JPNC Housing & Development Committee discuss Blessed Sacrament sale and BMS Paper project

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Housing & Development Committee met virtually on March 16, where committee members heard from the Friends of Blessed Sacrament about their requests to future developers of the Blessed Sacrament church site, as well as reviewed the proposed project for the BMS Paper site at 3390 Washington St.

Blessed Sacrament

      Betsaida Gutierrez, a community activist and member of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament, a group aiming to “preserve the Blessed Sacrament Church’s legacy as a shining jewel of the Hyde/Jackson Square neighborhood of Jamaica Plain,” according to its statement, spoke about the public statement read by the group, which was previously reported on by the Gazette. The Hyde Square Task Force owns the Blessed Sacrament church, and after failing to find a development partner, has decided to sell the building.

      Requests include not tearing down the existing church building, ensuring that space for the community is provided, and if there is a housing component to a proposal, that it be affordable to allow members of the community to remain in the neighborhood, among other things.

      Gutierrez said that her hope is that a future developer will “respect the historic nature of the building and not demolish it or raze the structure.”

      Vanessa Snow, a former youth organizer for the Hyde Square Task Force, said that “we need to make sure the community is involved in the future of this building.”

      Kevin Rainsford, the Chair of the JPNC, said he wanted to “thank everyone who’s been advocating for Blessed Sacrament,” as he lives in Hyde Square. He said he wants to know if there will be any “flexibility with the outcome” of the sale and future development.

      Harry Smith, a member of the Friends of Blessed Sacrament, said that the group hasn’t set any specific requirements for things like the size of a potential community space or how many units of housing there should be.

      “We’re flexible, but we also want to make sure that the hard work, planning, and priorities…are honored and respected,” Smith said. He said that the goal is to find a developer “who is flexible enough to work with the community” on what would work best for everyone. He did also say that “we’re trying to be respectful,” as “we don’t own the building,” referring to the Friends of Blessed Sacrament.

      Michael Rogers from Rep. Liz Malia’s office spoke as a resident, as he has knowledge about the Catholic Church and was able to provide some insight on potential restrictions as well as advice on how to get the building to advance in its landmarking process with the Boston Landmarks Commission (BLC).

      The Blessed Sacrament church is a pending landmark in the City, and Rogers suggested reaching out to former parishioners as well as the Archdiocese to get baptismal and marriage records from the church.

      “It’s a good idea for our committee to stay on top of this Landmarks issue,” said committee member Kathy Brown.

      The Hyde Square Task Force will be at next month’s committee meeting, Royce said.

3390 WASHINTON ST.

      The project at 3390 Washington St. has had a fairly involved community process thus far, having been presented to local neighborhood groups such as the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA), and an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and a public meeting with the Boston Planning Development Agency (BPDA) were also held as part of its Article 80 process for this project.

      The project proponents came before the committee last week to present the latest iteration of the proposal, and the committee went through its Development Checklist to review the project as it stands right now.

      Architect David O’Sullivan said that the goal of the project is to keep the existing two and a half story BMS Paper building, but “add to it and enhance the site.”

      Chris Tracy of O’Neill and Associates, said that “Bob [Harrington] has been an owner and operator here for decades.” As part of the project, Harrington wants to add a grocery market and a restaurant that can also be used as a space for the community to gather.

      The site is two acres, which Tracy said is “really rare, especially in the heart of JP/Rox.”

      The project includes the construction of 151 rental residential units “with parking kind of tucked into the back below grade underneath the building,” O’Sullivan said. Tracy said that 23 percent of the units will be affordable, for a total of 35 affordable units. The team said they do not yet have specific information relating to the Area Median Income percentage for the units. Tracy said that they “will take into consideration some of the AMI desires that we heard at the public meeting.”

      “One of the things that we started when we did start looking at the site,” O’Sullivan said, is looked at PLAN: JP/Rox and the guidelines put forth by the plan.

      He said that an all-electric system for the residential portion of the project is being proposed, as well as PV solar panels. The goal is to meet LEED Gold standards at a minimum, and there will be “vegetated roofs and integrated storm water management systems,” he said.

