The comment period for 3200 Washington St. — the largest development in Egleston Square in half a century — ended May 1.
There were 119 letters of support — many of them form letters — and 45 opposed. There were also two petitions, one in favor and the other opposed.
It is an unprecedented development in scale, density and cost but also in community debate; there were two Boston Redevelopment Authority-sponsored public meetings and the comment period was extended three times (April 3, April 15 and May 1).
3200 Washington St. is a $23 million housing development of 76 units in two 5-6 story buildings on a three-quarter acre corner lot now occupied by a plumbing warehouse, auto repair shop and parking garages.
No one questions the site is underused and not what Egleston Square is anymore, but what the comment letters expressed was a community honestly and sincerely concerned and divided about what that future will be. Those who expressed support or opposition were by and large not the usual NIMBYs so often on display in the public review of housing proposals.
Egleston Square was clearly divided over this development. The Egleston Square Neighborhood Association, which was the first organization the developers presented their plans to on July 13, 2014, was neutral. Its lengthy comment concluded by admitting "as indicated by this letter there is a mix of viewpoints about this proposed development in our community. ESNA members support improving housing conditions in Egleston Square...the Economy Plumbing site should be developed. At the same time our organization wants to maintain the diversity of our neighborhood and support development...that compliments it. We trust that the BRA will consider these issues when reviewing the 3200 Washington St. project."
Egleston Square Main Streets, while concerned about traffic and parking and affordability , supported the development. Indeed many merchants and business owners approved the development: Lucky Boston Chinese Restaurant, Latino Salon, Chauncey Smoke Shop, Peraviana Market, Moreno Barber Shop and Compadres Market among others signed form letters in support.
Egleston Square residents were also clearly frustrated. Very few flat-out opposed the development but all expressed reservations — some stronger than others — about height, density and affordability but above all the precedent it was setting for Egelston Square in the future.
Susan Pranger of Chilcott Place, a member of the 11-person Impact Advisory Group (IAG) formed by the BRA said that 3200 Washington St. sets a "dangerous precedent" and predicted that the development would "likely drive up rents." "3200 Washington Street [should] set a precedent" not an exception in "height density and parking that embraces the community."
Other Neighborhoods Weigh In
Residents of other neighborhoods were concerned about precedent too. Scott Shearer of Brookside Avenue urged that the proposal be rejected.
"I wish to avoid a situation in which for-profit developers are awarded significant height, set back, density and parking variances at odds with the community," Shearer wrote. "I am worried that the approval of the 3200 Washington St. project sets a precedent for the future of our neighborhoods."
IAG member Alvin Shiggs of Olmsted Street wrote, "my concern with 3200 Washington St. is that it may undo many of the gains of the community made over the years. As IAG members, we need to know what is the bottom line for the developers. What is the estimated cost of the development? What are the proposed rents and estimated prices [of the for sale units]?"
Another IAG member, Ron Hafer of Park Lane, also questioned the process. Writing as one with "50 years of involvement in Egleston Square," Hafer pointed out that "this development process does not address the key question: how will it impact the neighborhood? I don't think the BRA...understands this."
Other IAG members like Girma Belay, Michael Iceland and Gaylen Nelson offered conditional support along with concerns about affordability, height and energy efficiency.
The only enthusiastic IAG member was Coco's lounge owner Jose de Rosa.
"[ I am a ] property owner directly across the street and a Dominican business owner whose business thrives off the diversity that is Egleston Square," de Rosa wrote.
The diversity and character of Egleston Square was a common theme; one unusual for comment letters to the BRA.
Bonnie Rovics, who did not list an address, wrote, "If they want to build in Egleston Square they should address the actuality of Egleston."
Green Street resident Ben Mauer wrote that "Egleston Square has its own rhythm and culture. It's truly one of the most unique commercial and residential areas in the entire city. It has a powerful history. This development flies in the face [of that.]"
Liam Lydon from Moss Hill's Billings Lane thought that the "rich culture and diversity" would be "enhanced by this development. It will bring more individuals and families to further enliven this culture."
Split Opinions on Developers
An anonymous letter from a tenant of Arborview Realty pulled no punches. While the developers have ties to Jamaica Plain’s Arborview Realty, the development is being done by a separate company, 3190 Washington St. LLC.
