JPNC Zoning Committee approves proposed dormer at 20 Orchard St.

The Zoning Committee of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met virtually on January 5, where owners of 20 Orchard St. proposed to add a dormer to their third floor to create a new master bathroom.

This project had previously come before the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA), which voted to oppose the proposal because of concerns from a few of the abutters. 

Erica Rice and her husband Justin live at 20 Orchard St. with their three children, and said they love living in the neighborhood. However, Erica said that “the challenge is, we are five people sharing one bathroom.” 

The Rices are asking for a master bathroom with a tub, a separate shower, and a double vanity which will be located in the proposed dormer. 

Architect Joseph Wood confirmed that there are two full bathrooms in the house. but one is in the basement. The Rices would like to add a bathroom on the third floor—where the master bedroom is located—but a variance is needed because of an existing nonconforming side yard setback.

Kevin Moloney, chair of the JPA’s Zoning Committee, said that “records indicate that there are two and a half bathrooms in the building,” and also mentioned a meeting that was held with the Rices and the abutters following the November 2021 meeting of the JPA when this matter was first heard.

“Neither the Rices nor the close-by neighbors indicated that they were going to change their position,” Moloney said.

Residents Suzie Albert and Andy Pond said that they “had a similar situation,” with their own home and were “fortunate enough to not have any opposition, but the same issue was there” of an existing noncompliance. 

“From our perspective, it’s been done in this neighborhood,” Pond said. “We think these lovely people in our neighborhood should be allowed to make their choices about how they want to live and how they want to raise their family.”

Claire Barker, a neighbor who lives at 32 Orchard St., also said she is in support of the proposal and of making the neighborhood a place where people can raise their families.

Peter Elmuts, a member of the JPA and a resident at 21 Prince St., said that he is a lifelong resident of Jamaica Plain and that his “house directly abuts 20 Orchard St. There are four direct abutters who are directly affected and impacted by the proposed additional master bathroom dormer.” Elmuts is in opposition of the proposal. 

He said that these abutters who are against the proposal have “several important and valid concerns,” and that “recommendations were offered,” but “the owners of 20 Orchard St. were unwilling to make any changes.” 

Elmuts said that the family has two and a half bathrooms already, and the houses are already close together.

“The proposed addition of a dormer would decrease open air space,” he said, as well as “light and privacy,” and the “dormer would look out of place.”

He continued, “as a direct abutter along with the other direct abutters, we would be significantly impacted the most because the proposed dormer would be visible and seen by us every day.”

Arlene Rothman, a resident of 19 Prince St., was also in opposition to the dormer.

But not all close neighbors are opposed to the project.

Teddy Rice, who lives next door to Justin and Erica, but is not related, said that he is “sorry there’s disagreement about the issue at hand. With respect to our position as abutters, we’re quite supportive of this project.” He also said that “I view the impacts as very marginal.”

Lee Goodman, a local developer who is on the JPNC Zoning Committee, clarified the zoning variance that’s at hand. 

“What’s being triggered is a nonconforming side yard,” he said. “I think you’re envisioning them increasing a setback towards you at four and a half feet,” in reference to Wood’s earlier mention of the fact that “we’re essentially four and a half feet away from achieving this proposed dormer.”

Goodman said that “that is not what they’re proposing. It just happens to be that they’re triggering an existing nonconforming side yard,” and the setback will not be affected by the dormer. Goodman said he is in support of the project.

Erica Rice said that “we have met with the abutters on many occasions; we’re reached out to them on many occasions. A lot of people have tried to redesign this project. This is the best option.”

Wood said that at the meeting between the abutters and the Rices, “alternative designs” were discussed, but it was decided that this design was the best one for the Rices. They had said in previous meetings that they could go with a smaller design, but stood firm that the one being proposed is the one that will work best for their family.

In the Zoom chat, Sarah Cherry Rice wrote, “To be clear, as a point of fact—we are direct abutters in support of this project. Somehow it is being conveyed that the direct abutters are in common opposition. That is not the case.”

Dave Baron, the chair of the JPNC Zoning Committee, said “I want to support the JPA, who took a position on this as a neighborhood association of volunteers as we are. On the other hand, I’m a little concerned that the opposition seems to be purely legalistic.” He said that concerns he heard during the meeting included “looking at it” and “having to see it.”

All in all, the committee voted six to two with two abstentions to approve the proposal.

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