Residents Unhappy with Proposed Washington and Green Street Development

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.

The 6 story. 44 unit rental housing planned for 3353 - 3357 Washington Street

Interface Studio Architects

The 6-story, 44-unit rental development planned for 3353-3357 Washington St. This view is looking towards Egleston Square.

Rearr view seen from the Green Street auto entrance. A building far more at home in 1930's Potsdam or Vienna than Green Street.

Interface Studio Architects

The rear view seen from the Green Street parking lot entrance.

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.

Terry Bruce, Boston Community Ventures

Richard Heath

Terry Bruce of Boston Community Ventures, said the rental prices of the development are unknown at present time.

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.

Tom O"Malley "Shut this down!"

Richard Heath

Resident Tom O’Malley was fired up about the proposal, demanding, “Shut this down!”

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.”

Mordechai Levin. Boston Community Ventures."People forget. I brought the first bank to the neighborhood."

Richard Heath

Mordechai Levin of Boston Community Ventures defended the proposed development by talking about some of the other projects he’s brought to the area, including what he deemed the “first bank to the neighborhood.”

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.

Marie Turley. "This is a stunning building... for SOWA or Downtown Crossing."

Richard Heath

Resident Marie Turley said that while the proposal building is stunning, it doesn’t fit the character of the neighborhood.

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.

3353-3357 Washington Street is proposed to be razed for a 6 story building by Boston Community ventures/

Richard Heath

This is what the area of 3353-3357 Washington St. looks like currently. Under the proposal, it would be razed for a 6-story building by Boston Community Ventures.

It was full meeting room

Richard Heath

The meeting room was packed for the community meeting about the proposed development at the corner of Washington and Green streets.

  • Anon

    “If I can’t have it, no one can!!!”

    • malena

      Umm, I thought no one was allowed to post as Anonymous.

      • JamaicaPlainNews

        Thanks, Malena. We encourage real names, since we’re all neighbors. But it isn’t a formal policy.

  • Maxanito

    “Affordable” is troubling. It’s not for those who fall within a middle income range – there really isn’t anything for that group – and market rate is sky high and for the wealthy. I don’t even know how those with incomes that fall within the affordable range can afford “affordable.” But we only have ourselves to blame. If we didn’t rent or buy any of these places, they’d have to bring the prices down or they’d sit empty.

    • Econ 101

      and in the mean time while no is renting or buying these places we can all live on the streets.

      • Maxanito

        No. We just stay where we are. Do you live on the street right now? If you do, I’m sorry to learn that. But we all need to pull together to change the price of real estate. I worked in the field. They say “we” determine its price, and we do. If we don’t buy at high prices, they’ll lower the prices. Works like stock. It’s not rocket science.

        • Econ 101

          Sounds wonderful in principle, if only it were easy to coordinate millions of individuals behavior in a free-market economy. To you the price may be to high or not, to others the price is right. Just look around nothing in this real estate market is sold at artificially low prices expect by government sponsored subsidies.

          • Maxanito

            I didn’t say it was easy. I know it’s difficult to unite people to do something like this because you’d have to reach far and wide. I still find JP affordable still, compared to other comparable neighborhoods. I’m considering moving there (if I don’t move out of the state altogether) and mostly because of its proximity to orange line stations. But I do not like that it’s so far away from major highways. You’re locked in. Given how congested the whole Boston area is, it’s a pain in the ass to get the hell out of Dodge when you want to.

          • Econ 101

            Well when you sell make sure to take the lowest offer. Take one for the team 😉

          • Brian P Murray

            Eric Herot’s advice:

            “The JP Neighborhood Council Housing & Development committee is having a public meeting at 6:30 pm on May 10 at Farnsworth House (90 South Street) to discuss the 3353 Washington project. I would strongly encourage you both to show up and offer your support for greater density in our neighborhood”.

