3200 Washington St.: The Future of Egleston Square in the Balance

The overflow crowd at the Egleston Square YMCA listened to the presentation on the development proposed for  the old Economy Plumbing site on Washington Street.

Luis Cotto, Eglston Square Main Street

The overflow crowd at the Egleston Square YMCA listened to the presentation on the development proposed for the old Economy Plumbing site on Washington Street.

A Boston Redevelopment Authority-sponsored public meeting about the planned development of  the former Economy Plumbing evolved into a protest on the very future of Egleston Square.

The day after the contentious Wednesday meeting, Mayor Martin Walsh addressed the Urban Land Institute — a group of which toured Egleston Square this week — on the need for a Washington Street planning process that combines “development and consensus.”

BRA Assistant Project manager Ed McGuire cautioned a packed house at the Egleston Square YMCA that “this has not been approved. [The BRA] is still reviewing this proposal.” The 3- day comment period had been extended to April 15.  “[Your] comment letters are a very important part of this process.”

Residents can comment directly through the BRA Web site’s 3200 Washington St. page.

But many in the audience weren’t waiting until April 15.  They stood in the back and sprinkled among those seated, holding signs.

“Yes to Affordability, No to Displacement”

“Stop Gentrifying Egleston Square”

“11/76 Bad for Egleston” [Eleven units out of the proposed 76 would be affordable]

Attorney Joseph Hanley of McDermott Quilty and Miller, who is doing zoning and permitting for the development introduced one of the two developers Dan Mangiacotti. the designer Kevin Deabler of RODE Architects, landscape architect Michael Radner  and Rosie Gonzalez who does community outreach.

Extensive Process

As he did at a previous BRA meeting, Hanley emphasized that” this project has gone through an extensive ten month review process… we’ve met with every single neighborhood group” Prior to the start the meeting Dan Mangiocotti distributed a spreadsheet timeline of all the public and agency meetings beginning on June 4. 2014 with Egleston Square Main Streets. There have been 13 community meetings (one was Spanish only), six with the BRA and one with City Councilor O’Malley, who represents Jamaica Plain.

“This has been a thoughtful and meaningful process,” said architect Deabler, who lives in Dorchester. “This is your meeting not ours…We’ve made significant changes.”

Deabler’s firm is currently in the early design stage of a large residential development on Dorchester Avenue outside Fields Corner,  a plan not dissimilar from 3200 Washington St.

Deabler repeated what he said at a previous meeting that this development will  “revitalize the site” in what he said is a “vibrant, fantastic neighborhood.” It would be 60 percent rental.

“It’s is not a development that closes itself off from the neighborhood,” Deabler said of the design. He pointed to the wider than required sidewalks as another example of that integration.

“It’s a rare opportunity to transform this site for Egleston Square’s future… you’re in good shape with this development plan,” he said.

Deabler described the plan as three “distinctive buildings” — two apartment buildings along Washington Street at the corners of Iffley and Montebello roads and three town houses on Iffley Road. He said the two Washington Street buildings will have space between open to light and air and provide an entrance. The shaded, rocky Montebello lot at #52 is a critical part of the development plan because it’s part of the interior open courtyard behind the tall buildings.

3200 Washington Street site plan showing building plan and interior open space

RODE Architects

3200 Washington Street site plan showing building plan and interior open space

Possible Partnership on 52 Montebello

There have been three recent changes to the plan. The Iffley Road corner apartment building is now five stories with a sixth-story setback matching its partner at the Montebello corner. Parking has been increased to 41 spaces up from 37 but still includes the originally-planned below-grade garage.

The third change was that the development team is in partnership talks with the Jamaica Plain NDC to bid on the redevelopment of 52 Montebello Road. The Department of Neighborhood development issued the request for proposal on April 1 and proposals are due May 11.  52 Montebello is a crucial part of the 3200 Washington St. development because it increases the number of affordable units. The six units at #52 Montebello are required to be “deeply affordable” by DND.  Hanley said the developers are exploring a partnership with a “progressive agency” because the units will be for “a lower level AMI resident.” AMI means Area Median Income, a key metric in discussing affordable housing. If the partnership talks succeed, one possible outcome when the project is completed, 3200 Washington St. would be to turn the property over the JPNDC. (62 Montebello Road next door is owned and contract-managed by Urban Edge).

Members of the development team said they are very proud of the number affordable units they are providing.

“This is groundbreaking,” said Hanley, adding that no other “privately financed housing in JP  has this level of affordability. We will set a record. There are already 12 on site plus 6 at 52 Montebello.  The city requires 10. We will provide 18. No one else comes close to this development for affordability.  It’s a direct result of a lot of you…educating us. We are not building luxury housing here.”

Most of the audience were not soothed with Hanley’s enthusiasm.

” You’re patting yourself on the back with these affordable units,” said one woman “[But] who’s going to be buying these units? Who’s going to move into our neighborhood?”

Alvin Shiggs of Olmsted Street cautioned the development team to “be careful in your presentation… you’re not doing any favors by building this development.” He warned again as he did at a previous meeting of the fear of displacement in Egleston Square.

“How much are you investing?” a person asked. “What are the costs of the rental units?”

Dan Mangiacotti did not answer the first question but he said it will likely be 2 1/2 years before leases are signed. “We are looking at rents like 225 Centre Street.”

“$1,000 a bedroom! That pushes people out of JP!”, the person exclaimed.

225 Centre St., which opened in October, is adjacent to Jackson Square Station. It was advertised in the Globe on Aug. 4 as $1,700 for a one bedroom; $2,200 for 2 bedrooms and $3,800 for a three bedroom apartment. To put that in perspective: a family with one child would need to earn $26,000 a year for housing alone.

Financing?

After the meeting Mangiacotti told the Jamaica Plain News that he and his partner Justin Iantosca have not lined up financing yet until all approvals have been granted.  He said they have been in negotiations with Arlington-based Leader bank. He confirmed the development cost would be $20 million; “probably more. The land cost is $3 million.”

Hanley said that the affordable units are based on 65 percent of Area Median Income not Boston area median (which is lower). This means a family of four must earn $57,000 a year to qualify for the rental or homeownership homes. He said most units will sell for $183,000 for a one bedroom to $300,000 for three bedroom. Both rental and ownership affordable units will have 50-year deed restriction as required by the city’s inclusionary zoning law.

Addressing the increased audience calls for more affordability Hanley said the only way to get more units at 65 percent of AMI is to increase the density; “To address market rate rents you need more housing.”

He said there are 60 market rate units at 3200 Washington St. development.

“What is the impact on our neighborhood of 60 market rate homes ?” demanded one sign holding  protester.

“We wish we could do more affordable units” said Hanley, “but we have three major construction costs.” He listed those as the steep, rocky topography; environmental clean up at the garage site and energy-efficient design.

Not Buying It

The audience was far from convinced.

“This development  is setting a precedent for the rest of  Washington Street,” spoke up one man.

A young woman stood to say she was born here, went school here and is raising a family here but can’t afford to live here any longer. She went on to point out the issue of context. Where does this building fit into the demographic and economic environment  that is now Egleston Square?  To the development team this is place to build on; to the community it’s a place  live in.

City Life organizer Christina Blanco  made that context clear: people are already being displaced.  She interpreted for a resident of 26 School St. who spoke about facing eviction because the owner wanted to change his building.

“Will you support the just cause eviction law” to protect people like those on School Street, asked Blanco?

“We dont know enough about it,” said Hanley.

“There used to be a bumper sticker” said one audience member “that read JP is not for sale…well it’s been sold.”

The restless meeting went on and more people wanted to testify but BRA staffer McGuire closed off questions about 8 p.m.

There is more to say, said State Rep Liz Malia, D-Jamaica Plain.

“We need one more meeting to answer these primary concerns,” said the longtime JP representative.

McGuire was noncommital.

A week earlier, the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association discussed this development at greater length, struggling to find a balance between affordability and density. One speaker prophesized that “this developer will not walk away. Washington Street is hot property…”

“[But] the existing population here now cannot live in this development” added Girma Belay.

Previous and related coverage on Jamaica Plain News:

[Editor’s note: The original post incorrectly presented a partnership between the developers and JPNDC as having already been agreed to. The idea is actually in the discussion phase.]

  • Hugo_JP

    So currently this is an un-used commercial property and there is opposition to a development that would add 10-15 affordable units (plus some “deeply affordable units” if I read this correctly) to a location where there currently are none?
    I’d say 10-15 affordable units would be better for the neighborhood than none.

    • Yeah, this is starting to sound as bad as some neighbourhood opposition in San Francisco’s Mission District, where a developer is offering as much as 31% affordable housing and the neighbourhood is STILL crying foul, that it wants 100% affordable housing. I want to think we’ve learnt why we need an income housing mix, but it seems like leaders from the BRA and community either aren’t willing to address this with locals or otherwise we are failing as a city to remember our VERY recent past.

      I think the developer is being very reasonable here. The longer we stall developments like this or show developers that we’re not interested in projects that are economical to their budgets and timelines, the less housing we’ll have to offset or moderate the rise of rents. THEN you’ll really have to start worrying about displacement…

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