Apartment Building Pitched for Tiny Stonley Road Raises Concern Among Neighbors

Top Elevation shows the first plan. Bottom is the revised elevation.

Nunes- Trabucco Architectss

Top Elevation shows the first plan. Bottom is the revised elevation.

A neighborhood of triple deckers snugged between the Arborway Yard and Washington Street could be transformed by a 5-story apartment building. But neighbors appear to be organizing a fierce resistance, if necessary.

“I bought the parcel. There is nothing there. It’s not next to any neighbors. I’m enthused that there are neighbors,” said Bryan Austin one the three-man development team which proposes to build a 5-story apartment building on the Stonley Road cul-de-sac behind the Arborway bus yard. The team made a presentation to the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association meeting Wednesday night.

Austin admitted “I’m new at this [but] I understand your sentiment. This is a process.”

That process and the sentiment began in August and architect Lucio Trabucco of the firm Nunes+Trabucco described his revised plans at the full house meeting.

“Since we met with the [SNA] board there have been major changes. It’s a 14,000 square foot site. Our new design is less industrial-looking.”

Revised Elevations

Nunes Trabucco Architects

Revised Elevations

Apartment building would have 32 units

The building, which would sit on two parcels, would have 32 residential units. Right now it’s a vehicle storage lot and a former 2-story stable at  58-76 Stonley Road and Stedman Street. Because of the grade change the building will be 5 stories tall on Stonley and 4 stories on Stedman.  The majority of the apartments, 23, would be 2-bedrooms. Plans call for five of the units to be priced as “affordable.” That’s 18 percent of the total. For context, that’s more than the city requires but less than the 25 percent advocated for by the JP Neighborhood Council for large transit-oriented developments.

Sebastian Zapata of State Rep. Liz Malia’s office asked what the income levels would be for the affordable units and Trabucco said he did not know.

He said the new design has more balconies and windows and is lighter in color to fit more in the residential neighborhood. It would be 51-feet high on Stonley.

58 Stonley Rd parcel abuts Mello Fuel terminal. which is not for sale.

Richard Heath

58 Stonley Rd parcel ( with the tractor) abuts Mello Fuel terminal. which is not for sale.

Just the beginning?

“I envision this as phase I of several buildings on Stonley,” said Trabucco. It is rare that a project architect speaks for a development team, but Trabucco spoke on behalf of the three man proponents for two hours.  The development team sat at a side table.

It was Trabucco who spoke vision.

“I have a vision of this as a big development,” the architect said.

“What vision?” demanded SNA member Fred Vetterlein.

“I have no knowledge of a plan,” said Trabucco. “We have no immediate plans.”

Stonley Road with the two parcels in the background

Richard Heath

Stonley Road with the two parcels in the background

Vetterlein said that the development team owns five parcels [three on Stedman Street].

“It’s important to us to understand fully what these are for,” Vetterlein said. “You bought 50 Stedman St., a 3 family. You bought Wentworth Auto. You paid $770,000 for this site [58-76 Stonley] and you’re not giving back anything.”

SNA co-chair Jennifer Uhrhane said that the Flanagan + Seaton developers “gave us so much; parkland and cash for a community room.”

Austin said “what I paid for the property, you can’t go there. I bought this and the other parcels became available. They were empty lots with trucks on them. We’re not talking [tomorrow.] Maybe two years [to build out]. We will want to see how this goes. It would be foolish of me to get extended. We have enough income to carry this.”

76 Stonley Rd a former stable.

Richard Heath

76 Stonley Rd a former stable.

A new precedent?

Echoing what was said during the debate over 3200 Washington St. earlier this year, SNA members voiced concern that this was setting a precedent; a 5-story building introduced into a neighborhood built up completely with 3-story houses.

“You are bringing Washington Street to Brookley Road,” said Nancy Allen. “This is step one for the whole area. This is a precedent.”

“Yes it would be a precedent,” admitted Austin. “We are introducing residents to an industrial area. This building is in an industrial zone; everyone should be proud of it.”

Vetterlein persisted on the purchase price.

“You paid a small amount for this. You can do more,” said Vetterlein, who for many years has worked with SNA to get as much as possible for the neighborhood when developers come in. “We wouldn’t be opponents if you worked with us.”

“What would you like us to do? We’re giving five affordable units,” said John Morrissey of the development team.

Will developer offer neighborhood benefits?

“We’re looking at certain benefits,” said Uhrhane. “This is a thickly-settled residential neighborhood. We need street improvements.  Offer something in return. Streets further out in the neighborhood. Look at the Boston Complete Streets plan. Street improvements are a big thing.”

