Tuesday's ZBA vote to reject a Centre Street proposal with two-bedroom units as small as 667 square feet didn't just come out of thin air: The BPDA, which sets so many of the requirements and guidelines related to development in Boston, says those are simply too small for new apartments and condos in the city.
The zoning board also took into consideration how Kenneth Zou's building would - or wouldn't - fit in with the existing building neighborhood that surrounds it.
Current BPDA guidelines call for two-bedroom units in outer neighborhoods such as Jamaica Plain to have at least 900 square feet of space - with 750 square feet the minimum size for one-bedroom units and 500 for studios. The largest of the units landlord Kenneth Zou proposed for his building was 777 square feet - which is why board Chairwoman Christine Araujo expressed surprise at the hearing when Zou said all his units would have two bedrooms and not be studios.
Developers of "transit-oriented" projects get some leeway on unit sizes, but even then, Zou's proposed units, which would sit on the route of the 39 bus, would be too small. In "transit-oriented" buildings, the BPDA wants to see two-bedroom units of at least 850 square feet.
The proposal - eight apartments atop two commercial spaces - was too small for formal review by the BPDA, which only takes a detailed look at proposals with more than 15 units. But the zoning board has long used its unit sizes as a guideline in its hearings.
Even with smaller projects such as this, the BPDA typically gives a more informal "design review" at the request of the zoning board, which also became part of the reason the zoning board rejected this proposal.
Board member Anthony Pisani, who moved to deny approval based in part on the size of the units, also moved to reject the project because he did not feel BPDA review would do anything about the project fitting into the neighborhood "context" - it called for a building that would take up too much of its parcel and possibly block visibility for some motorists taking a turn there, and looks like yet another one of those blocky cube-things sprouting all over the city, in a part of Jamaica Plain more noted for its tree-lined streets and Victorians and other older homes.
Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo pointed to a building now going up at 7 Burroughs St., just off Centre Street, as an example of what the board is trying to avoid in this specific area.
"That is just completely out of context, too, so that is like a warning to us," she told Zou about the Burroughs Street building, which, while just around the corner from the commercial part of Centre Street, is also on a tree-lined street full of large single-family homes, the impact on which the board had hoped BPDA "design review" would lessen.
The board rejected Zou's proposal "without prejudice," which means he can come back with new plans that would meet the board objections.
Architect's rendering of Burroughs Street building, now nearing completion: