In the end the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Zoning Committee was as divided as the rest of Egleston Square on the fate of 3200 Washington St.
At its Wednesday meeting the Committee voted 5-5 on a motion to deny approval of the largest development in Egleston Square history. (One member of the 11 in attendance was ineligible to vote).
Developers Dan Mangiacotti and Justin and Joseph Iantosca can now take that deadlocked vote together with what their attorney Joe Hanley said was “over a hundred-plus letters of support” to their regularly-scheduled Zoning Board of Appeals hearing on July 21.
It was a packed house of over 60 people. It included neighborhood services representative Julieanne Doherty, City Councilor Matt O’Malley, State Representative Liz Malia and staff from the office of State Senator Sonia Chang Díaz. After listening to over 90 minutes of public testimony, most of which was skeptical if not hostile to not only the development but the whole process.
A ‘Calculated Risk’
The developer’s decision to have a vote taken on Wednesday was a “calculated risk,” wrote Committee Chairperson Dave Baron to the Jamaica Plain News the day after the meeting.
“The Committee gave the applicants a chance to confer over whether they want to defer their July 21 ZBA date and be put on the agenda for a future community meeting with the Zoning Committee,” Baron wrote. “If they had elected to defer, there would have been no need for the Committee to take a vote at last night’s meeting, since the ZBA date was being postponed. Usually, a zoning applicant would rather defer their ZBA date than have the Zoning Committee (and the JPNC in most cases) vote to recommend denial of their requested variances. But this applicant took a calculated risk either that the Committee would not ultimately vote to recommend denial (as in fact happened, since the vote was deadlocked) or perhaps that they could prevail at the ZBA even with JPNC/neighborhood opposition.”
Or, in the words of one participant after the meeting, “The developers called the committee’s bluff.”
Strictly speaking, the development team requires only two zoning variances, but they are significant ones:
1) Change the zoning designation from light industrial to residential
2) Greatly increase the height restriction
Affordability Dominates Conversation
Height was of significant concern, but affordability – which is not in the zoning code – dominated the conversation.
Attorney Joseph Hanley, representing the development team, was brimming with pride over the affordability of 3200 Washington St.
“We have 50 percent open space. We have robust affordability,” he said. “Twelve on site and 6 at 52 Montebello Road. This is the most progressive plan of affordability in Jamaica Plain. It will set a record.”
Hanley pointed to the “hundreds of letters of support from Jamaica Plain residents.”
Yet the number of affordable units- itself based only on the city’s requirement of making homes available to those earning 70 percent of the Area Median Income – is based on property that Mangiacotti/Iantosca do not own: 52 Montebello Road. Their affordability number of 18 units out of 76 is entirely dependent on getting designation of the abutting city-owned, foreclosed six-family house. And the first public hearing to review the two proposals received is scheduled for July 1.
But Hanley said his team is highly competitive.
“There are two proposals,” Hanley said. “One is for 100 percent affordability that we propose to develop in partnership with [Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp.] and the other is condominiums at 80 percent AMI.”
Hanley may have been confident but Malia was not.
“That egg hasn’t hatched yet,” the longtime JP state representative said. “There is not enough time to resolve [our] real concern which is that 3200 Washington Street is contingent on 52 Montebello Road.”
Malia recommended that 3200 Washington St. not be approved until 52 Montebello Road is designated.
Zoning committee member Kevin Leary asked, “is there another side? I’m not opposed to this. A lot of work has gone into this development. My concern is if you do not get 52 Montebello Road.”
He suggested a motion that approved 3200 Washington St. contingent on the development team getting control of 52 Montebelo Road. The motion failed.
‘Like Boylston Street at Fenway Park’
Zoning committee member Kevin Moloney made a motion which was quickly seconded to deny the applicant. The votes were counted and it was deadlocked 5-5.
Speaking to Jamaica Plain News the next day, Moloney said he was “concerned about two issues: control of 52 Montebello Road, which they may never get, and secondly this thing is too high. Seven stories sets a bad precedent.”
