Centre Street in JP won't get second hole in the ground next to the first one, at least not for awhile

Centre Street house saved for now

The house that would go away. Hole in the ground starts beyond the Jersey barriers to its right.

The Zoning Board of Appeals yesterday rejected plans by a Centre Street landlord to replace a three-unit house at 628-630A Centre Street with a new building with two commercial spaces and eight tiny two-bedroom apartments.

The house is next to a hole in the ground where a similar structure is supposed to go up, next to the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center.

Board member Anthony Pisani, an architect, led the opposition to Kenneth Zou's three-story proposal after board Chairwoman Christine Araujo expressed surprise that Kenneth Zou was proposing two-bedroom units of between 666 and 777 square feet - which is more commonly a size for large studios. "Does that make sense, Mr. Pisani?" she asked.

"No, it doesn't," Pisani said. "It's ridiculous. This has a feeling of inappropriateness."

After representatives from the mayor's office and City Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury) voiced support for the proposal, Pisani moved to deny permission. He said he was also concerned the proposal was "completely out of context" with the surrounding neighborhood, even though the hole next door could eventually become a similar building - designed by the same architect - with more residential units, all, however, larger than in Zou's proposal.

Araujo expressed context concern as well, pointing to a similar structure now going up a couple blocks away on Burroughs Street - although she said in that case, the city was able to resolve issues through a BPDA review of the building's design.

"That is just completely out of context, too, so that is like a warning to us," she told Zou.

The board then voted to reject his proposal, but without prejudice, which means he can come back with another proposal for the site.

Nobody rose to speak against the proposal.

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Comments

What the heck is going on

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What the heck is going on with that aforementioned hole in the ground(632-638 Centre Steet owned by GCB Realty)? The construction crew stole half the width of the sidewalk and has not done construction in months. Good luck getting a wheelchair or stroller through there on the busiest street in JP. There are plants growing in the lot because it hasn't been touched in so long. When I've complained to 311 about them stealing the sidewalk it has fallen on deaf ears.

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Voting is closed. 31

usually these 'holes' show up

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usually these 'holes' show up in a bad economy...perhaps this is a harbinger? Remember Filene's and Joslin?

there's another on Centre near John Eliot Sq that is like a cliff !

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The developer is holding the

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The developer is holding the site hostage, refusing to continue building until they are given the green light for an additional story (3 instead of their approved 2). It is negatively impacting the residents and businesses on the two side streets it straddles.
That the city won't make them build, sell the plot, or at the very absolute least free up the sidewalk is criminal.
Can developers be fined for leaving a gaping chasm in a neighborhood for an unreasonable amount of time?

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Voting is closed. 21

Public Works

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Public Works is supposed to be fining them $200 per day for occupying the sidewalk without a permit. They wrote one $50 ticket and haven't been back. Call Matt O'Malley's office and Marty's neighborhood liaison.

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What about the old gas

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What about the old gas station on the north side. How long do we have to put up with that eyesore when there is an urgent need for more housing?

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We used to smoke crack in

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We used to smoke crack in that garage back in the 1980s when we worked there. The old payphone (you can still see the frame of it) was used to make the calls. Oh those wild days of 1980s JP !!

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VIA SALVAJE

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THAAANK YOU BRO

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I bet you were in my house

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I bet you were in my house smoking crack as well. Funny now....not so funny then.

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Mike? Is that you? It's

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Mike? Is that you? It's Greg! Can't believe we're still alive.

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We're going to have to wait

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We're going to have to wait until someone wants to cough up all the cash needed to clean the contaminants out of the ground before they can consider building something.

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Wtf

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This city is absolutely screwed from a housing perspective if the Zoning Board is going to start making NIMBY arguments about alleged “neighborhood character” against dense housing on main streets that don’t even face abutter opposition.

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"Thing?"

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Th "thing" on Burroughs Street is a beautifully designed building with two small retail outlets that will house local small businesses and six relatively affordable, modest, two-bedroom condos (it is 2018-2019 folks); it's replacing a garage and a demolition business long an incompatible eyesore in JP center. A welcome addition IMHO (and I've lived in JP since 1992).

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Adam showing his NIMBY

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Adam showing his NIMBY sympathies by calling this proposal another hole in the ground instead of the housing it'd actually be and then calling the new housing nearby a "thing"

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Hahaha

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I don't live anywhere near the site, so it makes me no never mind what gets built there.

I do, however, occasionally patronize some of the businesses on the street (I really should get a JP Licks cow card) and drive down the street on my way somewhere else, and so I've noticed that there's been this funsize Filene's Hole for months and months. And it's right next to the site of this proposed new building. THAT's why a made a reference to a second hole.

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That building (at 7 Burroughs

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That building (at 7 Burroughs) is being built "as of right" (if you can believe it) and so it didn't require any ZBA approval.

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"neighborhood character"

This is simply code for "please freeze the demographics of our urban neighborhood".

From a "follow the money" perspective, it makes little sense. I can see seniors living in run-down homes with paid-off mortgages not wanting their property taxes to go up, but is that special interest really dictating building policy in JP?

