the Boston Transportation Department was redesigning Centre and South Streets, but they did not want to put them in at that time.
He said that BTD’s response to this latest proposal was that if these new lanes went in, they would require more space than the existing lanes, and they wouldn’t be able to “put them in without taking half the parking out on Centre St,” Reiskind explained. He added that BTD will not do this without first discussing it with the community.
Bernie Doherty is “not in favor of this,” he said. “Most people think safety can be improved,” Reiskind said, adding that this topic is going to require more discussion.
The report from the Housing and Development Committee was that a vote was needed to send a letter as part of the comment period for 121 Brookside Avenue, which falls under PLAN: JP/Rox The proposed building is four stories with 21 residential units and two artist live/work spaces.. It was reported that the committee appreciated the increased denisity with the individual artist work space, but the two main problems they had with it were that the affordability is below what is required by the JPBC and PLAN JP/Rox both in number of units and Area Median Income requirements. It also did not meet setbacks, which is a recurring issue in the neighborhood. The letter would address these two concerns, and the JPNC voted to approve that the letter be sent out.
The Housing and Development Committee has also started a discussion about carbon neutrality and hope to get a subcommittee started to tackle the topic. The next committee meeting is on March 19.
The Education Committee did not meet in February, but is scheduled to meet on March 19 in Curtis Hall.