The Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) held their monthly meeting on October 21 at the English High School, where they discussed a new development proposal, talked about PLAN: JP/Rox, and talked about issues surrounding the community room that was awarded to the SNA as part of a community benefit in conjunction with the project at 3521-2529 Washington St.
First on the agenda was a presentation of a proposal for 3502 Washington St., which is currently an auxiliary parking lot for Doyle’s Cafe. According to attorney John Pulgini, the lot is 9,648 square feet, and the proposal is to build eight residential units with one commercial space on the lot. Pulgini said that the project has evolved from 21 units to 12 to nine, but the proposed commercial tenant (Jaho Coffee & Tea) said they would need more space, so one more unit was removed. The proposal now includes 2700 square feet of commercial space.
Architect Stephen Sousa of Sousa Design Architects said they have been working on this proposal since January, and have “looked at different options for massing and parking.” After speaking with City Councilor Matt O’Malley and others, there was a consensus that a commercial tenant who had a positive effect on the neighborhood was desired, especially one that was locally based.
The proposal includes adding landscape throughout the lot, widening the sidewalk at the perimeter, and pulling back the building six feet from the street line to create a public space in front of the building for a seating area and more landscaping.
The units themselves are residential condos for homeownership. Each is two bedrooms and between 950 and 1100 square feet. The building is proposed to be 34 feet, nine inches tall, and the height restriction for the area is 35 feet. There is no elevator proposed for the building.
The team said they have spoken with two abutters who live in the triple decker behind the property on Meehan St., who provided feedback that led to some of the changes made to the proposal.
“We’re looking to do what makes sense,” Sousa said. He said he believes this iteration of the proposal works well within the context of “what’s going on now” in the neighborhood.
Pulgini said that violations to the zoning code include: use, as a multi-family residential building is a forbidden use in this area, FAR is excessive (One is the limit, proposed is 1.46), and off-street parking and loading. The building is compliant with height, open space, and all other dimensional regulations, Pulgini said.
SNA member Jennifer Uhrhane said that she believes the proposal still includes a lot of pavement and not a lot of green space. Sousa said that they have tried to incorporate landscaping around the parking area. There is a solitary parking space not part of the proposed small lot with landscaping next to it, and several members of the community felt that the amount of parking was high for the building and that lone space does not make much sense. Some suggested it might be better off being used in some other way, whether it be more green space or used by the commercial tenant in some way.
There was another concern about the proposed cafe in the retail space and the congestion delivery trucks bringing in supplies would cause. Sousa said that all deliveries would be brought in through the front door, and not on Meehan St., and the deliveries would be “minimal” compared to a full service restaurant, Sousa said. Additionally, there would be minimal cooking with a cafe-type tenant, which means there would be no exhaust hoods needed.
A suggestion was thrown out that the neighborhood could use a grocery store, but Sousa said he hadn’t considered the idea, and that it would bring a lot of traffic to Meehan St. with deliveries.
Sousa was also asked if he would consider some larger units for growing families, as these are in demand in the neighborhood. He said he would consider a three bedroom unit, and that they were not included in the proposal because he was not aware that they are so desired by the community.
Overall, those in attendance at the meeting seemed to have positive feelings towards the proposal. “It looked pretty good,” said SNA member Rob Coerver. One of the biggest issues was the aforementioned extra parking space, which people thought might be better used in another way.
Community Room Discussion
The other large topic of discussion at the meeting was the community room, which was provided to the community as part of a package of community benefits negotiated by the SNA with developers of 3521-3529 Washington St. The 600 square foot, two bathroom community room is located inside the ExtraSpace storage facility at 141 McBride St., but the SNA has decided that it cannot handle the insurance costs needed to run the room, so it is seeking a Partner Organization to take on these responsibilities.
The room is currently inhabited by Planet Fitness, according to David Vitale-Wolff, who has been working on issues related to this agreement. He said that Planet Fitness will be leaving in 40 days, and will be cleared out for the new community group that will be chosen by the SNA.
“The goal right now is to get some documents out into the community to make sure nonprofits know that this is something for which they can apply,” Vitale-Wolff.
The reason for the discussion at Monday’s meeting was to talk about and vote on an issue that came up in the wording in the Request for Proposal (RFP). The wording states that “a nominal fee may be charged by the Partner Org(s) to offset utility, insurance, cleaning and other maintenance costs…No set fee structure has been established—we expect that to be part of any RFP response.”
Vitale-Wolff said that they have received some feedback that no fee should be charged and community groups should be allowed to use this benefit free-of-charge, while others believe invoking a small fee would be appropriate, so he wanted to bring it before the SNA at the meeting to vote on the final verdict.
“Having a set fee would deter the community from using it,” one person said. A suggested donation with information about where the money goes would be much better received, she added. “You feel better when you donate money,” as opposed to being required to pay it.
SNA member Tobias Johnson said that allowing a potential partner organization to charge a nominal fee would help offset the maintenance costs associated with operating the room. He said that when someone wants to use the space but cannot afford it, something like a fee waiver or a sliding scale could be used, but “I don’t think you should prohibit the fee completely because of the costs associated,” he said. Johnson said his idea of a nominal fee is $10-$15 per hour.
“Whichever nonprofit runs this is already getting it rent-free; this is a significant benefit for them,” Jennifer Uhrhane said. “They’re already getting a significant break…I don’t think it’s fair to charge for it at all.”
After further discussion, the SNA ultimately voted six to three with two abstentions to prohibit the future Partner Organization from charging required fees to other organizations to use the room, but the Partner Organization is free to offer a suggested donation if they choose to. Vitale-Wolff said he would update the RFP with this language.
The SNA also voted unanimously to release the RFP to the public to move the process forward in finding a Partner Organization for the community room.