A neighborhood of triple deckers snugged between the Arborway Yard and Washington Street could be transformed by a 5-story apartment building. But neighbors appear to be organizing a fierce resistance, if necessary.
"I bought the parcel. There is nothing there. It's not next to any neighbors. I'm enthused that there are neighbors," said Bryan Austin one the three-man development team which proposes to build a 5-story apartment building on the Stonley Road cul-de-sac behind the Arborway bus yard. The team made a presentation to the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association meeting Wednesday night.
Austin admitted "I'm new at this [but] I understand your sentiment. This is a process."
That process and the sentiment began in August and architect Lucio Trabucco of the firm Nunes+Trabucco described his revised plans at the full house meeting.
"Since we met with the [SNA] board there have been major changes. It's a 14,000 square foot site. Our new design is less industrial-looking."
Apartment building would have 32 units
The building, which would sit on two parcels, would have 32 residential units. Right now it's a vehicle storage lot and a former 2-story stable at 58-76 Stonley Road and Stedman Street. Because of the grade change the building will be 5 stories tall on Stonley and 4 stories on Stedman. The majority of the apartments, 23, would be 2-bedrooms. Plans call for five of the units to be priced as "affordable." That's 18 percent of the total. For context, that's more than the city requires but less than the 25 percent advocated for by the JP Neighborhood Council for large transit-oriented developments.
Sebastian Zapata of State Rep. Liz Malia's office asked what the income levels would be for the affordable units and Trabucco said he did not know.
He said the new design has more balconies and windows and is lighter in color to fit more in the residential neighborhood. It would be 51-feet high on Stonley.
Just the beginning?
"I envision this as phase I of several buildings on Stonley," said Trabucco. It is rare that a project architect speaks for a development team, but Trabucco spoke on behalf of the three man proponents for two hours. The development team sat at a side table.
It was Trabucco who spoke vision.
"I have a vision of this as a big development," the architect said.
"What vision?" demanded SNA member Fred Vetterlein.
"I have no knowledge of a plan," said Trabucco. "We have no immediate plans."
Vetterlein said that the development team owns five parcels [three on Stedman Street].
"It's important to us to understand fully what these are for," Vetterlein said. "You bought 50 Stedman St., a 3 family. You bought Wentworth Auto. You paid $770,000 for this site [58-76 Stonley] and you're not giving back anything."
SNA co-chair Jennifer Uhrhane said that the Flanagan + Seaton developers "gave us so much; parkland and cash for a community room."
Austin said "what I paid for the property, you can't go there. I bought this and the other parcels became available. They were empty lots with trucks on them. We're not talking [tomorrow.] Maybe two years [to build out]. We will want to see how this goes. It would be foolish of me to get extended. We have enough income to carry this."
A new precedent?
Echoing what was said during the debate over 3200 Washington St. earlier this year, SNA members voiced concern that this was setting a precedent; a 5-story building introduced into a neighborhood built up completely with 3-story houses.
"You are bringing Washington Street to Brookley Road," said Nancy Allen. "This is step one for the whole area. This is a precedent."
"Yes it would be a precedent," admitted Austin. "We are introducing residents to an industrial area. This building is in an industrial zone; everyone should be proud of it."
Vetterlein persisted on the purchase price.
"You paid a small amount for this. You can do more," said Vetterlein, who for many years has worked with SNA to get as much as possible for the neighborhood when developers come in. "We wouldn't be opponents if you worked with us."
"What would you like us to do? We're giving five affordable units," said John Morrissey of the development team.
Will developer offer neighborhood benefits?
"We're looking at certain benefits," said Uhrhane. "This is a thickly-settled residential neighborhood. We need street improvements. Offer something in return. Streets further out in the neighborhood. Look at the Boston Complete Streets plan. Street improvements are a big thing."
"This building is too tall," said one neighbor. "It will not be part of the neighborhood which is unvaryingly a 3-family neighborhood. This is ultra-high density. I moved out of Mission Hill to get away from this. It was all renters there and they have no stake in a neighborhood. This building is going to ruin this neighborhood."
Trabucco said, "this building IS going to stand out. ANY new building will stand out. This building is a transition building between a neighborhood and Washington Street. [It] is not high density at all" compared to the density being built on Washington Street.
One resident asked what the total development cost would be and Trabucco did not know.
"I can only guess," he said.
The building will be all rental "as of now," said Morrissey. "We may manage it ourselves but right now I have no idea."
BRA: It's early days yet
Allen, who lives on Washington Street near Burnett Street, said that "the BRA knows about this. Why isn't the BRA here? Why isn't JP/Rox here? They were invited. This is a conflict with JP/Rox."
In an email the next day to Jamaica Plain News, BRA spokesman Nicholas Martin said "We've been in touch with the development team. We have had 4 pre-file development meetings" which are held "before a project has officially begun the Article 80 review process. It's common practice for developers to hold their own community meetings before a project is filed. BRA-sponsored community meetings would begin after we receive a project application."
"We understand that there are concerns from abutters. We have another pre-file meeting with the development team scheduled for next Tuesday to further discuss their proposal and new property acquisitions. We haven't reviewed anything related to the newly acquired property, nor are we aware of of the developers intent for it. That will be discussed Tuesday. To be clear, pre-file meetings between the developers and the BRA are always part of the process for any development proposal."
Martin also addressed whether there was a disconnect between this project and the JP/Rox Washington Street corridor planning process.
"We've always been very forthright with the community since the beginning of the planning process that we can't put a moratorium on development while the study is conducted," Martin wrote. "However, the insights we have gained so far will inform every step of the Article 80 process when it begins in earnest for this project."
Next-door Arborway Yard plays a role
"This is a huge project for us." said Vetterlien, who stood the entire meeting. "It's a huge order. We're used to 2-story buildings You're putting all your eggs in one basket. Your profit margin is huge. You're going to make a lot of money out of this."
People complained about the slow process of the Arborway Yard: "It wont be completed in my lifetime," said Allen.
Neighbors like Vetterlein and Allen talked about the bus noise from refueling terminals at the edge of Stonley Road; a wall was put up but this didn't work.
This gave developer Austin some pause.
"We were thinking about the Arborway Yard. [We thought] this building might speed up the process," Austin said.
The new residents in the building, he said, would not want that noise outside their apartments. They would demand changes.
"This may not be rational," said Austin. "We will definitely be going back to the drawing board. We hear all of you."
A follow-up meeting is planned
"More is better for us," said one SNA member. "Get the details right out front. Keep working with us. One of the criteria of the SNA is how will it development benefit us?"