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Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council Roundly Rejects 196-Unit Apartment Building

Saying it's still way too big, a local advisory council voted overwhelmingly to recommend against zoning variations needed for a 196-unit apartment complex on South Huntington Avenue.

It's still just too big.

That was the bottom line from a neighborhood advisory group as it voted strongly against giving a massive apartment project its blessing.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council's Zoning Committee voted 14-0 Thursday to deny zoning relief to the developers behind 161 S. Huntington Ave. That's the former campus of the Home for Little Wanderers.

Boston Residential Group aims to erect a four- and five-story complex with 196 apartment units. Without getting variances from city zoning rules, the parcel could only have about 16 units, according to an analysis by project opponent Kevin Maloney.

"It take up practically every inch of the build-able portion of the lot," Maloney said to a room of about 30 persons at the Farnsworth House.

 

Developer's concessions not enough

The project would raze the existing buildings and create one L-shaped building with a contiguous U-shaped building. There would be 175 parking spots beneath the edifice. Most units would be one-bedrooms of various sizes, aimed at appealing to the medical professionals who work in the Longwood area.

JP's formal neighborhood organizations have made a united front against the project. The Jamaica Pond Association opposes the project and, according to Maloney, the Impact Advisory Group convened to advise on it also stands opposed.

The developer has made some concessions to neighborhood concerns since the summer. They've flipped the design so that there is no longer a single wall fronting Huntington Avenue. They've also added five 3-bedroom units for families and a few more "affordable" units. Thirty of the units would be set aside for so-called "affordable housing," which, being pegged to roughly 80 percent of the median income of the entire Boston metro area, still lives them out of the reach of many families.

 

Organized labor backs project

But while JP does embrace the need for more rental units, this project remains too big, several Neighborhood Council members and residents said.

Those weren't the only voices, however. The room was packed with members of Carpenter's Local 67, which supports the project on grounds of it creating good jobs for out-of-work tradespeople.

Developer Curtis Kemeny, CEO of Boston Residential Group, said the project would cost $75 million, take 18 months and create 200 construction jobs.

In a highly contentious exchange between the Neighborhood Council, Kemeny and a representative of the Home for Little Wanderers, neither the buyer nor the seller would say how much the property is selling for. That price will become public once the sale closes, however.

A central argument made by the developer is that JP needs more rental housing, and that the size and price points of their project are necessary for them to build it without government help. The project is entirely private. The project's attorney, Larry DiCara, said 30 affordable units is impressive when taken in context.

"In the 23 years I've been in Jamaica Plain," said the former City Council president, "I've never seen 30 [affordable] units go in without a subsidy."

Price points for monthly rents would be roughly as follows, Kemeny told the audience:

  • Studios: $1,900-2,100
  • 1-Bedrooms: $2,000-2,500
  • 2-Bedrooms: $2,500-3,000
  • 3-Bedrooms: $2,900-3,300

A major decision point for the project is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 13, when the project is scheduled to go before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Downtown boards often heed the recommendations of the Neighborhood Council, but they aren't required to do so.

Eric Herot October 12, 2012 at 08:56 PM
There is some kind of fundamental contradiction in simultaneously restricting the development of buildings which increase the number of units per acre of land and the high cost of living in JP. If you want the average cost of housing to go down, you need more of it. Measures which limit the number of units that can be added in a given development have a direct, upward effect on property values. The fact that there are so many such restrictions in place across the city is arguably one of the reasons why Boston is such an expensive place to live.
Bob from JP October 13, 2012 at 02:41 AM
Eric, you assume the clowns at the JPNC are living in the real world and not some utopian fantasy land.

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