The deadlocked vote he said “was too bad.”
“Washington Street is going to look like Boylston Street at Fenway Park,” Moloney said at the meeting, “with tall buildings flush against the sidewalk.”
During the discussion period, Moloney asked, “What would happen to the affordability analysis if you don’t get 52 Montebello? What’s your back up plan?”
Hanley said “we’re hoping to get 52 Montebello” but “there is no back up plan. We can work more units into the site. We need very substantial variances on a tall building. We have faith in our development, though. This is the best site on Washington Street.”
Baron said he thought the affordability of the development was good.
“Height is the issue,” Baron said. “We have heard so much about height. So many letters. Could you make it six stories?”
Boylston Place resident Amy Tyson said, “This does not displace anyone…the height is a great precedent.”
Business Group Supports Project
The Washington Street business group representative said, “We are 100 percent in support of this project.”
Tim Reardon, who is on the board of the Egleston Square Main Streets and a member of the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association housing committee urged everyone to “evaluate this development on its merits. Main Streets is comfortable with the height. It casts no shadows on its neighbors. The benefits [will be] additional shoppers and class A businesses.”
Joe Fallon from Cornwall Street said, “This is the biggest, most positive investment [in Egleston Square] in 50 years. I moved here consciously [ because] of the people with deep roots who have a lot of affordable housing. These is a lot of affordable housing and group homes. We have enough of that right now. This [3200 Washington St.] will preserve that demographic. Section 8 people are friends of mine. This development will make the area a lot safer.”
The owner of the business block that houses Video Underground, opposite E+J Auto said “We have a building of mom-and-pop stores. We really welcome this development. It is good for the whole of Jamaica Plain. It will bring vitality to all the businesses.”
Hanley said that “this is a rental development. There is a major need for rental in Egleston Square.”
Zoning committee member Bernie Doherty said, “I grew up on Iffley Road. I lived there until I was 20.” It was good for working people then, he said. “Define affordability? What are your rents” he asked.
Rents Would Range From $1,400 to $2,400
Justin Iantosca said that “75 percent of the rental units will be market rate.” Based on 2015 figures he said “the monthly rents at 3200 Washington St will be $1,400 for a studio, $1,600 for a one-bedroom, $1,900 for a two-bedroom and $2,400 for a three-bedroom apartment.”
He added he could not find any studio or one-bedroom apartments listed in Egleston Square.
“This is not affordable,” said Doherty. “You can’t say these are affordable rents for working people. This is before they pay utilities and everything else. Bring those rents down.”
Hanley defended the development team as keeping more than the mayor’s required number of units at 70 percent of AMI.
“The city requirements are not enough,” said Sarah Horsely. “65% percent is over the Boston median income. The average wage of renters is $37,000.”
George Lee of Affordable Housing Egleston held up the guidebook for the planned Walker Apartments on Walnut Park.
“These  units are 100 percent affordable,” said Lee. “If Urban Edge can do this you can do the same thing.”
Alvin Shiggs of Olmsted Street, an Impact Advisory Group member for 3200 Washington St., said “this is the first time we have heard about rents. These rents will have a heavy implications on the rest of the community. We will have an upper middle class largely white community who will demand ‘I am here. Please change.'”
‘Egleston Square is Already a Place’
Helen Matthews of Green Street took issue with the opening remarks of architect Kevin Deabler of RODE Architects, the designer of 3200 Washington St. He said that what his firm has designed is “the pinnacle of transit oriented development [to] live and work…a place-making opportunity.”
“This is not a place-making development,” said Matthews. “Egleston Square is already a place.”
In the end the debate about 3200 Washington St. came down to precedent.
To Joe Hanley, representing the Mangiacotti/Iantosca team, it sets the precedent of housing affordability that “will revitalize a unique piece of property in Egleston Square.”
To Chilcott Place resident Dan Thomas 3200 Washington St. sets a precedent of “being the first of a set of big buildings down Washington Street… a totally insulated internalized development. All eyes are on Egleston Square, waiting to see what this development will look like.”