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Neighbors voice support for proposed 13-story, 195-unit apartment building in Jamaica Plain

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  June 11, 2013 11:46 AM

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105A South Huntington Ave - South on South Huntington.jpg

(Prellwitz/Chilinski Associates)

A rendering of the proposed building along S. Huntington Ave.

Most residents and business owners at a meeting Monday night expressed support for a proposal to build a 13-story building with 195 apartments and ground-floor retail space on a wooded lot on South Huntington Avenue in Jamaica Plain.

The developer hopes to clear a major hurdle in the city approval process Thursday night, when the proposal will be voted on by the Boston Redevelopment Authority board.

Cedar Valley Development, LLC, which is based in Mission Hill, first proposed developing 105A S. Huntington Ave about a year ago. Since then, the company has been working with designers from the Boston Redevelopment Authority to draft its latest plans for the 1.1-acre site.

Last month, the city redevelopment authority approved guidelines for future development for the entire three-quarter mile length of South Huntington Avenue.

The guidelines were drafted during a four-month study of the S. Huntington corridor. The city launched the study late last year in response to concern from residents over a series of recent real estate- and construction-related changes and more expected in the near future, including the 105A proposal, which was first announced last spring.

But on Monday night at a meeting inside the James W. Hennigan Elementary School, few neighbors said they were concerned about the latest plans for the project.

The building would measure 214,000 square feet with about 1,860 square feet of ground-floor retail space, officials said.

There would be a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units. The plans call for 32 units to be designated as affordable housing and the other 163 units will be sold at market-rate, the development team said.

The developer envisions the retail space would be used by a café or similar business that would use some of an outdoor plaza area in front of the building.

An MBTA bus stop just south of the site would be located about 50 feet north so it would sit in front of the building’s more open sidewalk and front plaza area, which officials said would improve accessibility to the bus stop particularly for people with disabilities.

The first five stories of the building form a wide base and are wrapped in a brick façade. Rising from the sixth floor is a narrower tower that is lined with metal panels and curved slightly to match the curvature of the roadway that runs along the back end of the building, the Jamaicaway, officials said.

There would be no vehicular access to the site from the Jamaicaway, but gated pedestrian paths for tenants would allow access there, officials said.

The plan calls for a driveway between the new building and an existing hotel next door. The driveway would allow vehicles to enter and exit a parking garage, tucked behind the front and below the building, which will have about .75 parking spaces per unit, or nearly 150 spots altogether, officials said.

There would be one bike parking space for every unit as well as parking spaces for ZipCar and an electric car charging station.

Some mature trees on the back end of the site will be preserved, while others that are dead or considered to be invasive species will be removed. About 90 new trees will be planted throughout the site, officials said.

The building would also feature an interior courtyard area for tenants. Several stories up there would be a balcony on the front of the building and another on the back, which would be shared by tenants.

The developer hopes to start construction in early 2014 and finish within one-and-a-half to two years.

Construction would initially be staged on the site and on the street just in front of the site before crews would eventually create a space on the site that would be used as a working platform, officials said.

An estimated 250 construction jobs would be created to build the project.

The city’s recently-approved guidelines for S. Huntington development designate the site at 105A as one of four “special height zones” where “heights above and beyond typical precinct heights may be appropriate.”

Those heights are not specified. Instead, the guidelines recommend that the height maximum be determined as projects are proposed and reviewed within each of the four areas.

The guidelines also say that along with the standard level of mitigation measures required from developers, the city will seek “exceptional public benefits, which are above and beyond typical mitigation measures” for projects along S. Huntington that would exceed certain zoning rules and guidelines for development height, density and footprint.

The developer of the 105A site said its proposal includes several public benefits: affordable housing above the level the city requires; public realm improvements, including larger sidewalks and moving the bus stop; and the developer also plans to give an unspecified amount of money to the city to invest in transportation improvements in the S. Huntington Ave. corridor.

Dermot Doyne, president of Mission Hill Main Streets and owner of Penguin Pizza, called the proposal “brilliant” and is excited to see something built on the long-vacant, wooded lot.

“It’s been an urban wasteland for the past 90 years,” he said.

Applause followed Doyne’s comments and remarks from most others who spoke in favor of the proposal.

A few who spoke said they felt the project was too big and worried about traffic impacts.

Kevin Moloney, a Jamaica Plain resident and board member of the Jamaica Pond Association, said the project had too many units and also said the city redevelopment authority should have scheduled more time between Monday’s meeting and the authority board’s vote scheduled for Thursday night.

The developer paid the state $1.5 million for the property in September 2005, public records show. The property is assessed by the city at about $1 million. The land sits near the MBTA Green Line E branch’s Heath Street terminus.

Several hundred feet from 105A S. Huntington is 161 S. Huntington, where another developer received city approval in November to demolish a 98-year-old special education school building and construct a residential building with about 196 units and around 156 parking spaces. The Home for Little Wanderers, which operated its well-known Knight Children’s Center on that 3.5-acre property, recently relocated some programming and services from the center to a larger campus it owns in Walpole.

In December, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council filed a lawsuit against the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals and the project’s developer in an attempt to overturn the board’s approval of the plans. The case was dismissed on May 17, online court records show.

At 201 South Huntington, next door to the former Little Wanderers site, sits an 85-year-old building that housed the Goddard House nursing home until early September when it abruptly closed. Goddard’s nonprofit board put the two-acre property on the market in March. Some expect it will be redeveloped.

Across the street at 150 S. Huntington, a five-story, 500-space parking garage is under construction on the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus.

At 81 South Huntington, a 39-room boutique hotel opened last summer abutting 105A S. Huntington. Construction of that building began about two years before at the site of the former Pond View Nursing Home, which closed in 2008, according to the Jamaica Plain Gazette.

At 125 South Huntington is the 47,000 square-foot AstraZeneca Hope Lodge Center, which opened in fall 2008. The facility offers free temporary homes in 40 suites to cancer patients and their families. It is directly south of the North American Indian Center of Boston, which is abutted to the north by 105A.

And, about a half-mile away, the redevelopment of the former Blessed Sacrament church campus on Centre Street has drawn criticism recently because revised proposals would build a higher mix of market-rate housing than originally planned for the site.

Some residents have said they are wary of significant development proposed, underway and recently completed along South Huntington near where Jamaica Plain and Mission Hill meet. Most opposition to the projects has come from Jamaica Plain residents, while most support has come from residents of Mission Hill.

Residents of Jamaica Plain have clashed in recent years over concerns about gentrification in the neighborhood.

For more details on the S. Huntington Ave. corridor study’s dimension-related guidelines for new development and for background on recent and ongoing development along the S. Huntington corridor, click here.

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