Some residents continue to oppose Burney Street project

April 6, 2018
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A group of Mission Hill residents are continuing to raise concerns over the 9-11 Burney St. project, citing issues such as the development’s height, it setting a precedent that will allow other developers to build similar projects, and the encroachment of the business sector into a residential area.

But the developers for the project, Mitch Wilson and Russell Preston, are saying that the building’s proposed height is consistent with other buildings in the area, that the project will enhance the character of the neighborhood, and that many residents have voiced support for it during the community process.

The project, which is called “The Laneway Project,” is currently in the Article 80 review process through the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). It is being developed by New Urban Partners, Utile, and Principle Group. 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.

A group recently sent a letter to the editor to the Gazette raising concerns about the project, many of which have been voiced at previous community meetings. The letter was signed by Jim Farrow, Daniel Junkins, Jana Scholten, Jeannine Barry, Ellen Moore, Martin Beinborn, Alison Pultinas, Walter Crump, Shahla Crump, Mary Ann Nelson, Gary Walling, Cindy Walling, Elizabeth Whitin, Itsuo Kiritani, Betty Commerford, Jack Vaughan, Jim Laughlin, and Charles Carew.

“We stand with neighbors and abutters in opposing an oversized development at 9-11 Burney Street. We ask the BPDA to prevent this concerning precedent, thereby protecting the residential neighborhoods in Mission Hill,” the letter states.

The letter states four main objections to the project:

  • “The proposed 6-story building will dwarf existing homes on Burney St., with a height that is almost twice the allowable limit by zoning code.
  • A precedent will be set by inserting a business facility in a protected residential area.
  • A quiet side street will be congested by street parking and ride-hailing business and private car traffic.
  • This project will open the floodgates for other developers to take over Burney St., resulting in large buildings, excessive density, and loss of residential character.”

Other issues mentioned in the letter is that the development would have rental units instead of home-ownership opportunities that would attract long-term community stakeholders, and that the developers claim that the project cannot be built according to the zoning code and be economically feasible, but have not provided financial numbers to back that up.

When the Gazette approached the developers about the aforementioned concerns, Preston and Wilson responded in an email with joint answers.

Asked about the building’s height and the group saying it is not aligned with the three-story flavor on Burney Street, the developers responded that the area has a variety of architectural styles as well as heights of buildings, both new and historic structures that are as tall as 5 stories” and that they have put together the “best possible project for the site.”

“We pulled the top story significantly back from the edge of the build to reduce its visibility from the surrounding areas to address concerns about height. We have also approached the site design in a unique way, with the creation of the Laneway, so that we are able to reduce the overall height of the building to be consistent with what is found in the neighborhood,” said the developers.

Asked about concern the retail portion of the project encroaching upon a residential area, the developers replied, “The Laneway was conceived of as a solution to a number of concerns that we heard from local merchants and has been planned to help the existing retail on Tremont Street continue to thrive. This portion of Tremont Street has long struggled to attract neighborhood-friendly businesses that can help to enhance the public life and vibrancy as well as improve public safety by creating active ground floor uses. In the last 18 months, we have been able to attract 5 new business to the neighborhood in part due to the contextually-sensitive projects that have helped fill in the ‘missing teeth’ along Tremont Street.

“The Laneway Project has been designed to further enhance our neighborhood’s character by creating a destination that can add to the current network of public spaces as well as provide an amenity to  both existing and new businesses. We expect the businesses in our community will continue to grow and prosper with the Laneway, as will the neighborhood as a whole. It is our hope that the community will come to regard the Laneway as an asset to the preservation of existing character. A portion of the project, including most of the retail space, is located in the Neighborhood Shopping district zoning which allows and encourages ground floor retail. We have heard from many neighbors in the community who support the creative solution proposed for this challenging site.”

Asked about concern over traffic and parking, the developers said that the area is next to one of the largest employment areas in the state (Longwood Medical Area) and that that will cause traffic to continue to be a problem in the area. They said that better transportation options need to be created.

“We do not want to induce any more car ownership in the neighborhood by providing too much parking, something this building has been carefully designed to prevent. We are removing an existing 19 space parking lot and replacing it with 6 spaces in a covered garage within the new building,” they said.

The developers also said that a traffic study for the project concluded that it is not expected to generate “a substantial number of new vehicle trips” due to its transit-oriented nature.

Asked about concern about the development having rental units, they replied, “Mission Hill does not have a robust condominium market. The development and construction costs are high while condo sales are too low relative to those costs. The financial equation just does not work yet for new construction at the scale and character of the Laneway project. As demonstrated from our previous buildings along Tremont Street, we are committed to delivering a high-quality building that will last for generations. We think this commitment is good for the neighborhood and for the long-term resiliency of the community.”

To the comment on it not being economically feasible to build an as-of-right development, the developers said, “If we were able to plan a project that conformed to zoning the project would not create the Laneway, would not produce affordable housing, would not give community benefits to local organizations, and supply far less housing than we feel is needed, especially in such close proximity to the Orange and Green line subway stations. We have planned a project that accomplishes more for the community than the by-right zoning would produce and we have heard from many residents that they are excited about all of the benefits this project will create.”

To concerns over the project setting a precedent for other developers to build similar projects, they said, “As long-term owners and stakeholders focused on the continued improvement of the neighborhood, we have worked tirelessly to protect Mission Hill’s character. We strive to make sure the design and character of our projects, as well as retail tenants we bring into the neighborhood, continue to support what makes the neighborhood special. The Laneway Project is no different.

“Boston has a unique process for reviewing proposed development, Article 80. It is focused on making sure a project is appropriate for its proposed site and neighborhood. We have been required for all of the buildings we’ve developed along Tremont Street to go through this process, which requires significant review and oversight over each specific project, the benefits it conveys and the overall community input to determine whether an appropriate design is being proposed. In our experience, references to other projects is not a variable that the City is concerned with when a small or large project comes before them in the Article 80 process.”

 

 

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