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Appeals court refuses to block plan for Jamaica Plain homeless housing, medical facility

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  October 24, 2012 05:17 PM

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461walnutave.jpg

(Courtesy: JPNDC)

From Nov. 2010, a design sketch for the planned conversion of 461 Walnut Ave.

A state appeals court has refused to block a $10-million plan to convert a vacant Jamaica Plain building into a respite care and housing facility for medically vulnerable and disabled homeless people.

The redevelopment project has been put on hold for the past two years while it has been contested by 11 neighborhood residents who filed a lawsuit against the developer and the city's redevelopment authority.

Daniel J. Wilson, the attorney representing the residents who are suing, said Thursday he and his clients are considering filing a request to ask for further appellate review. If the court agrees to that request – which is due by Nov. 1 – the appeal would then move to the state’s highest court, the Supreme Judicial Court, he said.

Such an appeal “is highly likely” to be the last step in the case, Wilson said.

The nonprofit Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation in partnership with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program received approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority in Nov. 2010 to start on the project at 461 Walnut Ave.

But, one month after the authority approved the plans, 11 residents who live nearby sued, contending the redevelopment plan would decrease their property values, increase traffic, noise, artificial light, vehicle emissions and improper disposal of medical waste, and reduce on-street parking spaces, court documents show.

In January, Suffolk Superior Court Judge S. Jane Haggerty ruled in favor of the developer and redevelopment authority, calling the residents’ allegations “insufficient” and that the city agency’s decision to approve the project was legally sound and based on “substantial evidence.”

A panel of three Massachusetts Appeals Court judges affirmed the judge’s decision in a ruling they issued on Oct. 12.

The plans call for the building to be substantially renovated to provide and operate a 20-bed respite care facility for homeless people on the first floor, city officials have said.

That facility would be owned and operated by a subsidiary of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program would be a commercial tenant under a long-term lease. Pine Street Inn, another local agency that aids homeless individuals, would also provide services.

Approximately 30 studio rental units intended for medically vulnerable and disabled formerly homeless individuals and a one-bedroom manager's unit would be built on the second and third floors.

The project's developers said they had hoped to start construction in this fall and complete the redevelopment by late 2013 or early 2014. Because of the continuing litigation, that timetable may need to be pushed back.

The plan is expected to cost between $10 and $11 million, half of which is expected to be paid for in low-income housing tax credits and the rest in public sources and philanthropic support, development officials have said.

Originally built as a nursing home in the 1960s, the existing building at 461 Walnut Ave. most recently housed the health care for the homeless nonprofit’s inpatient medical respite program, the Barbara McInnis House. After 15 years, the program moved from Jamaica Plain in summer 2008 to an expanded, state-of-the-art headquarters at Jean Yawkey Place in the South End.

The residents who filed the lawsuit were Walter S. Pollard, Jr., Kingsford R. Swan, Catherine M. Fitzgibbon Pollard, David Nagle, Siana LaForest, Jason Heinbeck, Stephanie Heinbeck, Luis Prado, Alex Rhem, Kristen Patzer and Judy Sullivan.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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