Neighborhood Group Rejects City Realty Project in Forest Hills

Dozens of protesters gathered at the Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 meeting of the zoning committee of the JP Neighborhood Council at Farnsworth House.

Chris Helms

Dozens of protesters gathered at the Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 meeting of the zoning committee of the JP Neighborhood Council at Farnsworth House.

After hearing horror stories from City Realty tenants, a JP advisory board unanimously denied approval to a project the company aims to build at 38-42 Hyde Park Ave.

City Realty aims to turn this parcel at the corner of Weld Hill Street and Hyde Park Avenue into a 3-story mixed-use project.

Chris Helms

City Realty aims to turn this parcel at the corner of Weld Hill Street and Hyde Park Avenue into a 3-story mixed-use project.

The Brighton-based real estate company would like to tear down a former martial arts studio and put a three-story mixed-use building in its place. Negotiations with Forest Hills neighbors had made progress, according to the Gazette. But that was before City Realty began facing significant push-back on two separate properties across the neighborhood in Egleston Square. There, the owners of seven local businesses have been given eviction notices. The owners say the terms on offer from City Realty, including steep rent hikes, simply aren’t fair.

Neither the Jamaica Plain News (nor any other news source we’re aware of) has succeeded in getting comment from the company about the evictions in Egleston.

A lawyer for the limited liability company behind the Hyde Park Avenue project, however, did briefly appear Wednesday at the zoning committee meeting of the JP Neighborhood Council.

“We’re not going forward,” said George Morancy as he stood surrounded by protesters in the lobby at Farnsworth House.

Protesters pressed Morancy for a response to allegations of City Realty dealing unfairly with tenants, but he repeatedly said that he did not represent City Realty. The two principals of the company wanting to redevelop 38-42 Hyde Park Ave. are Fred Starikov and Steve Whalen, Morancy said. Those are the same people who own City Realty. It’s common in Massachusetts for developers to create separate companies for each project they do.

Morancy told people in the lobby that Starikov and Whalen want to settle the situation in Egleston Square before seeking Neighborhood Council approval for the Hyde Park Avenue project.

Morancy, still surrounded by protesters, left before the zoning committee meeting began.

The zoning committee agreed to hear from critics of City Realty. There were lots of them.

Among the speakers who focused on the situation in Egleston, one brought evidence that City Realty was fine with all the businesses in question closing or moving.

Luis Cotto, executive director of Egleston Square Main Street, told the room about an email exchange he held with City Realty’s Whalen. He later provided a copy of the email to Jamaica Plain News. Whalen wrote:

Sorry I missed the 3rd point on “losing all the businesses”. I need to be crystal clear here we are ok with this as an outcome. This collective bargaining gambit all or nothing that is being taken will only harm the business who have already agree to our reasonable terms.

Alison Moronta, business developer for the JP Neighborhood Development Corp., described a frustrating series of negotiations she attempted to have with City Realty about the two properties in Egleston.

“This community has a strong Latino presence and we want to preserve that,” Moronta said. “Do you want this kind of investor in the community?”

As to next steps, City Councilor Tito Jackson plans to meet soon with Starikov and Whelan, said his chief of staff, Nichelle Sadler. Jackson was prominent in a Tuesday protest against City Realty and has previously called out the company in city council discussions about overreach by corporate landlords.

A series of other speakers told of their personal experience as tenants in units owned by City Realty. After hearing from them, the Neighborhood Council’s zoning committee voted unanimously to deny City Realty’s request for approval on seven variances they’re seeking for the 38-42 Hyde Park Ave. project.

The Neighborhood Council is an advisory board, mostly elected, that votes on issues confronting Jamaica Plain. Its recommendations are often, though not always, abided by when city of Boston boards like the Board of Zoning Appeals take up JP matters.

[Editor’s note: I corrected a typo in the original post that gave the wrong name of JP Neighborhood Development Corp. Also, the description of the martial arts studio did not indicate which style was taught there.]