Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council affirms votes of Zoning Committee

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting on Wednesday, October 25. The council heard reports from a number of its committees. 

Dave Baron, chair of the Zoning Committee, told the council that the Zoning Committee had rmet twice in October and had taken up a number of matters. He asked that the full JPNC approve the various actions that the committee had taken, which were as follows:

The first two applications concerned requests for variances by the owner-occupants of homes at 31 Pond View Avenue (to build a new bathroom and extend an existing bedroom to be 248 square feet above an existing first-floor structure where the side-yard setback is insufficient per the zoning ordinances) and 84 Prince Street (a full gut renovation, with new windows and stucco siding and all new systems, where the work is an extension of a non-conforming use, with insufficient side-yard setback and an excessive floor area ratio). Baron said the Zoning Committee recommended granting the variances. There were no objections and the full council ratified both recommendations.

Next up was a request by the owners of Mario’s Pizzeria at 8-10 Perkins Street to allow take-out service from their restaurant. “There was a tremendous amount of support by those who want to see Mario’s Pizzeria reopen,” said Baron. The full council voted to approve this request.

However, the application by the developers of 9-11 Seaverns Avenue and 5-7 Brown Terrace to combine four existing, six-unit apartment buildings and renovate the existing unfinished basement to add eight additional units (which will be fully-sprinklered), for a total of 32 units, was met with skepticism by some of the members. The owners of the property required variances because it was an extension of a non-conforming use and had insufficient off-street parking. The Zoning Committee approved the application, but with the proviso that one of the new basement units must be an affordable unit at 80% AMI.

JPNC members Gert Thorn and Bernie Doherty raised questions about adequate egress from the basement units. However, Baron pointed out that even with the granting of zoning relief, the developer still must meet the requirements of the city’s building and health codes. The full council voted in favor of the recommendation of the Zoning Committee to approve the request.

The full council also ratified the Zoning Committee’s approval for the construction of a new three-family residence at 6 Dellmore Rd. The developer needs variances for insufficient lot area, open space, side-yard setback, rear-yard setback, and off-street parking, as well as excessive floor area ratio.  After Baron noted that an abutter who previously had objected to the project had now expressed support for it, the full council approved the recommendation.

The lone negative recommendation from the Zoning Committee pertained to a proposed six-unit project at 3915 Washington Street near the Forest Hills train station. Baron said that a three-family house can be built as of right in that area, but that the proposal by the developer is to construct a three-decker that will be divided into two units consisting of about 500 sq. ft. on each floor for a total of six units. The developer needed variances because of insufficient rear-yard setback, lot width, frontage, and off-street parking.

“The structure will have the appearance of a traditional three-decker from the outside, but it will contain six small apartment units,” said Baron. He said there was opposition from area residents based on the large number of units in a small building and by those who felt that more family-sized units, rather than single-person units, are needed in Jamaica Plain. The full JPNC agreed with the Zoning Commiitttee’s negative recommendation.

The actions of the Zoning Committee and full JPNC are advisory only. The owners of all of the properties must still go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which has the final say, in order to obtain their variances. The developer of the project that received the negative recommendation also may go before the ZBA to seek its variance requests.

The Outreach Committee presented its report. The first topic was a discussion of the need for a new chairperson because of the resignation of the former chair, Page Sparks, who is relocating. The present vice-chair, Katherine O’Shea, expressed an interest in taking over as the chair and the full council unanimously voted to do so.

In addition, the council, at O’Shea’s request, voted to change the quorum for the committee from five people to a majority of active members because the committee only has three members at the present time. The full council gave its approval to the request.

Michael Reiskind, the chair of the Public Service Committee, asked that the council vote to send a letter to the Boston Transportation Department and the Boston Public Works Department asking for certain work to be done on Robinwood Avenue to improve safety from Centre St. to Enfield St., including the installation of Do Not Enter signs at each end of the one-way sections of Robinwood Ave., speed humps on the circular sections of Robinwood Ave. to slow traffic, and additional signage and striping at the Centre St. intersection.

The full council unanimously voted to send the letter.

The Parks Committee is in need of a new chair given the departure of former chair Alexis Rickmers from the JPNC and needs a vice-chair as well. New JPNC members Nick Chaves and Leah Simmons were voted onto the committee, with Chaves voted as chair and Simmons as vice-chair. 

Danielle Sommer-Kieta, the chair of the Housing and Development Committee, said that her committee had met with the owners of the 147-unit Forbes Building, who said they are planning to undertake a major renovation of the units, and the building as a whole, that will make the building environmentally-friendly. Sommer-Kieta also said that the owners intend to make all of the units 100-percent affordable. She asked that the full JPNC send a letter to the BPDA to support the proposal for the building.

Thorne asked how the renovations will affect affordability of the units for the tenants, almost all of whom are low-income, who presently live there. Sommer-Kieta said that the owners indicated they do not intend to displace any of the residents and will be seeking additional vouchers to make the apartments even more affordable for the tenants.

Doherty added that affordable housing advocates who have been supporters of the present tenants, many of whom are senior citizens and are disabled and who at one time were facing the possibility of eviction, are in favor of the proposal, which will increase affordability and allow the present tenants to remain in place.

The full council voted to send the letter.

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