S. Huntington Ave. project draws praise, concerns

August 10, 2012
By

S. HUNTINGTON—A plan for luxury apartments and retail space in a 130-foot-tall building at 105A S. Huntington Ave., named “The Serenity,” was filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) last month, just after the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) had its first meeting.

A community meeting followed on July 31 at Back of the Hill Apartments, where the developer was praised for the project and his local ties. But concerns about the expected high rents, the “ugly” design of the building and loss of trees were expressed.

The 195 luxury rental units in the multi-building development would include townhouses and apartment buildings of one-, two- and three-bedroom units targeted at graduate students and families. The project would also include 26 affordable units, 1,600 square feet of ground-floor retail space and 176 parking spaces in an underground garage.

While there were many concerns, most in the 50-person crowd reacted favorably to the project.

“We need to fill those gaps” between Hyde Square and S. Huntington Avenue, Michel Soltani, owner of the Mission Bar & Grill, said. “I think it’s a beautiful project. After it’s done, everyone will love it.”

The fact that there are other parcels for sale or already under development in the vicinity were brought up at both meetings.

“It calls for the BRA to have some kind of master plan for the area,” IAG member John Iappini told the Gazette, a thought echoed by attendees at the community meeting.

An IAG is a city-appointed group of residents and other stakeholders that advise the city on potential impacts of building projects.

BRA representative John Fitzgerald stated at the community meeting that he doesn’t think there will be a master plan for the area. It would take two years to develop one, he said, during which time developments in the area would need to be halted.

Developer Anthony Nader said that the luxury units, expected to rent for more than $2,000 for a one-bedroom, will reduce housing pressure in the neighborhood.

“This drives up the price of housing and will drive out the people who live next to you. The last thing we need is another luxury apartment building,” Jamaica Plain resident Adam Sandofsky said at the community meeting. “Within 10 to 15 years you will not be able to live here.”

Many residents, however, were supportive of the project and of the Nader family’s presence in the Mission Hill community. The family owns 11 small buildings in Mission Hill and Nader has worked in the neighborhood for 25 years, he told the Gazette.

“That space is not doing anything for the community. Something needs to be put there,” as long as it’s not a retail chain, Mission Hill Main Streets board member Toni Komst said.

“We don’t need the retail. We want it to serve the people here,” Nader said at the meeting. “We want to support local businesses.”

“The developers want to have a good project that everyone is happy with,” Iappini told the Gazette, though he mentioned the height of the proposed building as a concern.

The fact that the developers plan to charge renters for use of the proposed 176 parking spaces also concerned Iappini.

The project will also likely require zoning relief. Variances are expected for the height of the building, the lack of a front yard and unit density. Due to a technicality concerning the steep incline of the property, some of the ground-level units are officially classified as basement units, which also require relief. Another variance might be needed depending on the occupants of the ground-floor retail space and other potential accessory services.

The developer stated at the community meeting that many of the trees currently on the property will be removed and that many of them are non-native or unhealthy plants. Some of the trees will be replaced by native flowering trees, the developer said.

Some residents also did not like the facade of the building, calling it “ugly” and “hulking.”

“It looks like a shoebox sitting on a grand piano,” Rosemary Jones, a Mission Hill resident, said of the building’s design.

Nader filed the required project notification form (PNF) with the BRA on July 12.

Cedar Valley Development, managed by Nader, purchased the 1.1-acre parcel at 105A S. Huntington Ave. from the state in 2005, amid controversy. The site had been used by North American Indian Center of Boston (NAICOB) since the 1970s.

Comments about the project can be sent to the BRA at john.fitzgerald.bra@cityofboston.gov through Aug. 13.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *