JPNC Hears Committee Updates; Discusses Upcoming Council Election

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met virtually on July 27, where members discussed updates from committees, including the Zoning Committee and Housing and Development Committee, and provided updates for the Council’s upcoming election on August 21.

Zoning Committee

Zoning Committee Dave Baron reported on four issues that were heard by the committee in July. The first was a proposal at 302 Lamartine St. to knock down the existing front and rear decks and build new porches in the front and rear. The property is owner-occupied, and Baron reported that neither the side yard nor the rear yard insufficiencies were worsened by the proposal.

At 93 Brookley Road, the proposal was to enclose the three decks on the front facade to create more living space for each of the three units. All units are owner-occupied, and Baron said that the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association had submitted a letter of non-opposition.

At 96 Sheridan St., the proposal was to legally change the occupancy of a two family building into a three family building and to install sprinklers. Baron said that this building has been operating as a three unit dwelling since 2004, and the owner is looking to legalize that use.

At 19 Granada Park, Baron explained that the proposal was the “most controversial matter that needs a vote.”

He said that the Chilcott/Granada Park Neighborhood Association and the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association (ESNA) Housing Committee had both heard this proposal and had concerns with the process for the project.

Baron said that “a contractor on behalf of the owners did work” on this two family residence that has operated as and been taxed as a three family residence. “From a zoning standpoint, it’s a two family residence,” Baron said.

The contractor had removed an internal staircase between the second and third floors, and enclosed a deck.

Baron said that all of this was done “without getting a variance and then later on were cited when they went for the final inspection.” The project violated the zoning code because there are three units in a building zoned for only two.

This “drew some ire” from both the ESNA Housing Committee and the Chilcott/Granada Park Neighborhood Association, Baron said, as they wondered whether “this was a deliberate abuse of the process” or rather a “series of miscommunications and a language problem.”

He said, “whatever the answer there,” the ESNA and the Chilcott/Granada Park Neighborhood Association “had focused on a few problems that they wanted to make sure were addressed,” including that the third floor unit be limited to only two bedrooms, and concerns with parking. There are five spaces for the building, but there were concerns that those spaces were all being used by the owner or being leased out to tenants for an additional cost.

The Zoning Committee’s recommendation was to approve this project with the provisos that the third floor unit have no more than two bedrooms, and that the parking spaces be made available for free to tenants of the building.

The recommendation of the Committee was also to approve the other three projects with no provisos.

JPNC member Bernie Doherty said he is not in support of approving projects like the ones on Sheridan St. and Granada Park, as they have been operating against the zoning code.

“This is criminal behavior and I don’t think the council should ally itself with this type of behavior,” he said.

The full JPNC voted to approve the projects as recommended by the Committee, with Doherty voting in opposition and Peg Preble abstaining.

Housing & Development Committee

Housing & Development Committee Chair Carolyn Royce reported on two different building proposals at 56-267 Amory St., one for the new headquarters of Youth Enrichment Services (YES), and another for nine residential condominium units. The Committee sought a vote on a letter to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

Royce said that these are “two different buildings, two different owners,” and “two different construction teams.”

She said that YES has run out of space in their current location on Mass. Ave., and are in search of a new location to store their equipment.

Royce said that the Committee’s concerns with the condo building are “affordability and finishing the process with the neighborhood.” She said that no affordable units are proposed on the site, but “people are excited about YES coming” to the neighborhood.

She said that there are positive aspects to the condo proposal, including the fact that there are “significant sidewalk improvements.” There is one two bedroom unit, and the rest are three bedroom units.

JPNC member Max Glikman said that if a developer is proposing community benefits, “all of that stuff adds up,” and “in theory,” they “might be putting more into the community than just putting in an affordable unit.” He said looking at having affordable units alone as a “benchmark” is not a good idea.

JPNC member Will Cohen said he agrees with Glikman. “In the wold of urban planning…” he said, “in the end, whatever decision we make, there’s a tradeoff.”

JPNC member Samantha Montano had a different viewpoint. She said “when we don’t accept those extra units, we create a problem in JP where we’re creating scarcity. That’s why the neighborhood is primarily white.”

She added that “we need to make sure that we’re being proactive and approving density in places like JP.”

The JPNC voted to send a letter to the BPDA outlining what it feels is good about the proposal and what it believes needs work.

The Council also voted to approve changes to the Healthy Homes guidelines that were worked on by the net-zero carbon subcommittee, as well as updated resource documents. These new documents are a “resource list for homeowners and developers that would go up on the JPNC website,” Royce said. They include a FAW document about net zero carbon, energy efficiency, and electrification.                       

Additionally, there is an “updated checklist” on the Healthy Homes guidelines.

Royce said that the goal of these documents is to provide more information and discussion around energy efficiency and goals for electrification in the neighborhood.                                                                                                                                  

Election

JPNC Chair reported that the JPNC is looking for volunteers for its upcoming election on August 21. JPNC member Michael Reiskind said that write-ins are permitted, and “to eliminate the possibility of misunderstanding of who is running,” a person’s name and their address must be included on the ballot for write-ins. For area candidates, at least 25 votes are needed to win the seat, and for at-large candidates, at least 50 are required.

The election will take place on Saturday, August 21 from 10am-4pm inside the Forest Hills MBTA station, and outside JP Licks on Centre St. and Stop and Shop on Centre St., weather permitting. “In light of increasing cases of COVID, precautions will be taken at each location,” Rainsford told the Gazette.

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