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

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Overall site plan

Criterion Development filing with BPDA

Overall site plan

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: