Local businesses support Burney St. dev., some residents raise objections

March 2, 2018
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The local business community came out to support the proposed mixed-use development at 9 Burney St., citing a boost to the local economy, during a community meeting Feb. 12. But some residents opposed the project, pointing to having retail space in a residential zone and the development’s projected height.

The project, which is called “The Laneway Project and is currently in the Article 80 review process, is being developed by New Urban Partners, Utile, and Principle Group. The project had initially been presented to the community prior to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Feb. 12 meeting, so the developers had a chance to regroup and present answers to the most prevailing questions the community had before. These questions involved zoning and variances, details about the residential units, how the project would affect traffic in the area, and what sort of retail space would go in. About 40 people attended the meeting at the Tobin Community Center.

“Our team is grateful to all the folks who came from the neighborhood to voice their support,” said Mitch Wilson of New Urban Partners after the meeting. “We’ve been working with the community for a long time and feel the discussion generally revolved around people’s excitement for the Laneway and the vitality it will bring to the retail core. We have given a great amount of thought and care to the design of this project and the benefits it can provide to the community.”

The existing site for 9-11 Burney St. is a parking lot and a three-family triple decker. The triple decker would have to be demolished for a new six-story, 27,779-square-foot

building with 31 residential units. The units would be studios, one-bedrooms, and two-bedrooms. Four units would be affordable at 70 percent Area Median Income (AMI), which means rent would be $1,086 for a studio, $1,267 for a one-bedroom, and $1,448 for a two-bedroom. There would also be a 1,800-square-foot retail space, which developers have indicated may be a restaurant.

A defining feature of the development is the “laneway,” which will be a public alley space that will include public seating and lawn games. The space would be various widths, as narrow as 18 feet and as wide as 30 feet in other locations. The retail space will be able to use this space for outdoor seating, but residents would be able to use the space any time without having to interact with the retailer. The retailer would also enter lease agreements with conditions about how to manage the outdoor space. The laneway idea was inspired by a similar laneway near Sophia’s Grotto in Roslindale. Russ Preston of Principle Group said that the laneway is intended to supplement existing parks and public spaces in the neighborhood.

Dermot Doyne, the owner of Penguin Pizza, spoke in support of the project.

“I think this is a positive contribution to the neighborhood,” Doyne said. “They’re doing something constructive by taking the trash indoors. We live in a world of evolution were things change, and it’s another decade.”

Doyne felt that the project would bring new residents to the neighborhood, and therefore more business to the local businesses. Other local business owners expressed their support for the project, including Michel Soltani, owner of the Mission Bar and Grill.

The developers have discussed the new retail space with David Cawley, the owner of Milkweed, who may rent out the space for a restaurant. Cawley spoke in support for the project, especially regarding the trash being taken indoors.

“For us [in the restaurant industry], it’s extremely appealing to have an indoor trash room available to us,” Cawley said.

In opposition, a resident of Worthington Street felt that the zoning variance should not be granted for a retail space to be on Burney Street and was concerned about “the creep of commercial spaces into the neighborhood.” He was in support of more businesses in general, but not on side streets. Other residents felt that if a retail space was approved for a residential neighborhood, it would be an encroachment into a residential area that abutters are trying to preserve.

Other residents who were not in support of the building cited reasons like height. One resident said, “It’s wonderful if you’re in a penthouse at the top floor so you can look down at all of us. But it’s not wonderful for all of us who live here, who are losing our view.”

Another resident was wary about the indoor trash room, saying that she was not sure if the businesses would in fact bring the trash to that room, since it would be a further location from where the trash is stored now.

In terms of zoning, Wilson said that the project will need five variances for sure, and two are to be decided. The situation is confusing to begin with because the site would straddle two different zoning conditions by combining lots.   The new site would take the residential lot, the parking lot, and some land from the backs of the abutting properties on Tremont Street, which New Urban Partners also owns and manages. The variances required involve floor area ratio, height, and rear setback.

At a previous meeting, some residents asked if the residential development could be condos in order to increase home ownership in the neighborhood. Wilson said that the project will not be a condo project, pointing towards data that said that condo turnover in the city is at an average of about six years. He said that he believes that the renting tenants will stay for a long time, referencing Clutchworks, another residential development he was involved in. Wilson said that many of the tenants there had been there for a long time, but one resident pointed out that the building hadn’t even been online for two years yet.

Wilson also stated that undergraduate students will not be allowed to rent an apartment at the building, quelling a common neighborhood complaint.

Residents wanted to know if the development would allow corporate rentals in the space, as opposed to long-term residential tenants.

“We believe that too many corporate users do not help strengthen the neighborhood,” Wilson said.  “Our team supports Mayor Walsh’s proposal for restricting these uses through his proposed ordinance. We have already taken great steps to ensure that any short-term stays are reduced at our current properties. This helps secure local, long-term tenants for the neighborhood. Corporate users are not a necessity for this project’s vitality. We currently do not have any plans to lease to corporate users.”

But, he added, the project will allow no more than six corporate rentals for the first two years, and no more than three units thereafter.

The project will have space for six garage parking spaces. Some residents asked why only six, and the developers said that it is to maintain the transit-oriented nature of the neighborhood and to keep traffic down. There will also be a ventilated indoor trash room for the residents, residential tenants, and surrounding buildings on Tremont St. to keep their trash inside.

The three-family building to be demolished is older than 50 years, so the project will also have to undergo Article 85 review process. There will be a public hearing, most likely in March, to hear about the historical aspect of the building to be demolished.

The Boston Landmarks Commission is City’s historic preservation agency. The Landmark’s Commission will have design review powers, and it’s possible the Landmarks Commission will issue a 90-day demolition delay to the project. The building used to be the home of the Tobin family.

The developers may review the design of the proposal based on the feedback from the public meeting.

“We are continuing to spend time with our neighbors, gaining their insight on how the Laneway can become a great asset for Mission Hill,” Wilson said. “Taking into account all the comments received, we will continue to improve the design of the project to benefit all those who use and experience the Laneway. The community’s input is an important step in the process of implementing this new space.”

The BPDA public comment period for this project ended on Feb. 16.