The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday evening, March 28, via Zoom. The council members tackled a full agenda over the course of the 100-minute meeting.
On hand for the session were chairman Will Cohen and fellow members Peg Preble, David Baron, Renee Stacey Welch, Omer Hecht, Bernard Doherty, Michael Reiskind, Paige Sparks, Sarah Freeman, Danielle Sommer, Lorenzo Bartoloni, Peter DeCotis, and Gert Thorne.
The various committees presented their monthly reports:
Alexis Rickmers (who was not present) of the Parks Committee sent an email informing the group that the annual Muddy River Cleanup will take place on April 22 in Franklin Park and there will be a vendor table for the JPNC at the Wake Up the Earth event on May 6
Sparks of the Outreach Committee discussed the upcoming JPNC’s election, which is set for Saturday, June 24. She made note of election information on the JPNC’s web site and the need for volunteers to conduct the election. She said there will be three polling places at the Stop & Shop, the Forest Hills T station, and JP Licks on Centre St.
The principal discussion of the evening revolved around the request by the Housing and Development Committee to send three letters: to the MBTA regarding the Arborway bus garage project; to the city regarding the so-called pole yard at the garage site; and to the developer of the residential apartment complex at 1821 Arborway Rd.
Welch, the chair of the Housing and Development Committee, outlined the contents of the letters (which previously had been made available to the members) and the reasons for each.
Welch said the letter to the MBTA seeks more insight from the T, with community input, regarding the development of the new Arborway bus garage that will house the T’s new electric bus fleet.
Cohen questioned the need for a letter at this time when the T already has been willing to talk to the group.
However, Thorne suggested that the intent of the letter is to go beyond meetings that have been held only with T officials — which Thorne suggested are merely perfunctory sessions — to include meetings with the professionals working on the project who can answer specific questions about the design, engineering, etc.
Reiskind supported Thorne’s point of view.
“The T is putting up roadblocks,” said Reiskind. “They act nice, but they are not forthcoming with information that the public can get its teeth into. The T is breaking its own rules with regard to how it communicates. The T has gone significantly backwards on the Arborway Yard.”
Freeman added, “It may appear that they’re very nice, but when they come to a meeting, it’s to tell you how they’ve advanced the design, but don’t tell us how they’ve responded to our input. We want to be taken seriously, that our input matters, not just show us how it’s coming along.”
Doherty also voiced his support for sending the letter.
“It is paramount that we be kept informed by the MBTA,” Doherty said.”This is a massive building, seven stories high, and it is imperative that we do everything we can to stay informed and be on top of what’s happening.”
Two other members spoke on the issue, with Hecht voicing his support for Cohen’s position not to send the letter and DeCotis saying he is in favor of sending it.
Welch wrapped up the discussion.
“This is our neighborhood and we should be a part of every discussion on matters involving our neighborhood,” Welch said.
The council voted 10-0 (with three abstentions) to send the letter.
The next letter, addressed to the city, dealt with the so-called pole yard at the Arborway garage site that the city currently is using as a staging area for its snow clearing equipment, including the storage of a big pile of road salt.
The city originally was going to abandon the pole yard to make way for the MBTA’s new bus garage, but now has indicated that it wants to keep the yard.
The council members agreed that if the pole yard is retained by the city for DPW equipment, it will make the T’s garage construction project more difficult and will reduce the acreage on the site that was supposed to be available for community development
The council voted 11-0 to send the letter, with two abstentions.
The third letter dealt with the proposed development project at 1821 Arborway Rd. The project, which presently is an abandoned industrial building, abuts the Arborway and will entail a large apartment complex with open space that will be open to the community.
The development is envisioned as a gateway to the Arboretum, for which there is an adjacent archway entrance under the MBTA’s commuter rail tracks.
Although the members of the Housing and Development Committee lauded many aspects of the project, the letter from the committee addresses the twin issues of the percentage of affordable housing units in the complex, as well as the definition of what constitutes an “affordable” unit.
The city presently requires that 13% of units in new residential projects be affordable (though the mayor’s office is considering raising the threshold to 17%). The developer of the 1821 Arborway Rd. project intends to make 16.5% of the units affordable, exceeding the city’s present threshold. However, the JPNC has had a long-standing objective of 25% affordable units. On this issue, the letter urges the developer to get closer to the 25% figure.
The other issue concerns the defInition of “affordable.” The present figure used for these purposes is 70% of Average Median Income in an area, which would be about $80,000 for a family of four. The members of the Housing and Development Committee want to urge the developer to lower that threshold.
“I just have to say that based on what we heard from the developers, these are not affordable units,” said Doherty, who attended the Housing and Development Committee meeting at which the developer made a presentation. “We need housing for our senior citizens, who are on limited, fixed incomes, and for the working people who make minimal hourly wages. We also need to have housing for families.”
Doherty raised an additional issue.
“We also have to discuss the reality that by continuing to allow these former industrial spaces to be converted into residential housing, we are eliminating the potential for the creation of jobs within the community,” Doherty said.
The council voted 10-0 to send the letter with three abstentions.
Baron presented the report from the Zoning Committee. He said the committee took up three matters in the past month, all of which they approved.
The first was the Forest Hills Housing Co-op at 201 Forest Hills St. He said the co-op is seeking to construct a separate community building because its current spaces for that purpose are not ADA-compliant. Baron told the council that the proposed new building has only minor discrepancies per the city’s zoning ordinances.
Another matter pertained to 294 and 294R South St. The owner is requesting to convert a carriage house in the rear of the property into an additional dwelling unit into which the owner wishes to move from the principal residence.
For the third matter, 34 McBride St., the owner is seeking to add an addition for a bedroom and bathroom to which there was no opposition from the neighbors.
The full council, with one abstention, gave its recommendation for approval to all three variance requests. The owners now must go before the City of Boston Zoning Board of Appeals for issuance of the variances.
Baron noted that the next meeting of the Zoning Committee is set for April 12 when the committee will take up two matters, 87 & 91 Parkton Rd. (extending a shared driveway to create two off-street parking spaces at the rear of the property) and 11 Plainfield St. (a shed dormer in order to extend and enlarge a bedroom).
Reiskind of the Public Service Committee reported that the committee is continuing with its efforts to get more trash barrels and receptacles in the business district, as well as along the Jamaica Pond parking area at Perkins St.
He said the city will clear sidewalks during snowstorms. Reiskind also said the city has been asked to add Pond St. from Center St. to the Jamaicaway for street sweeping.
Reiskind also noted that the dozens of poles that supported catenary wires (the overhead wires that supply electricity to trolley cars) for the old trolley cars, which have been out-of-use since the 1980s, are in the process of being removed by the MBTA.
Before the meeting concluded, Ben Weber stepped up to fill one of the two current vacancies on the council. Weber is an attorney who has been a JP resident for 14 years and whose children attended Boston Public Schools. The council unanimously voted to accept Weber as a new member of the council.
The council then adjourned until its next meeting on Tuesday, April 25.