        • Hugo_JP

          If you want to change the price of our JP real estate, start leaving trash out on the sidewalk, don’t paint your house, don’t weed your garden, park a clunker car in your yard – those things will drive prices lower.

  • Malena

    It is not true that Mr. Levin was the one that brought in the Stop and Shop. There was a Stop and Shop there, albeit where the JP Plaza is now (next to the current Stop and Shop) when my family moved into Jamaica Plain in the early 1970’s.

    • Pat Roberts

      When we bought our house in Hyde Square in 1981, the Stop & Shop (where the JP Plaza is now was closed). It seemed to have been closed for a while. I think the rest of that space (where the current Stop & Shop is now) was parking lot. There was nothing there at all for a very long time. Even after Mordechai Levin & Stavros Frantzis started working on the site, it took years because of various problems. They invested money and took a risk there when no one else would. We owe a lot to their willingness to invest in, and improve, our neighborhood.

  • Jeremy M. St Marie

    Was at that meeting. Turley specifically said that they had two meetings already where all the communities complaints at this meeting had already been raised, to high, bad design for area, that it isn’t downtown. It should reflect the grade and design of current buildings. Not enough parking. Not enough affordable housing. Should be 25 percent. Doing the bare minimum for reaching out. 100 person petition for maintaining historic appearance of JP was shown.

    That they havnt changed the proposal in three meetings. They keep giving us the same facts and same proposal. Don’t be swayed. Mordy and his group were actually very inconsiderate and rude to residents through the whole meeting.

  • JP resident

    It’s amazing how similar these “liberal JP” residents are to conservative NIMBY suburbanites. Just quirkier and more emotionally unhinged.

    Boston is a great, desirable city. More people are moving to cities now, including Boston. Either drive out the current residents with price increases, or build more housing. The latter seems better for everyone. Hopefully now that Menino is gone the BRA and City ignore these curmudgeons, bitter that life has passed them by.

    • Eric Herot

      It’s worth noting that at the last major Washington Street BRA meeting, based on the tone of the discussion one would have thought that the whole neighborhood was united in opposition to a 7 story residential building, but when the BRA published the public comments, it turned out that a majority of people favored the new development.

      Many of the people who showed at this meeting also show at every single other meeting in JP and say the same things: The building is too big; It doesn’t fit with the character of the neighborhood; There isn’t enough parking; Yes, a lot of people want to live in JP, but that doesn’t mean they should be able to (someone actually said this to me at this most recent meeting). Easy positions to have when you’re an elderly, white homeowner whose housing situation is totally stable.

      • Sally

        Here’s what I find frustrating. The naysayers who show up at these meetings never seem to offer any real vision or alternative to what they seem to view as some kind of urban hellscape posed by 5-6 story residential buildings. What do they want? Is is remotely feasible, economically? Do they want nothing to happen so that we’re still looking at an underused 19th century building (or an empty plumbing supply warehouse, or an automotive glass store?) Do the 100% for Egleston folks want to build new housing projects, because they don’t seem to have presented another viable option for housing that’s affordable for a family making $20k a year? I understand the concerns but I have yet to hear convincing alternative visions and meantime we already have a neighborhood which is less and less affordable and very short on new housing.

        • Hugo_JP

          You make a good point. It reminds me of the Republicans in Congress, saying “no” to anything President Obama proposes but rarely offering a constructive and realistic alternative.

        • Eric Herot

          Sally and Hugu_JP, the JP Neighborhood Council Housing & Development committee is having a public meeting at 6:30 pm on May 10 at Farnsworth House (90 South Street) to discuss the 3353 Washington project. I would strongly encourage you both to show up and offer your support for greater density in our neighborhood.

    • Brian P Murray

      I second Eric Herot’s advice:

      “The JP Neighborhood Council Housing & Development committee is having a public meeting at 6:30 pm on May 10 at Farnsworth House (90 South Street) to discuss the 3353 Washington project. I would strongly encourage you both to show up and offer your support for greater density in our neighborhood”.

