Where Will 300 Car Commuters Go as Forest Hills Parking Lot Becomes Apartments?

Nancy Ludwig (facing crowd) explains features of The Residences at Forest Hills at a community meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

Chris Helms

Nancy Ludwig, facing crowd, principal at ICON Architecture, explains features of The Residences at Forest Hills at a community meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016.

Forest Hills residents peppered a would-be developer with questions about where hundreds of car commuters will go if the LAZ Parking lot becomes a mixed-use development.

There were other issues raised during a community meeting Wednesday about “The Residences at Forest Hills,” but much of the discussion revolved around parking. The three-building, six-story development would add 252 apartments and townhouses plus 5,500 square feet of retail to Forest Hills’ burgeoning stock of mid-rise transit-oriented developments.

The meeting was held in the fellowship hall at St. Andrew Church, just up Orchardhill Road from the proposed development. Despite strong rain, more than 80 people attended.

Where will commuters park?

A transportation study showed that about 300 vehicles use the commuter parking lot at Washington and Arborway from 6-9 a.m. on weekday mornings. Bob Michaud of MDM Transportation told the crowd the proposed development would mean about 80 cars going in and out during that period.

“[The project] will reduce the amount of traffic in and around these roadways,” Michaud said of the streets on that side of Forest Hills Station.

Residents wanted to know where those 300 commuters were going to park. As anyone who lives near a T station can tell you, streets without “residential permit parking only” signs tend to attract commuters.

Jack Englert, principal of Criterion Development Partners, speaks on Nov. 30 in JP

Chris Helms

Jack Englert, principal of Criterion Development Partners, speaks on Nov. 30 in JP

Jack Englert, a founder of Criterion Development Partners, the proponents of the project, said finding out where those 300 commuters would go was one of his first questions as his firm crafted its plans. He said he went to the MBTA, which told him it had pitched a solution – put a commuter parking lot in the Arborway Yard. The massive, titularly temporary bus yard at Arborway and Washington has long been subject of an agreement with neighbors for multi-use development. However, year after year, the T says it does not have the money to carry out its agreement.

Arborway Yard neighbors rejected the T’s pitch to instead use part of the bus yard for commuter parking, according to Englert.

At bottom, however, Englert said it is not a private developer’s job to solve parking problems for the T.

Some meeting attendees were not concerned about the commuters’ loss of one parking lot by the station.

“I really love the design,” said neighborhood resident Jake Glickel. “50,000 people a day use Forest Hills. We shouldn’t be worried about 300.”

Resident Eric Herot made a similar point.

“There is no limit to the number of people who would drive to the station if you have the spaces,” Herot said, arguing that many commuters would find other, car-free ways to reach Forest Hills.

Overall site plan

Criterion Development filing with BPDA

Overall site plan

The developer, Englert, further argued that the trend is toward less car use.

“I can tell you, people aren’t driving as much as they used to,” said Englert, executive vice president and principal of Criterion, which has offices in Waltham and Dallas.

The development is slated for 146 parking spaces, which would be .58 spaces per residential unit. That’s on par with MetroMark Apartments, the finished development kitty-cornered from The Residences at Forest Hills, according to Michaud, the transportation expert.

Englert said similarly situated developments, that’s to say those close to subways, are drawing a surprising number of people 55 and older who rely less on cars. At the other end of the age scale, urban millennials are showing more comfort with ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft versus insisting on owning their own vehicles.

View of The Residences at Forest Hills from the T station

Criterion Development Partners

View of The Residences at Forest Hills from the T station

Affordable housing advocates make strong showing

In addition to parking, Wednesday’s questions also centered on how affordable the finished apartments and townhomes might be.

The current plan is that fifty of the units would be rented as “affordable” – a figure derived from household incomes across Greater Boston. The current proposal is for 15 percent of the units to be rented at 70 percent of Area Median Income, with another 5 percent at other percentages of AMI. Put another way, most of the “affordable” units would, at 2016 levels, have a maximum rent of $1,412 a month for a two-bedroom.

Several meeting attendees asked Englert about affordability. While he received praise from some for going above the city’s mandate and making one-fifth of the units affordable, other residents sought to show Englert how he might do more.

Englert specified that the current plan is for the fifty “affordable” units to break down this way:

  • Eight units rented at 50 percent of AMI
  • 37 units rented at 70 percent of AMI
  • Five units rented at 100 percent of AMI

George Lee, who has been active in the “100 Percent for Egleston” housing movement, urged Englert to explore “project-based vouchers” and low-interest financing programs for developments in which more than 20 percent of the units are priced affordably.

