JP group sues over S. Huntington project

January 11, 2013
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S. HUNTINGTON—The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) has filed a lawsuit against the City’s zoning approval of a controversial apartment building planned for 161 S. Huntington Ave.

The JPNC is a JP neighborhood group similar to the Community Alliance of Mission Hill. Its lawsuit claims that the developer, Boston Residential Group, failed to present proper evidence of its need for zoning variances, and that the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) acted with “gross negligence, bad faith, or malice” when it approved the variances in November.

“We have appealed the decision of the Zoning Board of Appeal,” said JPNC member Jeffrey Wiesner, who is also an attorney representing the council in the lawsuit.

“We are confident that our zoning decision will be upheld in court,” said Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) spokesperson Susan Elsbree, speaking on behalf of the BRA and the Mayor’s Office. “This $75 million private investment in Jamaica Plain will add new housing opportunities for families, including 30 affordable units, and will add vitality to the area. We hope the lawsuit is expeditiously resolved.”

The developer declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed last month, is already controversial in JP, with some activists saying it is not representative of community opinion.

The lawsuit also likely will face a court battle over “standing,” or legal grounds to sue. The JPNC is an elected neighborhood group, but it is claiming to be a “municipal board” of the City of Boston, which might give it standing. The City denies the JPNC has that status.

“It’s a municipal board. That’s our allegation,” said Wiesner.

“No. The JPNC is not a municipal body of the City,” said John Guilfoil, deputy press secretary for Mayor Thomas Menino, in an email to the Gazette.

Boston Residential Group requested and got variances for lot area, floor-to-area ratio (or density), height and development within a Greenbelt Protection Overlay District at a Nov. 13 ZBA hearing. The JPNC alleges that the developer and the ZBA both ignored the language of the Boston zoning code, which says someone seeking such variances must present evidence of a “substantial hardship” or “practical difficulty” in using the land without the variances. No such evidence was presented or considered at the hearing, the appeal says, adding that there are other ways the developer could have used the land.

The 161 S. Huntington development would demolish the former Home for Little Wanderers complex and erect a 196-unit, high-end apartment building. It has been enormously controversial, with widespread opposition from community groups and an advisory group created by the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

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