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JPNC Unhappy with Zoning Process

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council has written an open letter to the BRA based on the recent city Zoning Board of Appeals’ approval of a forthcoming South Huntington Street development.


With the Home For Little Wanderers officially out at 161 S. Huntington St., and a city Zoning Board of Appeals OK in its pocket, Boston Residential Group is set to build a $75 million 196-apartment complex at the site.

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council opposed the plan from the start, and after the Nov. 13 ZBA decision there’s nothing more they can do to block the razing and construction.

JPNC member Joseph Wight expressed concern over the zoning process at a Tuesday night meeting. He said he did not feel like the neighborhood council’s voice had been heard.

“There’s been a tremendous amount of community opposition,” he said, listing several Jamaica Plain boards that opposed the project.

The incoming development is going to have 60 or 70 units per acre at a site only zoned for 16, Wight said.

“This leads to a discussion on zoning by variance and not by actual code,” he said.

Wight made it known that it's not development the neighborhood council opposes it’s just the type of development being put in place.

“We’re just saying it’s too expensive, it’s too big and it’s not doing what we think, as representatives of the community, is good for the community,” he said.

Despite this, the ZBA approved the necessary variances thus furthering the neighborhood council’s frustration.

As such, JPNC has drafted an open letter addressed the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Director Peter Meade and Senior Planner Marie Mercurio to express the neighborhood council’s displeasure with the lack of process.

Below is the unedited text of the letter in its entirety:

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council welcomes news that the BRA is developing a planning process for the South Huntington Corridor (officially the "Veterans Administration Hospital Institutional Subdistrict") in Northern JP. Planning for the area is clearly needed. It is currently zoned for institutional usage, but with the turnover of a number of institutions in the area it seems likely that this will change.

With the potential for significant changes or new residents in this area, there are important planning needs to ensure that new developments will fit with the neighborhood in scope and design; that traffic, parking, and public transportation capacity are not overwhelmed; and that new housing is adequately inclusionary.

This planning effort will not work, however, if the BRA approves new developments on all or most of the major sites where turnover is occurring prior to developing a new plan for the area. The BRA and the City have long shunned 'planning by variance.’ We ask that the BRA observe the existing plan for this area until it has completed its new planning process. We are willing to work with the BRA to accomplish this on an expedited timeframe, provided that the process includes adequate community participation.

Finally, Article 55 stipulates that "the Commission shall recognize the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Plan [which includes the plan for the Veterans Administration Hospital Institutional Subdistrict], when adopted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, following approval by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council." Our priority in approving changes to this plan will be to ensure that the community has adequate opportunity to participate in the planning process, and that community input shapes any final proposals for the area.

Thank you for your consideration, and we would welcome the chance to meet with the planning team to discuss these concerns.


