Numerous residents let their ire be known about a proposed 6-story, 44-unit rental apartment building on the corner of Washington and Green streets during a community meeting on April 28.
The meeting was hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) as an Article 80 Small Project Review, and Boston Community Ventures’ (BCV) proposal at 3353-3357 Washington St. did not sit well with residents.
BRA Senior Project Manager Lance Campbell said the recent JP/Rox Plan wasn’t meant to create a moratorium on development, contrary to some residents wanting proposals to be stalled until the JP/Rox Plan was finished. The BRA’s website describes the JP/Rox Plan as an ongoing planning study to be “actively engaging with the community to create a new vision and plan for the area between Forest Hills, Egleston Square and Jackson Square.”
Residents quickly asserted their frustrations with the development, worried about the affordability of the units, how the building fits into the character of the neighborhood and more.
Campbell said that six of the 44 units would be deemed affordable, which is 13% of the development. There will be ground floor retail and parking for 24 cars under the building.
Terry Bruce of BCV read from notecards and spoke about how she’s lived in Jamaica Plain for 40 years. “I consider Jamaica Plain my home. I owned a bakery here for 20 years [Today’s Bread at 701 Centre St, which closed in 1998].” Bruce said she’s worked at BCV for 10 years.
A meeting attendee questioned the community process of the project, which Bruce responded by saying the neighborhood had been well-notified of the project. She said in addition to the current meeting, there were three others, one with Washington Street businesses and two with neighborhood residents.
“We want to contribute to the important improvements to Washington Street,” said Bruce, adding that no businesses were being evicted from the property. There are currently three tenants: Jobs With Justice, Family Independence Initiative and J+B Beauty Salon. “All the leases are set to expire this year. We’ve agreed to help them with relocation. When we negotiated the leases we explained that the site was going to be redeveloped at some point.” One building is a long vacant garage.
Bruce said Boston Community Ventures has played a large role in Jamaica Plain by building a supermarket and health center in Jackson Square, provided space at 75 Amory St. for the Aids Action Committee and JRI Health.
Deborah Katz, principal of Interface Studio Architects (ISA) said the firm designed row houses on Highland Street in Roxbury and thus was familiar with placing new buildings in a neighborhood context. “We want to be good neighbors on Washington Street,” Katz said. “We really respect the JP/Rox process and believe we’ve targeted a lot of the points coming out of that process.”
Katz said ISA looked at the neighborhood context of industrial buildings and 1- to 3-story residential houses. “We combined this architectural language of industrial and residential with wraparound materials and windowing on all four sides. The facade material are a mix of fiber, cement and composite wood around the entire building.”
The maximum height of the building is 70 feet and is considered a 6-story building for zoning purposes, but the building appears as a 5-story building from the exterior. Full-sized windows, balconies, recessed rooftop terraces and a roofline of variable heights and orientation are all designed to reduce the visual impact of building massing.
The unit mix is planned for different populations, said Bruce. More than half are three-bedroom units, 19 units will be one-bedroom apartments, and there will also be studio apartments and 1.5-bedroom units.
“This creates a range of price points,” said Bruce. “Lower-income to middle-income. We are not proposing luxury homes. Six units will be affordable. Thirteen percent of the total, which meets the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy.”
Bruce Marks, director of the Jamaica Plain-based Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, characterized the developer Mordechai Levin as someone who could not be trusted. “Remember who this developer is! …We need to hold him accountable!”
Marks added that the Bella Luna and Milky Way businesses left Levin’s building in Hyde Square following steep rent increases in 2008. Marks then called for people to organize against Levin and demanded Levin speak to the audience.
Resident Tom O’Malley agreed with Marks and said Levin owns a parking lot on Amory Street, which sits empty and unused. “This [new] building does not serve this community at all. Parking is atrocious at that corner. [The retail] will compete with other businesses.”
Levin stood up to defend himself. “I came here 25 years ago. When everyone was trying to get a bank in the neighborhood [Jackson Square] I brought in the first bank. People forget. I brought in the first pharmacy, the first supermarket. It took me seven years to convince them [Stop & Shop] to operate here.”
Levin said, “My building on Amory Street. No one wanted to help Aids Action (Committee). In the worst recession, I created a home for them. I raised $5 million in 2009 [to build out] 30,000 square feet when nothing was happening on Amory Street. I brought in the well respected JRI Health.
“We have a plan for the end of Amory Street. We will be announcing soon. Remember urban areas are tough to get financing for. It took 10 years to build 225 Centre Street,” said Levin. “This is what we do. Standing there and criticizing me is somewhat unfair.”
Giovanny Valencia of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation asked if BCV could increase the affordable units to 11 to make it consistent with the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council guideline of 25% affordability.
Bruce said any increase in the number of affordable units would raise the rents in the other units and would thus raise the income level needed to be a renter. Bruce said rental prices were not yet known, as financing for the development is still being procured and construction costs haven’t been determined.
“How can we support this when we don’t know the rental costs?” asked an audience member. “An $18 million project and you don’t have income projections?”
Campbell said there would be a lottery managed by the Fair Housing Commission to determine who would be in the affordable units.
Resident Marie Turley questioned whether there had been enough community participation for the proposal. “This is a significant gateway project. You had one meeting with Union Avenue on February 29. It’s too dense and too high. Bring some philosophy to this project. Will it remain empty? You’re rushing to file the Article 80. Transit-oriented development is a concept. It’s a dream. A planner’s dream.” She added the proposed development is stunning, but would change the fabric of the community.
The comment period for the proposed development was extended to May 13. Comments can be shared by emailing Lance Campbell at Lance.Campbell@boston.gov. Campbell also said an additional Article 80 public meeting is planned to allow the development team to consider modifications but had not yet been scheduled.