Lawsuit Brought Against Proposed Supportive Housing Development on Washington St.

A lawsuit has been brought against the proposed development at 3368 Washington St., which is slated to provide 202 affordable rental units and 140 units of housing for formerly homeless individuals, developed by The Community Builders (TCB) and Pine Street Inn.

Monty Gold, the landlord of the building at 3377 Washington St., which is home to Turtle Swamp Brewery and located across the street from the proposed development, claims that the project is too large and would cause issues with parking on the street, and is attempting to reverse the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) approval of the project in March. He seems to stand alone in his position, as most of the community is very much in favor of the proposal in its current form. 

“Neither the appellant, his attorney, or the proprietors of Turtle Swamp Brewery are opposed to the construction of the proposed affordable housing project,” Gold’s attorney, Stephen Greenbaum, said in a statement to the Gazette. “In fact, they completely support the creation of housing for the homeless at this site. The problem is not the project, but its size and scope. The appellant has been vocal since it was first proposed that there is too little parking, which will result in a lot of cars parking on Washington Street, which is already stretched for parking. Additionally, there was no serious effort to address potential traffic issues. When and if these matters are properly addressed the appellant would happily resolve this matter.”

John Lincecum, one of the owners of Turtle Swamp Brewing, wanted to make it clear that “we are not party to the lawsuit. This has really been a lawsuit that has been brought on against the developer,” he told the Gazette. “It’s been very frustrating for everybody. We’ve always been supportive of the Pine Street Inn and what they’re trying to do.”

He said that as Gold’s tenant, “we’re just kind of stuck in the middle,” and are not opposed to the amount of parking proposed, which is 39 spaces. “The sooner this is settled, the happier we will be,” Lincecum added.

In a recent Instagram post, Lincecum and co-owner Nik Walther wrote that they do have concerns about the “number of simultaneous large projects” on Washington St. “…there is NO integrated plan on how years of intense construction will impact the entire Stonybrook neighborhood,” they wrote.

The proposed development has been very popular with the community, with many neighbors speaking out in favor of the project. Several community meetings have been held and the public was given chances to voice concerns and make suggestions, many of which were taken into account by the developers. The building was originally proposed to be six stories, but after hearing community feedback, it was reduced to five stories.

The building also includes activated space on the first floor that will serve the community.

“During the community review process for 3368 Washington Street, area residents asked if we could eliminate a second curb-cut as that might impede sidewalk pedestrians and traffic, and instead activate the street by incorporating a glassy, well-designed community room that will be used as an amenity space for people in the building sometimes but can be used at other times for community meetings,” according to Bart Mitchell, President and CEO of The Community Builders. “Area neighbors explained there wasn’t a good place for neighborhood associations and others to meet on this stretch of Washington Street and asked so we accommodated that request, which we did.”

 Pine Street Inn said in a statement to the Gazette, “After a significant participatory process involving residential and business neighbors, where changes were made to the project in response to community requests, no one spoke in opposition to this project before the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, and voted unanimously to support the approvals for this project.”

Pine Street Inn went on to say that only one owner of a commercial property spoke in opposition at the March 10 ZBA hearing, and the Board unanimously voted in favor of the project.

“We are really proud to be partnering with Pine Street Inn,” said Mitchell. “What has been designed is going to be incredibly successful.”

Mitchell said that TCB is “very hopeful” that Gold’s concerns can be settled as well as any community concerns about construction impact, which he said are “considered important” by the developer.

“Among the other things that it does, the Community Builders is landlord to many small businesses and we are about their success and that they thrive,” Mitchell added.

Construction on the building is expected to start at the end of the year and last for about two years, he said, adding that the lawsuit is “not delaying us right now.”

He added that he looks forward to working with neighbors on mitigating construction impacts as the project proceeds.

“Pine Street Inn is proud of the community process and support we have received on this project, and we are grateful to the Jamaica Plain supporters,” said Lyndia Downie, President and Executive Director of Pine Street Inn.

“Moving men and women off the street, out of shelter and into the safety and security of supportive housing is critical, particularly during these turbulent times. We look forward to moving beyond this lawsuit and welcoming 140 vulnerable men and women into a place they can call home. And in response to the question about parking, it is highly unlikely that any of these 140 residents will have a car,” she added.

Alex Ponte-Capellan, a Community Organizer for City Life/Vida Urbana, said that “City Life and the community really support the Pine Street Inn. We’re going to do everything in our power to support the Pine Street Inn project,” which he said will include asking for the lawsuit to be dropped, holding protests, making petitions, and garnering “as much community support as possible.”

Many residents and supporters of the project, Ponte-Capellan included, say that this project is more important now than ever with the virus exacerbating existing challenges faced by low income and homeless families.

“This is a very timely project,” he said. “The coronavirus has affected so many people.”

He said this project needs to move forward, as “it is something that would be one of a kind in Boston; the largest project of this kind to support formerly homeless people and families.”

Wes Kaplan, an abutter of the proposed project, said he is “strongly against the lawsuit,” calling the project “really important, especially during COVID. There is an urgent need for low income housing and housing for homeless folks.”

He continued, “[Gold] doesn’t represent the neighborhood by any means. We really need to stand in solidarity when it comes to housing. This really isn’t an issue that folks can ignore anymore.”

Jeffrey Jacobson and his husband have lived next to another housing facility managed by Pine Street Inn on Green Street for 14 years.

“They’ve been great neighbors, the whole time. Most of their residents don’t own cars, not even using all of few parking spaces they do have—no traffic congestion problems,” he wrote in an email to the Gazette.

He said he and his husband are in support of the proposed project and are opposed to Gold’s lawsuit. “The suit alleges hard to the community from density and traffic, the opposite of what we have experienced,” he said. “Mr. Gold’s lawsuit is an attack on the diversity of the community and on our efforts to help each other in adversity.”

Resident Sarah Horsley responded to Gold’s lawsuit by saying, “what is truly dangerous is delaying critically needed affordable housing in the midst of a pandemic, an economic depression, and a pending eviction crisis.  What is truly dangerous is asking 140 formerly homeless folks and 62 low and moderate income families to wait – or go somewhere else – because of a perception that traffic and parking will be worsened.”

Another resident, Zack DeClerck, lives around the corner from the proposed development and served on the Impact Advisory Group for the project.  

“Our neighbors across Boston face homelessness, housing insecurity, and displacement because of the lack of affordable homes,” he wrote. “Every day this project is delayed is another day that people have to navigate the shelter system (or worse) amid a pandemic.”

He continued, “Monty Gold was invited to sit on the IAG and already had his perspective heard during the two year review process for this project – way more opportunity than most people have. To mitigate his concerns, the project is already providing less low & moderate income housing than initially proposed. That is unfortunate to say the least…permanent homes provide the sort of stability required to heal and recover from other ailments, not limited to addiction of course.”

The developers have their eye on the goal of bringing these units to life so more housing is available to those who need it.

“Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders are proud to have gained the support of many leaders and residents in Jamaica Plain, and how concerned they are that one party is seeking to stand in the way of the project,” Pine Street Inn said in the statement. 

“The two organizations are in discussion to try and resolve the issues with the party who brought the lawsuit. Housing for vulnerable and low-income individuals and families is more critical than ever, and any project delays will have a significant impact on the lives of those who depend on this housing. We look forward to continuing to partner with our neighbors to bring this project to fruition.”

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