JPA discusses proposed dormer at length; asks for proponent to return in December

The Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) met virtually on November 8 where it had a lengthy discussion on a zoning matter at 20 Orchard St.

Erica Rice and her husband Justin live at the address with their three children, and have proposed to build a dormer for a new master bathroom on the third floor, as they need more space and would really like to raise their family in Jamaica Plain.

“It’s really a blessing to be here and we’re thrilled,” Rice said. “We feel extremely fortunate to have found this house in this neighborhood.”

She said they are planning on building on the existing footprint, but zoning relief is needed for the side yard setback. Rice also said that a sun study has been done, and it has been determined that there is “minimal to no impact on the shade and visual lines of our neighbors.”

Joseph Wood of New England Design & Construction said that the proposal includes a double vanity and a tub, but the dormer would be “flush with the existing wall below the house.”

JPA member Peter Elmuts, who is an abutter to this house, referenced the sun study saying that the project would impact parts of his house.

“I am a lifelong resident of JP and have lived in my house for 54 years, and I absolutely love this neighborhood and love the neighbors,” he said. He added that the “proposed dormer would block and decrease the visibility and tighten the open-air space.”

He also said that the sun study does not “represent the actual total true sunlight shade,” and also spoke about other issues he’s had with the homeowners. 

“The new owner, in less than two years, has already increased, elevated, and raised the height of his garage roof by two feet,” Elmuts said. He also spoke of a garage fan that had been installed and points into his backyard, which “prevents us from sitting in our yard,” he said.

“This is quite inconsiderate and disrespectful of neighbors in my opinion,” he said. 

Arlene Rothman, who said she rents from Elmuts at 19 Prince St., said that “this particular dormer will impact me because it’s a huge addition on top  of his regular roof.”

Claire Barker, who said she lives three doors up from the Rices, said that it is “regrettable that neighbors can’t talk to each other. I don’t think that should affect the decision by the JPA board tonight.” She said “I hope the board will vote not to oppose the project.”

Rice said that she understands that they might have to give up certain parts of the proposal such as the bathtub to make this work, but the goal is to not have to do that. 

Teddy Rice, an abutter who is not related to Erica and Justin Rice, said that he is “quite supportive of the project. I mostly just want to share with the group and the board that in our time living next door to the Rices…our assessment is they’ve done a fabulous job.”

He said that changes to the fence and garage were “major improvements to the property.” 

JPA member Franklyn Salimbene said that “there’s something here that someone needs, and depending on how you look at it, there’s something that someone wants. My concern with the proposal is that it’s asking for something that’s more than needed. My advice would b4 to go back and look to see what you actually need and redesign the bathroom on that basis.”

Several people mentioned a potential conflict of interest with Peter Elmuts being on the board and being an abutter. Some said he should not vote on this matter because of that. 

“It would be rather inappropriate and create a conflict of interest if Peter Elmuts votes,” said JPA member Micah Sachs. 

“There’s nothing in the bylaws that would preclude it,” said Zoning Committee Chair Kevin Moloney. 

JPA member Michael Reiskind said that the bylaws “do not speak to this matter, but I think we should come up with a policy of who can vote in issues like this.” He also asked Elmuts to recuse himself from the vote on this matter.

JPA member Barry Schwartz said that “maybe the two parties could remedy some situations.”

Rice responded by saying “we have made ourselves available, we have offered meeting times; scheduled meetings. I’m happy to talk to the neighbors.” She said that she has tried to find a time to speak with Elmuts, but “so far he has been unwilling to meet with us.” She also said that the fan in question “is never on. We tried it as an experiment and it didn’t work.”

Elmuts at this meeting agreed to meet with the Rices and also agreed that JPA member Peter Steiger would serve as a facilitator for both parties. 

Because of these ongoing issues, the JPA decided to have this matter return before the board in December, when they will take a vote after abutters have had a chance to meet with the Rices again.

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