ZBA Approves Contentious 1 Rockwood Terrace Project

By Lauren Bennett

On April 30, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted relief to the controversial project at 1 Rockwood Terrace. The violation that triggered the ZBA hearing was insufficient lot width.

Chris Tracy of O’Neill and Associates gave the presentation of the project, starting with the fact that “our engineer has always respectfully disagreed with the variance that we were hit with. We always thought it met the spirit and intent of the code,” he said. “We are within compliance of all dimensional and use regulations of the code.”

The proposed project is a single family home on a “separately assessed parcel of over 9,000 square feet,” Tracy said. On that parcel, they are proposing a four bedroom, two car attached garage home. “We engaged in a robust process with the community,” he said. “We held four community meetings on this proposal. We made a number of concessions based on neighborhood concerns, even though the dimensions and the size were always compliant with the code.”

Tracy added that a lot of the neighborhood concerns were related to the design of the building rather than the zoning issue. “It’s important to note that no matter how much we shrunk the size of the home that variance of lot width insufficiency would remain,” he said. He said they were committed to a “robust design review” with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), and the organization is aware of the process that has been gone through so far.

Though the ZBA does not regulate design and can only judge projects based off of concerns about zoning violations, Tracy said that they have worked with the community to come down on the height, changed design of the roof, and pushed back the bay window, all of which are design issues and do not have anything to do with zoning violations.

Maria Lanza, on behalf of neighborhood liaison Enrique Pepen, said that they are in favor of the project, as it “went through a full community process consisting of abutters meetings and meeting with the neighborhood groups.” Lanza did request that the ZBA include a proviso that it goes through a full BPDA design review to address the design issues, however.

Lanza was the only person to speak in favor of the project. City Councilor Matt O’Malley was opposed to the project due to the opposition of both the Jamaica Hills Association and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council. A representative of City Councilor Anissa Essaibi-George said that the councilor was opposed to the project due to “numerous letters, emails, and phone calls opposing this project.” Councilors Michael Flaherty and Althea Garrison are also opposed to the proejct.

April Evans, an abutter on Rockwood Street, said she is opposed to the project “due to the lack of proper process with respect to community involvement in this undertaking.”

Another JP resident said that as someone who has had a new house built next door to him, he is “not automatically opposed to new housing,” but he said that the word “concession” suggests that the proponents are “giving in,” rather than trying to remedy the situation. He said that one of the major issues with the project is the possibility of ledge on the property. He said that the proponents have “been unwilling to simply engage in the process of finding out if there’s ledge there…they refuse to do it and it’s been a continuous process that I’ve observed with them.”

One resident stood up and said that “the whole neighborhood is here,” many of whom have attended every public meeting regarding this proposal. Another said that they have “continually” asked for a reduction in the size of the project as well as seeing a building plan for water and what is being done about the ledge. “We have not seen relief on any of those points,” she said.

Pond Street resident Jeffrey Stevens said he is concerned about the development issues with the project, such as drilling and excavation on the rock. “We haven’t been assured that our houses won’t be damaged,” he said, adding that the house would be in his view and is “completely out of character with the surrounding neighborhoods.”

ZBA board member Mark Elich said that “It seems the zoning issues here seem to be relatively de minimis, but you seem to have a hornet’s nest here and that seems to be something that you need to address. It may or may not be outside of the purview of this board but that seems to be a problem.” He added that the ledge also “seems to be a major issue,” and asked the proponents to make sure that is addressed.

“We don’t anticipate that there is ledge there and if there is he will not blast, he cannot blast here,” Tracy responded. He said that they have agreed to hire an engineer for studies and to take before and after photos and any damage would be taken care of. “That’s a commitment we’ve made from the start to the neighbors,” he said.

“I would have assumed that by the time you got to this level in the process that you would have done borings to determine if there is a ledge removal necessary or not. I mean, that seems a little odd to me that you haven’t done that,” Erlich said. “If you’ve got ledge…that’s a huge issue and neighbors have absolute right to know whether there’s going to be any potential disruption of their foundations depending on the removal of the ledge.”

A member from the team said that they were told to wait to see if they were granted the permits before those steps were taken, but an engineer will be hired to take care of it.

The ZBA ultimately voted to approve the proposal with continued BPDA design review and to pay “specific attention to the drilling” and make sure that no work is done until the neighbors are informed of the results.

“So you’ve gotten your approval,” Erlich told the team. “The design review needs to be robust to reflect the character of the neighborhood, and you really need to deal with the issue of ledge removal ASAP and keep people informed.

“This board has our commitment that we will keep working with them on these issues,” Tracy responded.

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