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Hold on a sec ...

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Nobody from the neighborhood attended the meeting to oppose this. In fact, the mayor's neighborhood liaison said the guy met with both abutters and the JP Neighborhood Council and she didn't hear of any complaints (and the liaisons usually will mention those, and if there are a ton of them, at least on small projects like this, the mayor's office will oppose the project). So your ire needs to be focused on the zoning board, not JP NIMBYs.

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I lived in a 677 square foot

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I lived in a 677 square foot 2 bedroom in Somerville for several years. Owing at least in part to the small amount of furniture that my roommate, girlfriend (now wife), and I owned at the time, it felt downright spacious. Yes, it is small by the standards of what is often being proposed these days, and certainly small by the standards of many JP homes, but it's certainly not unheard of in the western world.

I just don't understand why the ZBA is even weighing in on this. If people don't want these units because they are too small, how is that anyone's problem but the developer? This actually seems like the perfect thing for a modest-income family with a kid, or a couple that wants an extra bedroom/office. Not everyone needs 1,000 square feet to live comfortably.

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750 sq ft 2 beds all over

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750 sq ft 2 beds all over Boston, they sell for 275K-350k nice for starters. Somebody needs to look at the zba members " interests". Some people might call it extortion.

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"Tiny"

"eight tiny two-bedroom apartments."

Calling them tiny is a bit of a stretch. The one-bedroom apartment I rent is 700 sq. ft., has two floors, and 1.5 bathrooms. It's more than enough space for two people, and is still comfortable with guests on our pullout couch.

Sure it's nowhere near the size of an average single-family home (2,600+ sq. ft.!?), but not all people need (or want) that space. I for one don't envy their heating bills.

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sorry

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Sorry but I also work in architecture, and for new units that are not specifically approved and marketed as "micro-units" then 700 sq. ft. really is tiny for a 2-bed unit.

Micro-units going up around the city are generally 350 sq. ft, so yes these are absolutely tiny, and for reference the code minimum dwelling unit size used to be 450 sq. ft before the restrictions were loosened for micro-units.

This is also an area with larger single and multi-family homes, not the North End, which is much more dense, and an area in which units of this size would make more sense.

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Know what?

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I grew up in a 3br mobile home with less than 700 square feet.

My husband grew up in the first floor of a two family home which had about 750 square feet if you included the glassed in porch where his parents slept. He and his brother had the bedroom and his sister slept on the couch.

I'm sorry - 700 square foot 2 br apartments sound just fine by me. In fact, these used to be considered normal for a family of 4 or five, and there are a lot of them in the Boston area.

Just like our 1344 square foot bungalow is actually quite comfy and large for 4 people.

(swirlygrrl, not logged in)

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whataboutism?

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That's great you and your husband grew up where you did, but it doesn't actually matter. People grow up in all kinds of conditions, including some pretty horrendous slums. That doesn't mean it's okay, or that you should encourage others to do the same.

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Post was on topic

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You simply have no justification for your Texas Sized Apartment fixation.

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I don't think that word means

What you think it does.

It is not "whataboutism" to directly rebut your argument.

Your not wanting to be challenged is not the same as somebody making an off-topic distraction.

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What hux said, in a Boston context

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Boston has a trailer park. This is nowhere near it.

Based on what gets approved by the BPDA and the zoning board these days, yes, 700 square feet for a two-bedroom is small. Yes, people in Hong Kong survive in even smaller units and maybe it's time Boston come into the 21st century or whatever, but until City Hall (i.e., Marty Walsh and the BPDA and maybe the Zoning Commission, which is different from the ZBA) make more of a push for micro units than a few feints towards them in the Seaport (where, surprise, they're not really that much cheaper than "regular" units), this is what the zoning board has to work with - especially in, oh, a part of JP where the units tend to be larger.

Speaking of the zoning board, it's kind of interesting that the size of the units was NOT one of the violations the property owner had to seek a variance for (apologies for not putting that in the original post, it just hit me that the violations had to do with the front-yard dimensions and visibility for drivers at the corner there). Araujo asked Pisani if "design review" (in which BPDA planners meet with the developer's architect) could fix the violations. Pisani said no and the rest of the board (with one exception) agreed.

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This to me is one of the more

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This to me is one of the more backwards things about the ZBA process. One would think that the purpose of a variance-triggered review would be to discuss THE VARIANCES and whether or not they were contextually appropriate. As such I think it would be a completely reasonable requirement that rejection criteria be limited to things directly related to the variances in question. This business where the ZBA can essentially invent new regulations from scratch on the spot because you're asking for a slightly smaller side-yard is absolutely begging for abuse (by which of course I mean corruption).

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In a Boston context?

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There are several 6-8 person extended families in my neighborhood living in 900 sq ft. 3 brs and 700 sq ft 2 brs. that are standard for the area.

Upstairs from me is a 900 sf flat that has an extra br expanded onto the porch and a family with 6 kids.

This is Boston. This is TRADITIONAL Boston.

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I'm not trying to tell people

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I'm not trying to tell people how big their homes need to be because we have zoning laws and building codes that already do that.

