Burney St. development continues to draw mixed reaction

July 6, 2018
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The developers of the proposed Laneway project at 9 Burney St. in Mission Hill have completed the additional “pop-up” community outreach events, but the project continues to draw a mixed reaction.

The developers—Mitch Wilson and Russell Preston—are proposing to demolish an existing three-family structure at 11 Burney St. and construct a 27,629-square-foot, four-story building with a recessed fifth floor. The project includes 25 rental units, of which three will be designated as income restricted, with five parking spaces. The project also proposes 1,900 square feet of ground floor restaurant space and a 2,853-square-foot laneway as a public open space for recreational activities, outdoor restaurant seating, and as a pathway through the site.

The local community has had conflicted responses to this development. Much of the opposition are residents who live close to the project and who are mainly concerned about height, density, and traffic. Those in support include the local business community and other residents excited about the creation of new retail space and the no-student policy of the developers.

Dan Vlahos, a designer and long-term resident of Mission Hill on Hillside Street, has publicly commented his support at community meetings and again to the Gazette.

“Since the project was first unveiled they [the developers] have made positive changes to the design,” Vlahos said. “Most noticeably they have further contextualized the scale of the building, bringing it in line with the other structures on Burney Street.”

Vlahos is glad that the building will be deed restricted to prevent rentals to undergraduates, and will instead likely attract workers from Longwood and neighboring institutions.

“Each morning, if one follows Longwood as it enters Brookline, one can observe a “parade” of diverse workers flowing into Longwood, on bike and by foot,” Vlahos said. “It would be nice to have more of that activity along our very own Tremont Street. It would add vitality to the street and contribute to our local business. Also, it’s nice to see so many folks who walk to Longwood not getting in their car to go to work. Thus, I would argue that the Laneway project would create less traffic than the current parking lot does, and I believe the traffic studies generated by the City have confirmed this.”

Vlahos said he did not attend the pop-up events because he was already supportive of the overall design. He said that he respects the design firm that was hired, but suggests that the community develops a transit-oriented master plan soon to guide future development.

Dan Junkins is a neighbor who has expressed his concerns with the project. A resident of Delle Avenue and member of the Delle Avenue Association, Junkins shared with the Gazette his concerns with the project, even after attending two pop-up events. He didn’t feel that the events were very productive.

“I’m aware that the intention of the pop-ups, in my interpretation, was to engage in a conversation, find out the concerns with some of the closer community that live nearby as well as to engage with what they can come up with through dialogue,” Junkins said. “I didn’t have that experience. They were trying to find a way to speak about their project and sell it.”

The main concerns of Junkins and the Delle Avenue Association are height, traffic, and density. This was clearly vocalized at community meetings, said Junkins, and they brought up those concerns at the pop-up events as well.

“The architecture of the community that you don’t see any other buildings above three stories – the top point is the Basilica,” Junkins said, clarifying that he was speaking only on his behalf, not necessarily the whole Delle Avenue Association. “Why is this building going to be granted status of second highest building on Tremont? I think it doesn’t fit.”

Junkins said that he felt that the developers heard what he was trying to say, but “kept trying to turn the conversation back to how great they thought the project was.”

After the first pop-up event, Junkins said that he discussed his new concern with the developers at the second pop-up: that his voice wasn’t actually being heard. The response of the developers is that if they make concessions on one issue, that the community will “jump on another issue and demand more,” Junkins said.

The Delle Avenue Association is in communication with the developers to plan an informal gathering in order to discuss their concerns again.

Developers Wilson and Preston did not respond to a Gazette request to comment.