ZBA approves JPNDC affordable senior housing project

The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on February 23 approved the 39 unit affordable senior housing project at 3371-3375 Washington St., as well as approved as final arbiter the project at 35 Brookley Road after previously approving it in July of last year “subject to design review by BPDA with attention to reducing density and massing and for compliance with the rear yard setback requirement,” according to the ZBA.

3371-3375 WASHINGTON ST.

The proposal at 3371 Washington St has been presented to the JP community on several different occasions, and consists of 39 affordable units of senior housing as well as a space for El Embajador restaurant to operate, as it currently operates out of this location. The project is being developed by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and New Atlantic Development.

Teronda Ellis, CEO of the JPNDC, said that the site had been “acquired for eviction prevention of the small businesses who were at risk here.”

She also said that all units are one bedroom units between 489 and 629 square feet. There is no parking proposed for the project.  

“We have worked with members of the community and the BPDA to revise our plan such that the parking in front of the building will be available for the residents of the building for loading and drop-off and pick up…”

When asked about parking spots for seniors who may have cars, Ellis said “we manage quite a number of senior properties,” and they have found that many of the seniors do not have cars. There was originally a small amount of parking proposed in 2019, but the plan for that has since fallen through and there is no parking proposed at all.

There will be a live-in responder on the ground floor, Ellis said, and there is no roof deck proposed. She said the proposed community room could be used for JPNDC senior health and wellness/preventative care programming, such as gardening, yoga, Zumba, or other activities that seniors may have an interest in. It can also be used for other programming and things like potlucks, “so they’re not just living in their units, but taking advantage of the ground floor community space,” she said.

The Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services was in support, as was Councilor O’Malley, though a representative from his office said that the councilor would like the project to go through Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) design review, and “keeping in mind ideally some buffering for the Union Ave. neighborhood.”

Councilor’s Annissa Essaibi George and Michael Flaherty also expressed support.

While this project has received an outpouring of support from the community, as many have expressed there is a great need for affordable housing in the community, John Lincecum, co-owner of Turtle Swamp Brewing, which directly abuts this project, has some concerns about it.

He said that he and his business parter “strongly agree that JP needs affordable senior housing,” but “being the business most impacted by this, we feel very strongly this goal must be balanced with the goal of protecting existing small businesses such as ours who have created 15 local jobs for JP residents…” 

He said that Turtle Swamp’s concerns include that they have not received enough detail about how the construction of the new building along Turtle Swamp’s lot line “will not force our business to close.” 

He also said that “the number of variances is truly unreasonable.” He also said that there have been several other projects in the area that have all been approved and was concerned about the impact of all of the development. 

ZBA Chair Christine Araujo said that the “challenge for us is that the relief goes with the property. There is a functional business adjacent to you. How will your residents, as they turn over, acknowledge the fact that this is a use that runs late into the night?…How will you manage that and that expectation of your proposed residents?”

Ellis said that the JPNDC has “had roughly 45 years” of working with the community “in challenging sites and neighborhood dynamics.” She added, “our goal is always about the spirit of community partnership.” 

She also said that “our residents understand that they’re living in the city. Seniors are very vocal, but very reasonable.” She said that working with Turtle Swamp is part of the JPNDC’s goal of championing a sense of community. 

“We want to be neighbors,” Ellis said. “We’re typically good neighbors with our abutters and our businesses.”

Kathy Brown, a longtime JP resident and supporter of affordable housing, said “this project is so important.” She also said it’s important that El Embajador will be allowed to return to a new space. 

The ZBA unanimously voted to approve the project with BPDA design review, but Araujo “encouraged” Lincecum to continue working with the JPNDC to alleviate any concerns.

“I think there’s a way forward,” she said.

35 BROOKLEY ROAD

Attorney John Pulgini was on hand to explain that the project at 35 Brookley Road to demolish the existing building and construct a new 46 unit residential development, which was approved in July of 2020 with a proviso that it appear before the ZBA as Final Arbiter, has gone through “extensive discussions with BPDA staff.” 

The building will have 22 percetn affordable units, and five artist/live work spaces. 

Pulgini said that a letter from Michael Cannizzo of the BPDA that outlines that the BPDA beleives that this proposal meets the recommendations of PLAN: JP/Rox. 

The plans that the ZBA approved in July of last year have not since been changed, Pulgini said, but added that there might have been a “misstatement.” He said that there is a seven foot rear yard setback and a passageway, but ZBA member Mark Erlich said that “our proviso was based on the assumption that it went to the lot line. If there is a seven foot setback and passageway that the BPDA has reviewed,” he said it is “less of a problem than I thought.” 

Araujo said that “since our hearing then, there has been nothing that’s changed in reducing the density or massing,” which is what many neighbors had concerns with. 

“There has not,” Pulgini confirmed, adding that “there’s no open space violation. By providing the neighbors access through this midblock…it is for the benefit of the entire community.” 

Aisling Kerr of the BPDA said that “this project did go back to the BPDA after this board’s original approval in July. The BPDA remains supportive of this project and feels very strongly that it is, by and large, compatible and compliant with the recommendations of PLAN:JP/Rox.”

She said that in her opinion, the concerns heard from the community primarily have to do with PLAN:JP/Rox, as “people in the neighborhood continue to struggle with PLAN/JP:Rox broadly.” Kerr said that the density and planning are all compatible with the plan.

“It functions very well with what’s happening in this area,” she said.

The ZBA voted to ultimately approve this project, but Araujo said she is opposed because there is still a lot of opposition from the community and “residents who felt unheard. I feel as the chair of the board that our concerns have gone unheard in adjusting this project so that it is reduced in massing, it is reduced in density, and that there was more attention to the rear yard. If there had been a robust community process after our hearing, I don’t think we would have heard any of these comments from the community.” 

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