ZBA Denies Nine Basement Studio Units on Seaverns Ave.

The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) last Tuesday denied without prejudice a project proposed for 9-11 Seaverns Ave.

The proposed project is to combine the existing six-family apartment building at 5 Brown Terrace with the other attached six-family buildings at 9 Seaverns Ave., 11 Seaverns Ave., and 7 Brown Terrace to have an address of 9-11 Seaverns Ave. The proposal includes renovating the unfinished basement of the combined building to include nine additional studio units.

The zoning violations include: extension of a nonconforming use, building is in a neighborhood design overlay district, off street parking is insufficient, FAR is excessive, side yard is insufficient, and usable open space is insufficient.

     Attorney Nick Zozula of McDermott, Quilty, and Miller said that the combined building was built in the 1920s and there were living units in the basement at one point. It is now used for storage space and bicycle storage, but is primarily vacant and the property owner has requested to revert them back to livable units.

 The nine studio units would have ceiling heights between eight feet and eight feet four inches, Zozula said,, and the units are not completely underground as the tops of the walls are about three feet above grade. There will be more than one or two windows per unit, he added.

 Working with neighborhood groups and the BPDA, the development team has agreed to voluntarily provide one affordable unit at 80 percent Area Median Income (AMI) as part of this proposal.

 There is no existing parking at the site, nor is there room to add any, Zozula said. The property is, however, located less than a half mile from the Green Street MBTA station as well as “right around the corner” from businesses and restaurants on Centre St., he said. There will be up to 10 spaces of additional bike parking added to help mitigate the lack of onsite parking.

“We will be improving the accessibility to the building,” Zozula said. None of the units are currently accessible, but the proposal includes the addition of a vertical lift to access the basement unit, and two of them would be Group 2A accessible units, one of which will be the affordable unit. The other units would be Group 1 accessible. In order to make these changes, minor modifications on the rear would be needed. “Other than that, the building will remain the same,” Zozula said.

A point of contention with this project was the way the units were drawn out. Zozula said that the nine units would be between 450 and 513 square feet, but some of the drawings show the units being less than 450 square feet, which is the required minimum, according to Mark Erlich of the ZBA.

“The various plans have different ways of calculating the square footages, whether it’s by the building code or the zoning code or by means of egress,” according to architect Derek Rubinoff.

“If it’s under 450 square feet, it’s compact living, in which case you need a community room and the closest community room I can see is JP Licks,” responded Erlich. “This is really on the edge and these are awfully small units.”

ZBA Chair Christine Araujo asked the project proponents if they have considered combining some of the studio units to create one bedroom units. The response was that the team believed the area might do better with studio units.

Currently, there is one existing studio unit in the buildings, along with 18 one bedroom units and five one-plus bedroom units. The team said they went to the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and held an abutters meeting, and they determined that the size of the units “was seen as a positive.”

“It sees to me that you have one drawing that does not meet city guidelines…then it falls under compact living which would require a community space and there’s none there,” Erlich said. “You’ve got another drawing of the same space and it’s miraculously different square foot measurements and I find it troubling.”

Faisa Sharif from the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services spoke on behalf of JP Liaison Enrique Pepen who has left the position. She said that Pepen did hold a community process for this proposal, and the Mayor’s Office is in support based on the compromises made with the community and the BPDA regarding the affordable unit, but the office deferred the issues around the unit sizes to the ZBA. Also in support of the project are City Councilors Matt O’Malley and Annissa Essaibi-George.

JP property owner Paul Iantosca said he is the “largest direct abutter” to this project, and he believes the “demand for these units is insatiable.” He said he is in full support of the project.

“We have veterans, we have elderly, we have handicapped,” he said, and they like the affordability of studio units as well as their size and in this particular case, their proximity to Centre St.

Nobody came to speak in opposition of the project, but due to the confusion in the drawings, the ZBA unanimously voted to oppose the project in its current state. The applicant is allowed to return before the ZBA with a different configuration for the units.

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