“This building is too tall,” said one neighbor. “It will not be part of the neighborhood which is unvaryingly a 3-family neighborhood.  This is ultra-high density. I moved out of Mission Hill to get away from this. It was all renters there and they have no stake in a neighborhood. This building is going to ruin this neighborhood.”

Trabucco said, “this building IS going to stand out. ANY new building will stand out. This building is a transition building between a neighborhood and Washington Street. [It] is not high density at all”  compared to the density being built on Washington Street.

One resident asked what the total development cost would be and Trabucco did not know.

“I can only guess,” he said.

The building will be all rental “as of now,” said Morrissey. “We may manage it ourselves but right now I have no idea.”

BRA: It’s early days yet

Allen, who lives on Washington Street near Burnett Street, said that “the BRA knows about this. Why isn’t the BRA here? Why isn’t JP/Rox here?  They were invited. This is a conflict with JP/Rox.”

In an email the next day to Jamaica Plain News, BRA spokesman Nicholas Martin said “We’ve been in touch with the development team. We have had 4 pre-file development meetings” which  are held “before a project has officially begun the Article 80 review process.  It’s common practice for developers to hold their own community meetings before a project is filed.  BRA-sponsored community meetings would begin after we receive a project application.”

“We understand that there are concerns from abutters. We have another pre-file meeting with the development team scheduled for next Tuesday to further discuss their proposal and new property acquisitions. We haven’t reviewed anything related to the newly acquired property, nor are we aware of of the developers intent for it. That will be discussed Tuesday. To be clear, pre-file meetings between the developers and the BRA are always part of the process for any development proposal.”

Martin also addressed whether there was a disconnect between this project and the JP/Rox Washington Street corridor planning process.

“We’ve always been very forthright with the community since the beginning of the planning process that we can’t put a moratorium on development while the study is conducted,” Martin wrote. “However, the insights we have gained so far will inform every step of the Article 80 process when it begins in earnest for this project.”

Next-door Arborway Yard plays a role

“This is a huge project for us.” said Vetterlien, who stood the entire meeting. “It’s a huge order. We’re used to 2-story buildings You’re putting all your eggs in one basket. Your profit margin is huge. You’re going to make a lot of money out of this.”

People complained about the slow process of the Arborway Yard: “It wont be completed in my lifetime,” said Allen.

Neighbors like Vetterlein and Allen talked about the bus noise from refueling terminals at the edge of Stonley Road; a wall was put up but this didn’t work.

This gave developer Austin some  pause.

“We were thinking about the Arborway Yard. [We thought] this building might speed up the process,” Austin said.

The new residents in the building, he said, would not want that noise outside their apartments. They would demand changes.

“This may not be rational,” said Austin. “We will definitely be going back to the drawing board. We hear all of you.”

A follow-up meeting is planned

“More is better for us,” said one SNA member. “Get the details right out front. Keep working with us. One of the criteria of the SNA is how will it development benefit us?”

The development team: John Morrissey, Bryan Austin and Michael Forde

Richard Heath

The development team: John Morrissey, Bryan Austin and Michael Forde

Lucio Trabucco architect

Richard Heath

Lucio Trabucco arhitect

Jennifer Uhrhane, SNA co chair

Richard Heath

Jennifer Uhrhane, SNA co chair

Fred Vetterlein. SNA member.

Richard Heath

Fred Vetterlein. SNA member.

  • Kerin

    Seriously, I am ashamed of my neighbors. Someone wants to replace empty/underused industrial space with housing, and all you can ask is “what’s in it for us?” Additional desperately needed housing, that’s what. Make suggestions that would improve his proposal, yes. But enough with the extortion. It’s not his job, it’s the city’s, to make public improvements.

    Also, the BRA quotes are priceless. According to their spokesman, they’ve had 4 meetings with the developer but “haven’t reviewed anything related to the newly acquired property, nor are we aware of of the developers intent for it.” What have you been talking about, then?

    • Isaac

      I couldn’t agree more. As a resident and homeowner in Jamaica Plain it boggles my mind why we allow these groups to make it so difficult for developers to build. They want to build much needed housing on land that’s currently an eyesore. Why are we fighting them????????

      • Jason

        I guess because we care about the future of our neighborhood. Some of us moved here because we didn’t want to live around high-rises and densely populated complexes. There is a happy medium here where both sides can get what they want, but chastising community members for giving a crap about their neighborhood surely is not the right path to go down.

        • Monster

          This is a very fair point. Some commenters on this thread seem to have tunnel-vision with regard to housing density, as if high-density construction is the only moral way to build. JP has historically been a moderate-density streetcar suburb, not a high-density urban area. The plot looks like it could hold at least 6 three-family houses.

