The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met virtually for the first time since its election on August 21. Eleven members were elected, leaving nine vacancies between all areas of the neighborhood and At-Large seats.
The Council reported that there was low turnout at this year’s election, chalking it up to the late summer date and the fact that all seats ran uncontested. The election has already been postponed several times because of the pandemic, and was supposed to take place last year.
JPNC member Michael Reiskind said he recalls seeing between 300 and 600 votes in other years. Former JPNC Chair Kevin Rainsford, who no longer sits on the Council as of this meeting, said that there were about 350 ballots cast for the past few elections.
For this election, there were about six write-in votes, each of which was only voted for once so those people did not meet the requirement of 25 votes for nomination.
Currently, there are two vacancies in Area A, five in Area B, one in Area C, and one At-Large. Alexis Rickmers nominated herself for Area C, and Marvin Watkins nominated himself for Area A. A second announcement of vacancies is needed before voting on these nominations.
When it came time to vote for new officers, JPNC member Bernie Doherty said he didn’t feel it was appropriate to elect them that night since about half the seats are vacant and whoever fills them in the coming months will not have had any input.
The group compromised and elected three interim officers: Samantha Montano as chair, Bernie Doherty as Vice Chair, and Michael Reiskind for Secretary/Treasurer. In a couple of months, permanent officers will be elected.
After the officers discussion, the Council moved on to committee updates, starting with the Zoning Committee, chaired by Dave Baron.
Baron said that there was only one matter up for a vote, which was a proposal at 104-104B Jamaica Street, in which the owners want to build a three unit residential townhouse building with off-street parking in the rear.
“That was the second meeting with the Zoning Committee,” Baron said of the project. There are many violations involved with the project, including side yard setback, which caused the side yard neighbor to have some opposition.
Between the first and second times this project came before the committee, there were some design changes made and the neighbor eventually decided not to oppose the new design, Baron said.
JPNC member Bernie Doherty expressed his frustration with the recommendation of approval by the committee. He said due to the many variances, “that is amazing that we’re just letting this pass through.”
The full Council did vote to approve the proposal.
Public Service Committee
The Public Service Committee, chaired by Michael Reiskind, met to hear a proposal from Simpli Bar & Bites at 3840 Washington St. for a 7-day common victualler wines and malt beverages license, as well as take-out and an entertainment license for two TVs. The hours of operation are 6am to 11pm.
Reiskind said that an abutters meeting had not been held in time due to turnover in the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, so the committee’s recommendation to approve was contingent on no abutters being in opposition once the meeting was held. The abutters meeting did happen and no neighbors had concerns.
The Licensing Board met in July and requested a letter of approval before the last week in August, which Reiskind said would be sent once the full Council votes on this project.
He said that the outdoor patio is a “very nice patio that they added before,” and it faces the orange line so no residents are impacted by it. He also said that the manager is “long standing” and “competent.”
The Council voted to approve this request.
Housing & Development Committee
Housing & Development Committee member Marvin Mathelier reported on the committee’s August meeting, which consisted of a discussion of proposals by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion subcommittee to gain more members of the Housing & Development Committee from underrepresented groups, as well as the group’s discussion of the Forbes Building.
Mathelier explained the proposal, which includes specific percentages of people from the BIPOC community, renters ,those living in income-restricted housing, and a percentage of members to be from each area of the neighborhood in order for the committee to best reflect the neighborhood as a whole.
The full council voted for the subcommittee to move forward and conduct outreach to these groups for the next six months to recruit new members.
For the Forbes Building, no vote was going to be taken, but David Nollman, a member of the Forbes Building Tenant Association and the Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants (MAHT), along with Michael Kane, Director of the MAHT, came to this meeting to ask the Council for their support in preserving affordable housing in the building.
Nollman explained the background of the building, which includes the fact that the 40 year mortgage has ended, but a policy is in place to require the landlord to allow residents to stay in their apartments for an additional three years “in conditions fairly close to” what they have been for years. “Some people have been there for 30, 40 years,” Nollman said, adding that many residents are elderly and/or disabled.
He said that any increase in rent, even five percent, would make a huge difference to many of the tenants in this building. A petition has been created that has hundreds of signatures calling to keep the building affordable.
“If we could get the support of the JPNC, that would be a huge win for us,” he said. He also spoke about several changes the landlord has allegedly proposed for the building and the neighborhood.
Kane said that the landlord has always talked about wanting to preserve affordability in the building, but right now no agreement has been made to do so.
“The bottom line is he needs to sign the contracts now that preserve affordable housing,” Kane said.
“I think everyone wants to keep affordable housing,” said Michael Reiskind, but he expressed concern that only one side had been heard at this meeting.
“We almost never vote on issues when we hear only one side, and we’ve heard only one side,” he said.
A meeting has been scheduled for August 26 with members of the JPNC and the owner of the Forbes Building, the JPNC reported.
“I hear and respect the council’s desire to hear both sides,” said Pam Bender, a member of the Housing & Development Committee, but she said there is a “sense of urgency here. People are going to lose their homes.”
Bernie Doherty agreed. “The need is urgent. It is now, it is here,” he said. “We need to deal with it now.”
After further discussion and suggestions, the Council ultimately voted seven to one to sign the petition.
At the JPNC election on August 21, there were 131 Ballots cast – 19 at Stop & Shop, 29 at Forest Hills and 83 at JP Licks. Of those who voted 25 were from Area A, 50 were from Area B, and 56 were from Area C.
The breakdown of votes are as follows:
Marvin Mathelier – 21
Brandon Yu Iisuka Russell – 18
Trevor Wissink-Adams – 15
Gert Thorn – 38
Peg Preble – 28
Bernard Doherty – 32
Micah Sachs – 32
Michael Reiskind – 85
Dave Baron – 74
Will Cohen – 74
Samantha Montano – 79