"I am 100 percent in opposition," the tenant wrote. "I've seen Arborview's developments change the face of this community for the worse. They are completely disregarding the people they will displace. "
Liam Lydon had a different view of the developers.
"I have had business and personal interactions" with both developers [Justin Iantosca and Dan Mangiacotti], wrote Lydon, saying "they are a high calibre. They have moral value; a do the right thing mantra."
Some letter writers used the comment format to take ideological stands.
Patricia Roberts of Chestnut Avenue wrote that there will be " improved public safety that comes with the presence of middle class residents [in 3200 Washington St.].[It is] disheartening to read about community meetings dominated by those who oppose market rate housing. They continue to posture as noble fighters for the rights of the poor and the oppressed...[ they] seem to have no awareness of the realities of creating housing in an urban area. I hope the BRA [will] not allow this small loud group to derail this excellent project."
The development includes a restaurant, which addressed a concern of Meagan Strubble of Peter Parley Road.
"We currently have to leave the area for Centre Street to find good dining options," she wrote. "I encourage the addition of market rate units...bringing more money and tax dollars into the area will encourage more development and more demand to address problem buildings. Please don't let the loud voices of a few stand in the way of common sense."
Dinah Shepard of Paul Gore Street was more concerned about families than fine dining.
"We need to fight for development without displacement," Shepard wrote. "We need more affordable housing in JP. Homes protect families. Every family deserves a home and we have a right to fight for those losing their homes in neighborhoods where families have lived for generations."
Support for the development came from far and wide. Francisco Poles, one of the partners who sold the property, wrote in favor. Attorney Joseph Feaster of the firm McKenzie and Associates of State Street wrote in "enthusiastic support [because it ] provides much needed rental units."
Edward and Gerry Burke, the owners of Doyles, wrote in support as well as Peter Janis, the longtime owner of the laundromat and carwash at 353o Washington St.
Eric Howe from Robinwood Avenue wrote that " this project will help revitalize Egleston Square. "
Support letters came in from Spring Park, St Mark Street, South Street, Boynton Street, Oakview Terrace, Cranston Street and Codman Hill Avenue as well as business owners on Stonley Road.
Form Letters and Petitions
Supporters and opponents alike did a lot of streetwork to gather letters favorable to their position. There were 52 identical form letters — 34 in Spanish — signed by residents and business owners along the Washington Street corridor in favor of the development.
A petition in both English and Spanish that read "Attention Residents! Petition in Support of 3200 Washington Street Proposal" was signed by 49 people.
The most ambitious was a 27-page petition signed by 274 people organized in large part by the ad hoc group Affordable Housing Egleston that held a Peace Park rally and street demonstration on April 29. Some of the petitions were signed that day and the next afternoon, as witnessed by Jamaica Plain News.
This petition goes much further than any comment letter. It demands nothing less than 100 percent affordability for families earning $26,000 at 3200 Washington St. Moreover, the petition demands that the Iantosca/Mangiacotti development team support Just Cause Eviction legislation and tenant rights.
In her comment letter, Helen Matthews of Green Street echoed the petition demands. Like many other comment letters pro and con added her own personal feelings.
"I was moved by the incredible volume of shock and concern about this proposed development [at the March 25 BRA hearing]. I am more firmly than ever opposed to this development," she wrote. "I am tired and upset by these heartbreaking and yet totally unnecessary struggles going on all around me...these demands are in the interests of my neighbors...this development is the tipping point in the future of Egleston Square."
How Will BRA Use Comments?
Jamaica Plain News asked the BRA about how it would evaluate the heavy volume of comment about 3200 Washington St. Here's what BRA spokesperson Nick Martin said to emailed questions:
"Comment letters and petitions, whether from every day residents or Impact Advisory Group members are all one factor that we weigh when considering whether to recommend a project to our board of directors," Martin wrote. "There is no formula for weighing petitions over individual comments letters or vice versa, but we value all community input and...in fact extended the comment period for this particular project to allow for more feedback. Prior to voting our board members recieve copies of all public comments associated with projects. It's unclear when 3200 Washington St. will be considered by the board."
It's also unclear when 3200 Washington St. will be considered by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Zoning Committee, an essential step before gong on to the BRA.
At the last minute the developers asked to be taken off Wednesday's JPNC Zoning Committee agenda. It is now tentatively scheduled to be heard at the June 17 meeting.