If you want to dive into one of your absurdist libertarian rants about "the rule of law" and how bad zoning laws and buildings codes are, and how dare we tell people how big their homes should be, you should probably do a little research into why we have them to begin with.

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Whataboutism

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"I'm not trying to tell people how big their homes need to be because we have zoning laws and building codes that already do that."

Except there are ABSOLUTELY NO ZONING LAWS OR BUILDING CODES that say that these units are too small.

Only YOUR WALLET says they are too small, even if your obsession with excessive space is one more thing ruining the planet.

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Strawman

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Stop using public health as a strawman. 550 square foot 1br or a 700 square foot 2br is pretty standard in the world and isn't squalid unless you have sixteen dogs. A small unit is not slum living.

Didn't your architecture program make you go to Europe? Actually see thing? Or Did U of Okla teach you that everything needed to be a wallmart or a giant boxes?

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It's ordinary for zoning

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It's ordinary for zoning rules to have restrictions on the size of housing units.

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"tiny" cont.

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I like how the BZA gets to define what the market will bear. No one spoke against it, but they think it's too small, so it's too small.

700 SF would be, say, one 10*12 bedroom, one 10*10 bedroom, a 10*20 living/dining room, a 10*8 bathroom, a 10*15 kitchen and a 10*5 foyer.

Sorry, that's too tiny. We'll build a 1200 SF unit with a master bathroom with his and hers sinks and it will cost $3000/mo in rent.

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Top 4 reasons why Anthony

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Top 4 reasons why Anthony “let them eat cake” Pisani needs to be thanked for his service on the ZBA board. I am sure there are more, and you are welcome to help by adding to this list. I am seriously considering starting a petition for his removal.

1 -He is too old (75) and clearly doesn’t understand the 21St century. I don’t’ think that he’s aware that Boston has a housing shortage and acute affordability crisis for instance. He doesn't understand the challenge of finding a place to live for those of us who were born well after the Franklin Roosevelt administration.

2 -For someone who holds so much influence, his architect credentials are -well, just try to look up his website at www.pisani.com and decide for yourself.

3 -He is unable to conceive that plenty of people are, or would be perfectly content to live in something much smaller and less fossil fuel guzzling than his 3065 sqft/$2-million single family house in JP.

4 -In spite of the serious deficiencies mentioned above, he is by far the most influential ZBA board member. In most cases most board members won’t say a word, but more often than not, Pisani, a man with a lot of antiquated notions, is the one with the last word.

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You beat me to it

He owns a house? No wonder he opposes this: It's a threat to his shelter profiteering investment. Pig. His generation is the absolute worst.

What happened to the Herald's payroll database? What do we all pay this guy at gunpoint to play God?

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Transparency

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What happened to the Herald's payroll database? What do we all pay this guy at gunpoint to play God?

You don't need the Herald, you can look things up yourself:
https://www.macomptroller.org/cthru

On another note, the ZBA does not have a stipend, which I assume to mean it's a volunteer position.

https://www.boston.gov/departments/inspectional-services/zoning-board-ap...

It appears there are openings, perhaps you want to apply?

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The ZBA memebers do get a

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The ZBA memebers do get a stipend if the go to " meetings'.

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Can you show where/how you know this?

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I can't find it. On the page I linked it says Stipend: $0.00. And I did try other links but I see nothing about an above $0 stipend.

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Correction

Per city of Boston assessing his single family house in JP is only worth $1.1M.

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City of Boston assessments

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City of Boston assessments are notoriously under current market conditions (which, granted, are way out of whack with any kind of fundamental valuation, but still).

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For anyone who would like to

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For anyone who would like to hear this ridiculousness play out in all of its absurdity, here's a link to the hearing starting at the beginning of this project's testimony.

It's interesting to note how throughout the rest of the hearing Araujo is very adamant that public comments be limited to strictly technical terms, a standard that she does not hold herself or her fellow board members to at all when she explains why she doesn't like this project.

It's also quite clear that the original framers of the "neighborhood shopping" subdistrict had something very different in mind than what this ZBA seems to be able to envision.

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eherot, you nailed it. Rules

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eherot, you nailed it. Rules only apply to the ZBA board when it suits its members. And thank you for providing a link to the starting of the case.

Two months ago, with BPDA blessing. the City approved a Compact Housing Pilot program that conditionally allows for housing units with much smaller square footage in any part of the city. Details are available here:
https://www.boston.gov/departments/new-urban-mechanics/housing-innovatio...

There are actually a lot of smart, progressive, dedicated and open minded folks in this administration. But this is all wasted effort if at the end of a long and expensive process a developer gets suddenly stopped by a capricious ZBA member. How often do you find a project like this with no neighborhood opposition? At watching this video, it is quite clear to me that this case would have passed if Pisani had not gone on a tangent and swayed the rest of the board with him with his comment that doesn't even deal with a zoning issue.

Adam, in case you are reading this far, for future cases, could you please indicate the case's starting time as commenter eherot just did? -so one doesn't have to look thru 4 or 5 hours of video? This is a very interesting piece and thank you for reporting on it.

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