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Developer gets green light to pursue a 40B project in Brookline

Posted by Brock Parker  October 18, 2013 05:55 PM

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A developer hoping to vastly expand the Hancock Village apartment complex in South Brookline has won a key determination that could enable the project to proceed despite considerable opposition from neighbors and town officials.

MassDevelopment, a quasi-public state agency, determined this month that a proposal by Chestnut Hill Realty to build 192 new apartments at Hancock Village is eligible to be developed under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law. The 1948 development already has about 530 apartments off Independence Drive and VFW Parkway.

The determination clears the way for Chestnut Hill Realty to bypass some local zoning laws for the new development as long as at least 20 to 25 percent of the units created are considered affordable. The project will still need the approval of the town’s zoning board of appeals.

Town officials opposed to the project had been fighting to keep it from being deemed eligible as a Chapter 40B project. Now Selectmen Chairwoman Betsy DeWitt said the town is exploring what options it has left.

“It’s not over yet,” she said.

The proposal is not the first by Chestnut Hill Realty to draw strong opposition from the town. After the developer proposed building 466 new apartments at Hancock Village in 2010, Brookline Town Meeting approved tighter zoning laws for Hancock Village in 2011 by adopting a conservation district for the area despite Chestnut Hill Realty’s objections.

In 2012, Chestnut Hill Realty submitted a proposal to MassDevelopment for a 271-unit project at Hancock Village to be developed under Chapter 40B, but the town objected and the proposal was withdrawn early this year.

Chestnut Hill Realty consultant Margaret Murphy said that after submitting the application for a 271-unit project, chief executive officer Edward Zuker changed his mind about what he wanted on the property and the developer came back with a smaller proposal that fits with the neighborhood.

But DeWitt said the town is concerned that the current proposed for Hancock Village will destroy community open space known as a “greenbelt” around the property and will require significant re-grading and create drainage and storm water runoff concerns.

Officials are also worried the project could compound what is already a dramatic increase in student enrollment that is forcing the town to consider multiple property tax overrides to pay for several school expansions. DeWitt said that by the town’s calculations the number of students that would live in the new Hancock Village apartments would likely require the town to expand the Baker School in South Brookline, too.

But Chestnut Hill Realty does not know how many students would live in the new apartments because it hasn’t done any studies, yet, said Murphy.

The 192 apartments will be a mix of 66 one-bedroom apartments, 70 two-bedroom apartments, 28 three-bedroom apartments and 28 four-bedroom apartments. Of those units, 39 will be affordable housing, according to Chestnut Hill Realty.

Brookline is vulnerable to developments under Chapter 40B because less than 10 percent of its housing stock meets the state’s criteria for affordable housing.

In its letter dated Oct. 8 determining Chestnut Hill Realty’s proposal is eligible to be developed under Chapter 40B laws, MassDevelopment said only 8 percent of Brookline’s housing inventory qualifies as affordable housing units and the town does not have a state Department of Housing and Community Development-approved housing production plan.

Taking into account the prior municipal actions to meet affordable housing needs, the agency found the Hancock Village site is generally appropriate for residential development.

Murphy said Brookline is extremely expensive and while there is a huge need for market rate housing, there is an even bigger need for affordable housing.
“The supply is tiny,” she said.

Murphy said Chestnut Hill Realty was delighted to get the green light from MassDevelopment and plans to submit its plans to the town within the next month to begin the review process before Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Bill Pu, a member of the Preserve Brookline neighborhood group that has opposed Chestnut Hill Realty’s plans for Hancock Village, said neighbors remain concerned about the impact of more students in the area and also want the developer to preserve the greenbelt around the existing apartments.

Pu said that in addition to serving as open space used heavily by Hancock Village residents, the greenbelt has also provided a nice boundary and landmark for the surrounding homes.

“That is basically going to be eaten up by more buildings,” he said.

--Brock Parker can be reached at brock.globe@gmail.com

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