“Part of the hope is to protect diversity,” Lee said. “If too many ’80 percent’ buildings come in, it changes the character of the neighborhood.”

Englert said he was not aware of the programs but told Lee, “If you can educate me on them, I’m all ears.”

Other topics touched on in the hour-plus meeting included:

Anchor tenant for 5,500 square feet of retail?

The possibility of a grocery store in the project’s ground-floor retail area. Of course, Forest Hills already has a grocery store in the Harvest Co-op on the other side of the station toward Roslindale. But with hundreds of new residential units already finished and hundreds more being built on the Hyde Park Avenue side, attendees expressed interest in one. Englert cited the urban footprint Roche Brothers in Downtown Crossing as a potential model for a grocery store at a transit hub. The development at Parcel U, two blocks away at Ukraine Way, has run into trouble attracting retail tenants because of lack of parking.

Fence it off from non-residents?

There was discussion – sometimes heated – about how the homeless people who now spend time in and near the parking lot will be affected. Plans call for plazas and a central courtyard that opens onto the lobbies of each of the three buildings. Englert said he believed that having more life in the area, and more eyes on potential trouble, would naturally lead to use of the open spaces that works both for the homeless as well as renters. Herot, one of the attendees, agreed with this line of thought, saying, “The people are the safety feature of this project.”

One attendee floated the idea of a fence or wall, drawing murmurs from the crowd.

For more information, you can download the detailed proposal as it now stands.

Previous coverage of “The Residences at Forest Hills” from Jamaica Plain News:

  • Nanc

    Was there any discussion about how the Orange Line would handle all the new commuters? Thanks.

    • Timothy Reardon

      Nanc,
      That was not discussed last night, but the procurement of new Orange Line vehicles and other improvements to signals and switches on the Orange Line will increase capacity by over 40% in the next six years.

      Here’s a summary from a recent Commonwealth Magazine article:
      “The T has procured 152 new Orange Line vehicles, which are expected to start arriving in late 2018 and enter service in 2019. All 152 cars are expected to be operational by 2022. The new cars have much better braking and propulsion systems that should allow the trains to go faster and stop more quickly. The interval between train arrivals is currently about 6 minutes. The interval should drop to 5.5 minutes if the new turnaround process works, and 4.5 minutes once the new trains are in place. The quicker pace should increase passenger capacity by 40 percent, [MBTA Chief Operating Officer Jeff] Gonneville said.

      (http://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/orange-line-trains-turn-around-faster/)

      The developer told the crowd that the apartments would not be fully occupied until 30 months from now, which is after the first of those cars start running on the Orange Line.

    • Timothy Reardon

      Nanc this wasn’t discussed specifically last night, but new cars, signals and switches will increase capacity on the Orange Line by 40% over the next six years. (The developer said the complex would not be fully occupied until 2019, at the earliest)

      Here are some details from a recent article on the topic:
      “The T has procured 152 new Orange Line vehicles, which are expected to start arriving in late 2018 and enter service in 2019. All 152 cars are expected to be operational by 2022. The new cars have much better braking and propulsion systems that should allow the trains to go faster and stop more quickly. The interval between train arrivals is currently about 6 minutes. The interval should drop to 5.5 minutes if the new turnaround process works, and 4.5 minutes once the new trains are in place. The quicker pace should increase passenger capacity by 40 percent, [MBTA Chief Operating Officer] Gonneville said.”

      (http://commonwealthmagazine.org/transportation/orange-line-trains-turn-around-faster/)

    • Eric Herot

      Note that this 252 unit building is replacing a 300 space commuter lot, so train ridership is likely to go down slightly as a result (although this is a net win because none of those riders would be using a car to get to the station).

      • TowerStreet

        Interesting claim, I wonder how you came up with your hypothesis.
        A couple of questions for you, then:
        What is the number of people from the 300 cars that take the O line?
        How many people will be living in the new buildings.
        How many of them will be taking the O line?

        • Eric Herot

          About 128 vehicles enter the lot during the peak of rush hour (with only 11 leaving). The lot generally fills up in the morning (or so I’m told), so I think it’s reasonable to assume that all but a handful of spaces in the lot are used by commuters on the Orange Line, with the other 172 drivers arriving before or after the peak time.

          According to the developer, based on real world experience at his other properties, which are somewhat less transit-accessible than this one, the developer expects 55 vehicles to leave the parking lot during the peak of rush hour. Assuming that all 252 units are filled, and that all occupants need to go to work (and do not, for example, telecommute or work from home), I think it’s safe to assume that close to 197 of those people will be commuting by bike or public transportation.

