Proposal for 73 Sheridan St. Garners Mixed Reviews

It’s been a while since the community has seen plans for a proposed project at 73 Sheridan St., but the project returned before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s (JPNC) Zoning Committee on Nov. 20 with a presentation from developer Lee Goodman of Watermark Development and Bill Mesinger of Embarc Studios. The Zoning Committee was hearing this proposal purely for design review purposes; there was no vote taken at this meeting.

The project has been a point of contention with abutting neighbors
over the past year or two, as many believe the project is too large in scale for the street, and others grappled with the definition of “as of right,” which is what the developers are saying is the reason they can build a project of this scale. A house currently exists on the lot, which will be demolished to make room for the new units.

The proposal presented on Tuesday night consists of three townhouses with eight total units on the 20,000 square foot lot at 73 Sheridan St., which is currently owned by Jai Johnson and Scott Underhill. Mesinger said that there will be front yards and a stepped front entry for each of the townhouses with one two-way driveway to the left of the units, which will be mostly two and three bedroom units. There will be 10 parking spots in the rear, with existing green space behind that, and each townhome will have a roof deck for the top unit. The townhomes would also have shared party walls, and are not three separate buildings.

“We’re trying to be contextual with the neighborhood,” Mesinger
said, referencing the roof line pitches and scalloped and diamond
shingle elements that are proposed. He also said they have met several times with design staff from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) regarding this project and have received feedback.
“Jai and Scott bought this house in 1978,” Goodman said, adding that they came to him ask-ing to turn their lot into condos—their plan is to live in one of the units. “We’ve been through multiple iterations,” Goodman continued. “Eight units is by right. It’s not really debatable; it’s already been approved.”

The question around the definition of “as of right” has left several abutters scratching their heads. David Baron of the JPNC Zoning Committee offered a definition. He said that as of right requires no zoning variances to be built, and that the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) decides whether or not this is the case. However, “they don’t always get it right,” he said, saying that projects are sometimes flagged for violations they don’t have, and other times ISD misses violations that are clearly there. “We as a neighborhood council and as a neighborhood live with those determinations. I don’t know that there’s a way to revisit it within the zoning framework; ISD makes the call and if it’s as of right, it’s as of right.”

JP resident Andy King said that an earlier version of this project was cited for violations, and then was re-submitted. “We don’t have any information that it’s as of right,” he added, which has been the stance of several nearby neighbors throughout this process. He also said that he called ISD Wednesday morning, and said they told him that the current plan is still under review and that Watermark had not responded to a request for additional information.

Goodman said the reason the proposal was submitted, taken back, and re-submitted is be-cause it was originally submitted as rowhouses. He said the city advised him to resubmit it with a townhouse designation instead. He said there is pending information with the city be-cause it is currently pending design review.

“The letter you all received states very clearly that it’s as of right and that’s why it’s moving to design review,” Goodman said. The letter to which he is referring was a letter sent out to abutters by the BPDA dated Nov. 8, and states that “ISD has determined that this project conforms to all dimensional regulations of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood District Zoning Code, Article 55 of the Boston Zoning Code.” It continues on to say, “While the owner is allowed to receive building permits for the proposed project without any zoning variances, it does require a review of its exterior design details per the requirements of the zoning code for projects within the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Overlay District (NDOD).” The project does not require zoning relief and can be built as per zoning laws, the letter states, but must undergo design review by the BPDA. The letter states that “any questions regarding this interpretation of zoning code requirements should be directed to ISD at (617) 635-5300,” as there will be no public Board of Appeals hearing for this project.

Jai Johnson, who has lived at the property for 43 years, said she thanks the community for all of their input but she does not think the project is “extremely large or monstrous,” as many neighbors had stated, adding that she believes the architects were “thoughtful” in their design of the buildings which will sit on a large lot.

Lisa Gonsalves, an abutter, along with several other abutters
(including Andy King), prepared comments to present at the meeting about why they oppose the project. Gonsalves said that they believe the plan is “out of scale” with the neighborhood, there has not been an effective or fair community process surrounding the proposal, and they do not believe the project can be built as of right. “We feel it’s too big, too massive, and we want something that fits in better with the scale of the neighborhood,” Gonsalves said. “We feel the developers have not tried to work with us in good faith,” she continued.

She said she considers herself a friend of Johnson and Underhill’s, and she’s not against them having some sort of project on this lot, but this design is not the answer.

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