The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) Zoning Committee met virtually on May 18, where two matters were heard: a proposal at 15 Meehan St. to increase the living space and add an extension in the rear for porches, and the return of a proposal at 26 Union Ave. to install a curb cut for a driveway for two cars to park.
15 MEEHAN ST.
The proposal at 15 Meehan St. had previously been heard by the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA), which voted to oppose the project.
Attorney Ryan Spitz and architect Andrea Brue presented the proposal to the Zoning Committee.
Brue spoke a little bit about the current state of the building before moving on to the proposal itself. Brue said that some of the windows are boarded up and the siding and chain link fence has been removed. Right now, what exists is the foundation, exterior walls, and the floor framing for the first and second floors. The house was used as a two family home.
The proposed project will “maintain the footprint” of the existing building, she said, with two units consisting of two floors each.
Each unit will have its own entrance, and the existing basement floor will be underpinned by “about two feet” to increase the ceiling height for more living space. The basement level will feature a den, a gym/fitness room, and a laundry room, as well as space for mechanicals and a second bathroom. The second floor, which is still part of Unit 1, will feature two bedrooms, a living/dining space, a kitchen, and a bathroom.
The second floor, which is the beginning of Unit 2, will feature a den, living/dining space, a kitchen, and a bathroom, and the third floor, which is currently the attic, will feature three bedrooms, laundry, and two bathrooms. The attic level will be expanded with gables, Brue said.
Unit 1 will have a rear deck, and Unit 2 will have a private roof deck with access down a spiral staircase. It will be set back from the roof edge and be accessed via a hatch.
The SNA had several concerns about this proposal when it came before the organization, including the current state of the building, as well as the fact that the property had been on the market. Some residents felt that the developer was not committed to doing the work if he was planning on selling it. Others had safety concerns about the building and there were issues with the extra proposed height.
Spitz said that “the proponent stands by” the design choices he has made for the proposal. “He stands by the quality of his work,” he said. He said that while height isn’t a zoning violation, there were shadow studies conducted on how the project would affect light on the building at 13 Meehan St.
“I’m marginally disappointed that this building has been an eyesore for such a long time,” said Omer Hecht, a committee member and abutter. “On the other hand, I also don’t really understand any of the objections. I think that the design is good. I’d like to see it actually get done.”
Hecht asked if the building would be all electric, which the proponent said is something that an engineer will look into.
To address the issue of the building being up for sale,. Spitz said that “the property did go on the market,” as the owner has been “financially drawn on this property.” Spitz said that the owner, Pierre Joas, “has since removed it from the site to show he is committed.”
Resident Patty Yehle, who opposed this project at the SNA meeting, said “my experience with Mr. Joas is that he has not been accountable to the property,” she said, and neighbors “consistently had to complain,” and “311 had to come and take care of the property.”
Jennifer Uhrhane, also a member of the SNA, said that “I would hope that the JPNC Zoning Committee would support the neighborhood association” in opposing this proposal. She said that the project proposes “almost double” the existing allowable Floor Area Ratio (FAR). She also spoke about the concerns neighbors had about the shadows, and there is also concern that the rooms in the basement would be turned into extra bedrooms.
Uhrhane also pointed out that an abutters meeting was held by the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, at which issues were brought up “and not addressed,” she said. “The only change he’s made to the building has been to add that little cornice.”
After some more discussion and back-and-forth, the committee ultimately voted to approve the proposal with the provisos that the owner paint and fix and damage and that the owner “obtain sufficient insurance” and all that entails to protect the neighbors in the case of damage during construction, and weekly security visits by the proponent. Four committee members were against the motion.
26 UNION AVE.
Fred Vetterlein, owner of 26 Union Ave., had previously come before the committee with his proposal to create a curb cut so two vehicles could park in a driveway alongside his home.
Behind Vetterlein’s house sits 28 Union St., which is another single family home. There were some concerns about safety and egress at the April meeting, when this proposal was first heard. A proposal at that meeting to approve with a proviso to keep the driveway clear of obstructions other than the cars failed, and the group chose not to take action on the matter at that meeting.
At the May 18 meeting, Vetterlein explained how the egress currently works with the abutting properties.
He said that behind 26 Union is a private patio, and 28 Union also has a private patio, as well as a “separate gate going into the neighboring yard,” which “gives them complete egress out the back of the property.” He said.
“When you come out of 28, you can either exit all the way out to Union Ave…or you can go out through this private patio behind 26,” Vetterlein said. Alternatively, the gate to the neighbors can be used, or “you can go out the front.”
Vetterlein said that there are several options to exit the property even with the proposed cars in the driveway, which will have a three foot width for people to get by.
Committee member Marie Turley had a number of concerns regarding egress and safety at the last hearing, and Vetterlein said that in response to those, he went to the city’s Public Improvement Commission to resubmit a new map, which they said was “not necessary,” he said. “Their concern is the width and the condition of the curb and whether it’s possible to have a curb cut,” he said.
He said he has a petition with 31 signatures in support of this proposal, but he has not made any changes to the proposal since the last time it was presented.
He said that he “hopes” that the new map he showed at the meeting “clearly shows you the egress methods for people,” and “also the layout of the cars within the parking spaces.”
Committee member Bernie Doherty expressed his concerns with the proposal, saying he does not believe there will be enough room to exit with the cars in the driveway. “You have to be right up against that fence in order to have that 36 inch distance there,” he said. “I just don’t understand it. I don’t approve of it; I think it’s unsafe, regardless of what somebody else might say.”
Vetterlein said that a “number of houses on Union St. have 10 foot wide driveways,” and many of them have off-street parking.
“I appreciate the concern about safety,” said committee member Jerry O’Connor. He said, looking at a Google Map of the property, that “there would be no way a fire truck could actually go down that driveway, regardless of whether there’s a curb cut there or not.” He added that “I don’t think it’s a super great idea,” but he thinks Vetterlein should be able to have off-street parking if that’s what he wants.
Alex Guriev, one of Vetterlein’s abutters, said he does not see any safety concerns with this proposal, and someone else mentioned that the creation of a curb cut would remove an on-street parking space on Union Ave.
The committee first voted on a motion to approve, which failed, and then a motion to deny, which also received an equal number of votes for and against, so that failed too.
The committee once again chose to take no action on the matter, and Vetterlein can choose whether or not he will come back again.