Giant ‘Parcel U’ Development Nears Final Approval

SCHEMATIC DRAWING OF THE PARCEL U development looking from Ukraine Way southwest down Hyde Park Ave,

Urbanica inc/The Community Builders

SCHEMATIC DRAWING OF THE PARCEL U development looking from Ukraine Way southwest down Hyde Park Ave,

The community process for one of the largest residential developments in the history of Forest Hills is over — except for a public hearing on variances from the zoning code the 124-unit project might need.

Parcel U, as the property is known in MBTA lingo, sits on the skinny three-acre strip between Hyde Park Avenue and the train tracks south of Ukraine Way. It includes 124 homes in a cluster of nine duplex ownership row houses and one rental multi-family building.

The public comment period for the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s public process ended Oct. 10. Here’s what we found in a review of the feedback Forest Hills residents gave the project.

Eight comment letters were received; three in full support and two highly critical of the number of affordable town homes and apartments (Affordable meaning sale prices and rents scaled at 60 percent of the Boston Area Median Income; a one1bedroom apartment or town house would be priced for those earning $39,600 according to federal guidelines for 2014; a three bedroom would be scaled to those earning  $51,000.)

An Eldridge Road resident wrote that the development would “strengthen the neighborhood” while a Wachusett Street resident was not in favor of the “large apartment building.”

Another Wachusett Street resident wrote that 35 percent of the units listed as “affordable was too many…we do not need to exceed the city requirement for affordable housing.”

A Rodman Street couple cautioned that this was “the first residential project in the area…it needs to set a precedent for future residential development.”

Setting this precedent was clearly in the minds of the the development partnership team of Urbanica Inc. and its mixed-income rental partner The Community Builders. Before submitting the Project Notification Form to the city, Urbanica/Community Builders held three community meetings of its own in January and February. Those meeting led to changes to their original plans.

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PARCEL U WAS AN MBTA CAR BAR, Ukraine Way  is where the switching tower is in the background. 1985 photo

Richard Heath

PARCEL U WAS AN MBTA CAR BARN, Ukraine Way is where the switching tower is in the background. 1985 photo

These changes — notably spreading the duplex row houses into nine clusters instead of one long building, creating parks and moving the townhouses away from Tollgate cemetery — were reflected in the Expanded Project Notification Form filed with the BRA on Aug. 1 as required by Article 80 of the zoning code.

The Redevelopment Authority scheduled two back-to-back community meetings in September to allow area residents and the six-member Impact Advisory Group to review and comment on the project.

Parcel U at Forest Hills fits well within the guidelines of the 2008 Forest Hills Improvement Initiative, explained senior project manager Tyler Norod in a recent conversation with The News. The Initiative called for 150 units on that site and Urbanica/Builders have proposed 124.

“The next milestone,” said Norod, “is that the development team is now eligible to go before the BRA board for its approval.”

The team will probably meet with the Redevelopment Authority at its Nov. 13 meeting.

“Before that the BRA staff has to be comfortable with the community concerns”, said Norod.

The developers have already complied with the Forest Hills Initiative as well as community concerns about spreading out the condominium row houses into clusters and moving the first row house cluster further away from at Tollgate cemetery.

“A big, obvious” concern said Norod was the request that the planned parks be open to the public.

“There are two owners, each with responsibility for its parks,” he said.

The Community Builders will build, own and manage the five-story multi-family building at Ukraine Way and Hyde Park Avenue and the adjacent park will come under use guidelines they draw up. The other two small parks at the town houses will be the responsibility of the condominium association  which will manage the cluster housing.

Norod said that the Redevelopment Authority staff and legal department will review these park use guidelines as well as other community benefits which the developers committed themselves to do such as sidewalks, street lights, street trees and specifying how the community room will be made available.

The Impact Advisory Group met with the development team for the first and last time on Sept. 23 to review their presentation. (This writer was at that time a member of the IAG. He has since resigned).

Norod said that neighborhood group will be kept open to monitor any future change in the builders’ plans. One “big change” might be with the number of units in the apartment building if The Community Builders is unable to get the necessary tax credits to fund. This was one reason why the project was divided into phases – with the first phase planned to break ground in 2015 and phase three in 2017.

Once the Redevelopment Authority approves the project, it will go before the Zoning Board of Appeals. The developers already had a meeting with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council zoning committee on Feb. 5.

That means it’s conceivable Parcel U may get full approval by the end of the year.

The Forest Hills Ad Hoc Development Committee, a 16-member group formed by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, has created four subcommittees, one which is focusing on Parcel U.

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