          I, for one, am a card-carrying NIMBY and would not want a large apartment building in my own backyard.

    • Jennifer

      My read is that the neighborhood is not opposed to building…it’s the scale being proposed, juxtaposed to the three families which fill the area. It sounds like there’s been no been no discussion about to how to integrate a new building with the needs and current fabric of the existing neighborhood. As I recall the SNA was highly supportive of two very large Transit Oriented Developments, The Commons at Forest Hills and the Flanagon & Seaton Project. The difference is that those developers worked with the neighborhood to create a plan that worked.

      • Eric Herot

        It’s worth noting that in both of those cases, “working with the neighborhood” meant reducing the number of housing units and increasing the amount of open space and parking. If that’s what “working with the neighborhood” gets us, I think we might be better off without it.

        • Monster

          Green space and parking…eww.

          • Eric Herot

            Parking increases traffic and construction costs, mars the sidewalk-facing portion of the property (even if it’s underground) and, most importantly, cuts into the number of possible residential units that can be built in the available space. Since this lot is within easy walking distance of the train, building units that encourage tenants to bring cars is essentially a waste of extremely valuable real estate, and serves to make transit accessible properties like this one even more expensive (because non-car owners have to compete with car owners for the space).

            With regards to the open space: I love it as much as anyone of course, but *public* open space. A private open space is basically just another form of sprawl that cuts into valuable space that could be used for transit-accessible housing.

        • Bill

          To clarify: the SNA supported a greater number of units and less parking at both developments. The SNA also pushed for a higher level of affordability. A few of the items negotiated for were a) an extension of the bicycle path on this side of the train tracks, b) funding for a mural to be painted on the side of the storage facility, c) and a community garden for the neighborhood (not just tenants).

          • Eric Herot

            That is consistent with what I’ve heard from my own discussions with folks on the SNA. It’s too bad the article didn’t seem to cover any of that…

  • Seth

    “You paid $770,000 for this site [58-76 Stonley] and you’re not giving back anything”

    Can someone please provide me with a definition of the word “extortion” that doesn’t include a demand like that?

    • Andrew

      This comment also got me. They’re building residential units on an underused industrial site. 5 affordable units is more than the ZERO that are there currently. The only way out of a housing shortage is to build, and it’s groups like the SNA that are perpetually putting up roadblocks to that process!

    • Michael

      Poorly worded indeed. But do recall that the developer will be looking for significant variances. Those shouldn’t be granted if the proposed building is not a net benefit to both the city and the neighborhood in which it will sit. My sense is that the person who made the comment wanted to point out the developer should be able to make a significant profit AND build something that people like.

      • Seth

        The net benefit to the city is obvious: It gets desperately needed housing, within walking distance of a major transit hub to boot. As for the neighborhood, I get that neighbors want to have some input. But there’s gotta be a limit somewhere, and Vetterlein’s comments in particular are just gross. “You paid a small amount for this. You can do more.” It sounds like something out of The Sopranos!

        The point of zoning isn’t to provide people with shakedown opportunities whenever a developer needs a variance. At least, that shouldn’t be the point.

      • Hugo_JP

        In a city starved for housing, a 32 unit apartment building that is to be built on a vacant lot and a stone’s throw from public transit will provide lots of net benefits. I’m sure the people that will move in will like it.

  • Will

    I wasn’t at the meeting but wish I could have been. I’m part of the SNA community. The SNA has been very supportive of new building in the neighborhood. As a neighborhood we got behind several very large developments in the area (the Commons at Forest Hills and the Flanagan & Seaton Development). We supported these because they were very well thought out. The developers worked exhaustively with the neighborhood to create buildings that would be well integrated with the existing neighborhood. They listened to neighbors concerns as well as wishes, and made modifications to their proposals which reflected these. The results were designs that increased housing (and not just luxury units!)…while also creating a more vibrant and liveable neighborhood.

    The developers of the Stonley project have not made similar efforts. Rather they are looking for variances to build something that has had very little neighborhood input or buy-in. If they want to build “as-of-right,” by all means, they should have the right to do what they please, following the letter of the zoning code. However, since they are looking for variances, they really do need to work with the neighborhood. They may actually be pleasantly surprised to find that this neighborhood has embraced new construction and building like few others. Provided it is done right of course.

    • wolfndeer

      Sounds more like you want bribes.

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  • hydesquare

    This isn’t a neighborhood…it’s a junkyard. The developer will clean that up and provide housing for families…why are these SNAwipes against that?