Benjamin Day

Chair, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council

John Douglass November 29, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Mayor Menino, if you can't hear us now, you will hear us later.
Lilypad26 November 29, 2012 at 01:12 PM
This has been a sham from the start! From Menino to Sanchez, who have turned a deaf ear to their constituencies for the sake of $$$$. How pathetic is it, when something so blatently being opposed (with good and prudent reasons) is totally ignored by the powers at be, so they can profit and benefit personally. Wake up and smell the coffee-- BRA, ZBA, and all the reps inbetween! Your legacy will be the leaders and board members who turned away from "due process" and doing what is RIGHT (on behalf of the majority), for the big "payoff" of greed and maybe power. Shame on you for showing such blatent disrespect and disregard to those who trusted you and voted for you to protect their interests and the neighborhoods you were elected to represent.
Rich P November 29, 2012 at 04:06 PM
The letter is from the man who both the JPNC itself AND the JP Gazette demanded his resignation - once again, the truth is stranger than fiction! And once again, if the JPNC is against something ( READ: Whole Foods) then it surely is good for JP! Jobs, more housing units (extra affordable units than required) increased tax revenue for the city, much needed new development that is up to code to support our medical community , increased property values - awful just terrible. Just like the Whole Foods 'non-troversey' What sane person is against jobs, new housing, increased taxes for the city and improved property values?? The sane among us do not go to JPNC hearings for fear of being shouted down (remember all of the shouting down matches about Whole Foods?) So the sane pragmatists simply contact the city directly to voice their support. Since the support is not done at a public shouting match ( that the media LOVE to cover and shine a spotlight on), JPNC types think they have the monopoly on an issue - but the communications directly to city officials is clearly stronger than the visible and vocal opponents would like everyone to believe.
Scott November 29, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Child please, the traffic and parking nightmare from adding 500+ cars to the neighborhood is going to disastrous. It can take an hour to go two blocks in rush hour in my neighborhood now, so I could care less about what you have to say.
Rich P November 29, 2012 at 06:23 PM
Scott with all due respect, traffic is awful, all over the globe at rush hour. - Literally. ... and I actually DO care what you have to say, I regret that you do not care what others have to say. 8(
Bob November 29, 2012 at 06:26 PM
You chose to live in the city of Boston, not a suburb. If the city continues to bring in more jobs, which it is forecast to do, traffic will be even worse with people coming from the suburbs. Most of the people that live at this project will take public transportation or walk to work...If the BRA was smart they would rezone this entire area at three or four times the density. The students are out bidding all young professionals in the neighborhood for housing, we need more supply.
Scott November 29, 2012 at 06:44 PM
First of all, my family has lived in the neighborhood since the 30's so don't start with that BS. I don't know what forecasts you're looking at, but I work at one of the biggest employers in MA and they are moving all the jobs out of MA. How can you guarantee "most of the people" at 161 won't have a car and will never drive? There is no stipulation in the lease that they have to work at LMA and can't park their fleet of land frigates on the streets to avoid paying $250/month to park in the tiny garage. For everyone that takes the 39 or E-Line, you're gonna have a bad time.
Scott November 29, 2012 at 06:45 PM
So in your mind, things can't get any worse? Brilliant analysis.
Bob November 29, 2012 at 07:07 PM
http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/bbj_research_alert/2012/08/massachusetts-owns-2nd-fastest-growing.html http://www.bls.gov/ro1/cesbos.htm You can do more research if you would like, but add that to the college growth also forecasted = population growth in the city. I'm sure you have lived in the neighborhood since the 30's, so you would remember when it was one of the most unsafe places to be in the city. The recent growth has done wonders for JP and MS. Change is inevitable, beating your chest about small increases in transportation time is pretty short cited compared to the families and professionals that will come to the neighborhood. Further, if the city life bothers you, why not move to Quincy or Braintree where there is plenty more space at less cost?
Scott November 29, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Do you live in JP? I take it you concede most of my points because you didn't rebut most of them. Yes, there is some tech and bio-med growth (mainly in Cambridge and the seaport), but accommodating those people should come after accommodating the existing residents. The colleges are building more dorms so your point ("students are out bidding all young professionals in the neighborhood for housing") is moot. Plus, most of my neighbors are "young professionals." There aren't many student flop houses left. The transformation of JP from sketchy to safer and cleaner has nothing to do with building 200 unit apartment buildings. I'm not "beating my chest," I'm speaking the truth. My grandfather was BPD, he helped clean up the crime, not these developers or their lawyers from Nixon Peabody. Why don't those "families and professionals" you talk about stay where they are? City life doesn't bother me. What bothers me is people telling me to move to Quincy or Braintree. I own my house, no mortgage. Why should I have to suffer because some nosebleeds want to turn my neighborhood into their profit center? Are you on the developer's payroll?
Bob November 29, 2012 at 09:45 PM
No, longtime JP resident also. I do believe though the street where these developments are is on the Mission Hill border, where mainly college students are living. And I did respond to your point that jobs are leaving Boston, of which I provided evidence that they are not. In terms of cars, I did not respond to your opinion because I would only be commenting using my opinion and not fact. I am not on the developers pay roll but for you to think the students will live in the dorms just because the schools build them is quite niave. The schools charge the students upwards of $1,700 per month for a bed in a dorm. If I was a half smart student I would find a friend and split a $2,000 a month two bed for my own privacy and cost. Hence why so many students are living in buildings on Huntington and South Huntington. I commend your family and owning your house. I guess we just agree to disagree on the benefit of these developments. I personally find housing far to expensive for my friends around me and the only solution I see is to increase supply.
Bob from JP November 29, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Yes Scott, only the people who have lived in JP for more than 10 years are entitled to claim responsibility for making it a more desirable place to live. Obviously, the increasing safety of the neighborhood has nothing to do with the new people moving into it. Do you really think that a wealthier, more highly educated population doesn't lead to lower levels of crime??????
Scott November 30, 2012 at 12:40 AM
The 161 developers said at the zoning meeting that the leases would contain language barring undergrads, so that shouldn't be an issue. Undergrads are being forced back on campus. ISD has cracked down on the slumlords in Allstoned and Mission Grillz. Property owners can make more money now doing short term rentals too.
Scott November 30, 2012 at 12:46 AM
Was that supposed to be coherent?
Bob November 30, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I think barring undergrads is a product of the types of units they are building (luxury etc.). I'm not sure I'm following your argument after that. There is a clear lack of housing supply in Boston, that's why rents are going through the roof. Unfortunately the only solution is more housing or less jobs to decrease population. Personally, more housing sounds better to me.
Judy November 30, 2012 at 03:26 PM
Rich, nobody is against "jobs, new housing, increased taxes for the city and improved property values." From the beginning, no one involved in the BRA-mandated community input on this project has opposed new housing on this site. What HAS been opposed is the demolition of a solid, perfectly re-usable and historically meaningful building that is consistent in size, scale, style, and materials with its neighbors in favor of a gigantic wall of unsympathetically designed new construction. The site is big enough for several smaller units that would preserve the trees and views to the J'way as well. Just because this was the first project proposed for this location doesn't mean it was the best - there are other developers who could have done a much better job if the BRA had not grabbed at this one so quickly. And finally, ADAPTIVE RE-USE CREATES JOBS, TOO! Often MORE jobs than flimsy new construction, with better long-term sustainability. Again, the problem here is not with ANY project at this location, just THIS project.
Bob November 30, 2012 at 03:35 PM
I agree Judy, I think the building could have been been used for a gut rehab. I don't understand why they are tearing it down.
Rich P November 30, 2012 at 04:21 PM
I think there is a cavernous difference between the pragmatists and the nostalgists. That kind of gap cannot be overcome. So in the final analysis, I side with pragmatism, as most of our leadership has.
Bob from JP November 30, 2012 at 05:26 PM
The truth hurts, doesn't it Scott?
Rich P December 22, 2012 at 12:09 AM
and the latest new: the JPNC is suing the city! Even the left of left of left Gazette questions the prudence of such a move - read today's Gazette editorial


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