          And just as a point of argument, this property is going to be pretty expensive when it opens mainly as a result of its proximity to the T. It wouldn’t be rational for most people to pay the heavy premium of renting property near the train if they’re not going to use it.

          • TowerStreet

            There are a lot of people who parking there all day who do not take the orange line (my nanny, for one).
            I don’t know what your assumptions are based on. 197 people will be commuting? How many people in each unit? A one bedroom might have a single person or a couple. A 2 BR might have 2 couples, or it could have 1 couple with a kid. Maybe both parents work outside of the house, maybe neither does. There are too many variables for me to take any of your numbers seriously. And I never trust numbers being tossed out by the developer from surveys they pay for. They always promote the best-case scenario. This one says there will be “negligible” increase in parking difficulties. I think a dense developement is good and will force people to think twice about car ownership.

          • Eric Herot

            The developer’s numbers closely align with the community survey and census numbers, which indicate that roughly 80% of Boston residents own cars and only 46% of commutes are by car in 2013, so I have little reason to distrust them.

            I think you may be right that there are more people likely to take the train than I originally said. I’d be willing to bet that it’s probably about on par with the number taking it today from the commuter parking lot.

            Considering that the underground parking lot already exceeds the likely car ownership rate for apartments in this neighborhood this close to transit, and considering that people who didn’t want to pay for the commuter parking lot (or arrived after it was full) were *already* parking on the street during the day, I don’t see where any additional parking difficulties are going to come from.

            Like you said, density is key to making people reconsider car ownership. Scarcity of parking is another huge factor (although I don’t think this building really goes far enough to affect that among its residents).

  • Timothy Reardon

    I agree with Jake Glickel, quoted in the article; the loss of 300 spaces will have a very minor impact on travel to a station that sees 15,000 Orange Line Boardings each day ((http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/documents/2014%20BLUEBOOK%2014th%20Edition(1).pdf, page 16) The people now using the LAZ lot will now have greater incentive to join the 7,500 riders who take the bus to FH each day (based on a 2009 passenger survey: http://www.ctps.org/data/pdf/studies/transit/MBTA_Passenger_Survey/Orange_Line_Volume.pdf, page 127). Instead of worrying about how to accommodate more park-and-riders, let’s build more housing next to the station, and improve the quality of bus service to FH from Roslindale, Hyde Park, and outlying neighborhoods.

    • re re reardon

      spoken like someone who wont have fat, white, dedham guys in suits parking in front of their house to commute on the T

      • JK

        Lets be honest: Pete PP Stedman & Jake Glickel removed the seats from their bikes bc they like the way it feels

        • JP Alliance

          let it never be said that george lee’s squad doesnt know a good gay joke when they hear one

          • GL

            I say, good for George Lee for bringing people together – even if it is by typing off color jokes anonymously on the JP NEWS comment section

          • JP Alliance

            yeah, george wallace/lee has done a great job of exploiting children with the backing of rich/white/old people. real hero

          • GL

            General George Patton Lee: Savior of the status quo, leader of the lost children, impresario of the imprisoned mind

        • AlanThinks

          Inappropriate remark. JP News, please delete it

          • JamaicaPlainNews

            Hey AlanThinks, we have done just that.

            Folks, if you wouldn’t say it to your neighbor’s face, please don’t say it here.

      • Eric Herot

        I can attest that Tim and I both live in neighborhoods that have this problem. Building giant, privately owned parking lots where people have to pay to park does nothing to address the issue.

      • Carol J Galvin

        Everyday, for years!? Why don’t they get ticketed? These out of towners have always been a problem …. try to park in front of their house!

  • AlanThinks

    Need to add to this conversation that the City is planning to tear down the Archdale housing project that is close to Forest Hills just a few blocks south and replace the @ 300 units with @ 1000 mixed income units. This will add even more traffic to the Forest Hills area. The solution is to promote use of public transit, bicycling, and walking and discourage private vehicle use.

    • Truth

      Explain what “@ 1000 mixed….” means.

      • AlanThinks

        Full replacement of @300 units of public housing plus market rate for remainder. This is the model that has been used at all the remodeled housing projects.

  • jenuphoto

    is 5500 sq ft really big enough for a decent grocery store? with enough of a range of basic needs to serve this massive population increase along Wash St corridor? They should reduce the # of units to add more first floor retail space.

  • Luis M Melendez

    The entire city is losing parking spaces, there are more building going up.
    Cluster mess in forest hill is not getting any better. VERY SLOW work as project. Just add a parking garage to these project!!