    • Jason

      Most people think of a neighborhood as more than a couple acres at the end of a dead-end street. Based on the blatant ignorance displayed in your comment though I wouldn’t expect you to realize the difference.

      • hydesquare

        Most people think of a couple dozen (or maybe 10 dozen) broken down/abandoned cars, trucks, etc as a J U N K Y A R D. Based on the blatant stupidity of your feeble & pathetic attack I wouldn’t expect you to understand that it’s houses, trees, sidewalks, stores, dogs, cats, and actual living, breathing PEOPLE that make a neighborhood, not a garbage-strewn wasteland.

      • Jason

        So, living a block away, I suppose you’re saying I live in a wasteland? Your description of the area shows you haven’t got a clue about the property being discussed and again are just posting in complete ignorance to any facts of the matter. Go back to your cave, troll.

        • hydesquare

          Jason I don’t think your name-calling accomplishes anything but illustrate the kind of person you are. I feel sorry for you; it’s sad that you felt the need to resort to vulgarity just because someone dared to have an opinion that differed from yours. If you don’t like where you live move. I did; that’s why my name here is hydesquare, not stonleydump. I suggest before YOU make presumptions about someone YOU get all the facts. Have a great day, and I hope that some day you’ll find happiness. 🙂

          • Jason

            Vulgarity? You must be joking, right? I like my neighborhood, which is why I have an opinion on the matter. It’s also, why I take some offense to it being called “junkyard” and “wasteland.” You, on the other hand, offer up disparaging remarks with little to no knowledge of the matter at hand. The fact that you need to troll the local news comments for your own amusement says plenty about you. No vulgarities needed.

        • Scott

          Change your name to jackass because that’s what you are. You call people “Awipes” “blatantly stupid” “feeble” and “pathetic” then cry like a bitch that you are labeled troll. You’re not happy, you’re a sad loser.

          • hydesquare

            🙂 have an awesome day…you sound like a great guy! 🙂

        • hydesquare

          Jason… Please stop with the harassment. I’m sorry if my exercising my Constutuional right to free speech offends you and your junkyarborhood. Just remember: whining little crybabies get just what they deserve.

          • Jason

            @hydesquare:disqus : Internet tough guy! lolz
            @scott : You nailed it
            @paul: Casey overpass #neverforget
            @monster : Completely agree! Once complete it will bring a new life to the area.

        • paul

          I find it amusing that your so concerned about your neighborhood now but not when they came up with the current plan that’s destroying our neighborhood for ever CASEY OVERPASS

          • Monster

            Have you been down to Forest Hills lately? About 1,000x times nicer already. It actually looks like a neighborhood now.

          • paul

            Everyday Monster, looks like a neighborhood with a highway running right through the middle of it.20000 cars running through it and that is here to stay no matter how you spruce it up. Traffic backs up to the monument some nites you call that nice

  • Aaron H.

    ““This building is too tall,” said one neighbor. “It will not be part of the neighborhood which is unvaryingly a 3-family neighborhood. This is ultra-high density. I moved out of Mission Hill to get away from this. It was all renters there and they have no stake in a neighborhood. This building is going to ruin this neighborhood.”

    I’ve been renting in JP for over 10 years. I love this neighborhood dearly. But I can’t afford to buy something so I guess I’ll just have to figure out another way to prove that I have a stake here.

    Can’t believe people still think this way…

  • Eric Herot

    So many encouraging comments here. I hope you will all be submitting comments directly to the BRA as well!

  • Frederick Vetterlein

    I’d like to thank Richard for taking the time to write a detailed article. There were a lot of comments at the meeting and I’d like to clear up an inaccuracy. Richard quoted me as saying that I wanted 2 stories. Actually, I asked the developers why they didn’t consider 4 stories in keeping with most of the new approved designs in JP. I referenced Bartlett Sq I and II, General Heath Square, 3383-3389 Washington St, and the Burnett Residential building within the the Flanagon Seaton Site(3521-3529 Washington St.).





    In support of the SNA’s work with developers, readers should be aware that the Residential/Retail 5 story building in the Flanagon Seaton Development came about from an SNA request. The developers originally proposed a 2 story commercial building with a parking lot fronting Washington St. They might have marketed office space to medical arts facilities. Their proposal fit the suburbs, not an urban area, and would have worsened the corner of McBride and Washington where the opposite side of the street is a block long laundry and car wash. After a year, they returned with a 5 story plan on that corner with 88 units of housing, 25,000sf of retail(enough for a small market), and parking under and landscaped behind the building. The 5 stories drops to 3 opposite 3 families on Burnett.

    See SNA’s report, http://www.sna-jp.org/3521-9-washington-st.html

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