After a false start in March, Maple Hurst Builders came back to the community again on Wednesday evening with a fresh proposal for the vacant lot opposite Green Street from their 2012 development, Bartlett Square 1.
Called Bartlett Square 2, it would be a four-story building with 15 apartments over ground floor office and commercial spaces, including a restaurant to be called "Havana Pete's."
JP developer Chris DeSisto presented his plans at an Article 80 Small Project Review, a requirement for the five zoning variances he requires before construction can begin.
DeSisto said that Bartlett Square 2 would be all rental so that Maple Hurst "could have a revenue stream for other projects." Maple Hurst, through its subsidiary 2 Bartlett Square LLC, would own and manage the new building and the businesses. There would be a management office on site.
Only two apartments would be required to comply with the city's Exclusionary Zoning ordinance, which aims to provide at least a minimum level of affordable housing. These would be available through a lottery to renters earning 70 percent of the Area Median Income, according to Lance Campbell, a senior project manager for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "That would be from $54,000 to the low 60's" income range, said Campbell, who hosted the meeting.
History Informs Level of Amory Street
The most interesting feature of the building is that the foundation will be six feet below the level of Amory Street. This is because Amory Street between Green and Williams Streets was built as part of the Southwest Corridor Project; it did not exist before 1985. Before then, Amory Street ended at Green Street. The lower ground elevation is because Green Street — the main business thoroughfare of Jamaica Plain at the time - was graded lower so teams of horses could go under the Bartlett Square railroad bridge, which was completed in 1897. When the Orange Line was depressed, Green Street was rebuilt to run over the tracks and Amory Street was extended to Williams Street with its grade raised to line up with Green Street.
DeSisto has taken advantage of that grade change to build a garage under the building for nine to 10 vehicles, with access from Green Street. An additional six spaces would be located at the end of the property facing Amory Street.
Architect Cheryl Tougias of Spalding Tougias Architects, who also designed Bartlett Square 1, said her design is a "a careful match" to her earlier building. She added that her plan had gone through revisions based on comments received at earlier meetings with community groups including the Union Avenue Neighborhood Association, Brookside Avenue Neighborhood Association and Sumner Hill Neighborhood Association.
She said the facade would be a mix of stone or cement panels, wood and metal. The latter would be set to emphasize the verticality of the building.
"There would be a lot of natural materials — wood and stone; materials built for permanence," Tougias said.
Parking and Traffic Flow a Concern
Parking was a concern for many at the meeting, particularly since the site is very tight; one of the zoning violations is insufficient parking. A resident questioned the need for any parking at all given the building's location across from Green Street station. Another raised the point that traffic coming out of Gordon Street turning onto Green would conflict with the curb cut to parking at the new apartment house, calling the proposed layout "a dangerous situation."
"Can you build this without parking at all?" asked the first speaker.
DeSisto said it would be hard to rent without parking.
By contrast, there are 12 condominiums at Bartlett Square 1. An assigned parking space costs $20,000 over the cost of the unit. For example: a one bedroom unit that was listed for $178,00o in March 2012 when the building opened, would cost $198,00 with a parking space. Bartlett Square 1 units in 2012 were priced from $320,000 to $660,000 without parking.
DeSisto explained in response to the second questioner that the Boston Transportation Department had not signed off on this traffic plan. He said his traffic and parking plan is constrained by the fact that he neither owns nor has an easement to the land behind his building. His only means of access for residents parking, deliveries and trash pick up is from Green Street.
Height and density were of little concern but the proposed ground floor restaurant was; this restaurant continues to plague Bartlett Square 2.
Little Love for Restaurant at Meeting
In March, The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Public Services Committee in effect rejected a liquor license for a planned seafood restaurant in the building before the full development plans had been reviewed through the Article 80 process. The committee deadlocked 5-5 on the issue. In face of his cart-before-the-horse process, DeSisto retreated.
Yet while some residents had embraced the idea of more restaurant options on that side of the neighborhood, at Wednesday's meeting DeSisto heard almost unanimous concerns about if not opposition to a ground floor restaurant. Objections included trash pick up, parking, delivery times, noise, opening hours and the potential for rats.
DeSisto said in response that he would reconsider.
"Is having a restaurant there an amenity or not? If not, I'll abandon [the idea]. I'll rent it to someone else," he said. "I'm amenable to a variety of uses."
He admitted that renting commercial space is "much more difficult than I expected. I want a qualified tenant. Hopefully I can get a tenant that can pay the rent and satisfy the neighborhood."
Architect Tougias explained that she was "designing it as a shell for a commercial space with ventilation and adequate entrances." One person said that the restaurant terrace was already designed in the plans. Tougias said she could modify that as a landscaped space although she admitted that it faced north and would not have sufficient light for some plants.
"The terrace is a question," she said. " It is a very strong architectural element but it has to be viable. We can work for some other uses."
Comment Deadline is Aug. 3
Campbell, from the BRA, reminded skeptics and supporters alike that "this project is not a done deal until most of the concerns are vetted and people are comfortable with it."
He said that due to the 4th of July holiday the comment period had been extended to Aug. 3.
Comments can be mailed to:
Senior Project Manager
Boston Redevelopment Authority
Boston City Hall
1 City Hall Square #9
Boston, MA 02201
or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In closing, Campbell invited everyone to the Washington Street Corridor Planning Study kick-off open house to be held on Tuesday, July 28 at The Brookside Community Health Center from 5-8 p.m. He said the BRA planning director Marie Mercurio was coordinating this study.