  • Jonathan

    Less then a 800 feet from a subway station. This is basic supply and demand. If we can’t build up here, then where?

  • scootsie61

    Yes, there’s always going to be the “not affordable enough” howls with any new construction around here. The complaints about how it doesn’t fit the “character” of the neighborhood are a little silly. It’s not being dropped into the middle of Sumner Hill.This is Washington Street. Long, noisy, gritty, Washington Street. This is not a picturesque boulevard or a historic district; it’s an evacuation route. No one is coming to see the architectural marvels that are Ruggerio’s or BMS Paper. It’s an area filled with mostly nondescript commercial buildings from various eras. Just because the design isn’t red brick or clapboard doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit. There’s nothing wrong with Washington Street taking on some modern design done right.

  • Scott

    Yes, there’s always going to be the “not affordable enough” howls with any new construction around here. The complaints about how it doesn’t fit the “character” of the neighborhood are a little silly. It’s not being dropped into the middle of Sumner Hill.This is Washington Street. Long, noisy, gritty, Washington Street. This is not a picturesque boulevard or a historic district; it’s an evacuation route. No one is coming to see the architectural marvels that are Ruggerio’s or BMS Paper. It’s an area filled with mostly nondescript commercial buildings from various eras. Just because the design isn’t red brick or clapboard doesn’t mean it’s not a good fit. There’s nothing wrong with Washington Street taking on some modern design done right.

    • Brian P Murray

      E. Herot’s advice:

      “The JP Neighborhood Council Housing & Development committee is having a public meeting at 6:30 pm on May 10 at Farnsworth House (90 South Street) to discuss the 3353 Washington project. I would strongly encourage you both to show up and offer your support for greater density in our neighborhood”.

  • Brian P Murray

    Average home price (condos and single family) in the Boston area (including both affluent and impoverished areas) is now well over an astonishing $650,000. San Francisco is over $750,000. Numbers for renters are even more absurd.

    My prediction is that Boston will match or surpass San Francisco within 5 years, if the BRA and similar authorities allow abutters to continue to stymie more housing in JP, Dorchester, and Newton.

    I have been a home (apartment) owner in JP for 12 years, and I would probably personally $$ benefit $$ from the continued housing shortage / crisis. That said, this is not a personal or even local issue, but a metro-wide issue that carries very serious consequences for the young,& the un-gilded (really, the future of Boston).

    I urge folks to think regionally. New housing supply is critical to Boston’s middle and working classes (we need a vacancy rate of 7% or so to calm prices down), and EVERY community needs to do its part to absorb more housing inventory. There might always be pros and cons to new housing, but one NON-debatable fact is that Boston needs tens of thousands of new units as quickly as possible to regain its viability as a city, open to the middle and working classes.

  • Brian P Murray

    Went to the meeting last night. I was so pleased that folks were able to share their views and opinions in a (mostly) friendly, respectful manner.

    The earlier meeting at English High, by contrast, was shockingly hostile and belligerent. Even though folks have strong views, I hope future meetings will continue to be open and neighborly.

    Thanks for the discussion,

    Best,

    Brian

  • Pingback: JP Neighborhood Council Housing Committee Says No to 3353 Washington St. | Jamaica Plain News()

  • supply&demand band

    will the JP news ever write an article about the happy residents of JP that welcome brand new development? How about all the JP people that are in favor of new development. How about the Silent Majority?? Everyone must be sick of hearing from the same 50 people that have nothing to do but show up at these meetings to complain and hear themselves rant. What about the thousands of other people that don’t come to the meetings because they will be told to sit down and shut up. It is really pathetic what is going on these days.

    • Robert Ellis

      That’s like asking if the Wall Street Journal will ever write an article about how capitalism is evil.

  • Pingback: BPDA Approves 45-Unit Building at 3353 Washington St. | Jamaica Plain News()

  • Pingback: 3353 Washington Fails to Win Support | Jamaica Plain News()