      He then explained the massing and step-backs, which he said are “utilized along the street with the existing building at three and a half stories.” Additionally, the existing service route will be maintained and a new shared vehicle parking driveway will be built.

      He said that 21 percent of the lot will be landscaped area that will not include any building, driveway, or patio, which is “over three times the study requirements for open space for units.”

      O’Sullivan also said that the team is “trying to tuck the parking in the back of the site out of the way of the public.”

      There will be “89 dedicated indoor garage spaces for residential units,” he said, as well as “20 indoor garage spaces shared for BMS employee parking and overnight/overflow residential units.”

      He said that 26 outdoor surface parking spots will be for both the BMS retail use and commercial residential use, and that 15 percent of the proposed parking, or 19 spaces, will be electric vehicle ready.

      The Housing & Development Committee has different categories on its Development Checklist that they discuss. The first one is affordability.

      There were some questions around the different bedroom counts, as there are many more studios and one bed units than two and three bedroom units proposed.

      O’Sullivan said that there is “definitely a desire among the BPDA and people in the city to try to find housing” that a single person can afford to live in, especially coming out of the pandemic.

      “I think that opportunity exists here,” he said. “A lot of JP has three and four beds occupied by roommates,” which he said is “less desirable now,” and will probably remain that way for some time. “More people are going to want to live alone,” he said.

      “The need is not for studios when it comes to affordability,” Kathy Brown said, adding that she would like to see more affordable larger units. O’Sullivan said that this is part of the discussion with the BPDA.

      Next up was Development and Design Focus, which includes things like consideration for  transit-oriented development and location of the site.

      O’Sullivan said that there is a “transportation management plan to promote use of the T,” by “keeping the parking ratio low” and “not promoting a lot of cars on the site.”

      Marvin Mathelier, a member of the committee, asked what the abutters’ thoughts were on this project, as there are “lots of projects happening at the same time,” and he was wondering about the “long term effects” of all of them once they are completed.

      Tracy said the team has “made numerous attempts to talk to Forestvale Apartments,” and that Harrington is making efforts to talk to the neighbors. “There’s going to be some congestion here; we know that,” Tracy said.

      He said the two acre site is an “advantage” and provides the opportunity to “get cars off of Washington St. as much as possible. We want to mitigate it and minimize it as best we can.”

      Committee member Aiden Foley said that “I think it’s an appropriate site for the level of the density. I think it’s a site that has great strategic benefit for the location.”

      Committee chair Carolyn Royce said that “I am in favor of all the parking on the site,” as “nearby projects have zero parking.” She also said that she likes that the existing BMS Paper building will be preserved.

      The committee then talked about the sustainability of the project, and while O’Sullivan said that the project will not be built to passive house standards, the committee said they liked that it will be all-electric.  O’Sullivan said that the commercial portion will still use gas for heating in the BMS Paper store and in the restaurant for cooking.

      “In terms of working with Bob and his team, we’re super excited for Bob to be able to expand his business and be able to stay where he is,” said Jennifer Uhrhane of the SNA. The SNA has a subcommittee working on this project with the development team, and they still have outstanding concerns regarding the massing and design of the new building.

      “We’ve given him (Harrington) and his team a lot of feedback on the design,” including the shape of the building and integrating it better with the surroundings and existing building.

      “Maybe if it wasn’t one huge building,” she said, there “might be a bit of visual relief.”

      She also said that the “strip of grass along the parking lot and towards the back of that,” there is a “huge incline there” and it is “not a usable space for residents.” She said that while it’s “important to keep the trees,” she doesn’t think there is enough usable green space for residents.

      The committee also spoke about jobs that this project would create, both during construction and permanently, and Harrington also said that he wanted all the three bedroom units to be affordable.

      The committee discussed their comment letter that would be submitted to the BPDA, which includes an ask for all the affordable units to be at or below 50 percent AMI, as well as top consider more larger units and for even more of the units to be affordable. They also said that they want the team to come back to the committee with final information on the AMIs “before it goes to the BPDA board.”

      In the letter, the committee said they want to applaud the all-electric proposal, and expect that local hiring will continue as the process moves forward and once the new development is up and running. The committee also said that they recognize that “community engagement has been strong.”

      The full JPNC voted to send the letter at their monthly meeting on March 23.

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