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Board rejects six-condo building overlooking the Orange Line in JP as too dense

Rejected building on Everett Street in Jamaica Plain

Board to developer: Come back with something less dense than this.

The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposed six-unit condo building on Everett Street in Jamaica Plain as too dense for a neighborhood zoned for no more than three-unit buildings.

The board's rejection of developer Eric DiNicola's Queen Anne-style proposal for 12 Everett St. was "without prejudice," which means he can submit new, smaller plans for the site within a year.

His attorney, Mike Ross, said DiNicola could probably build three, $2-million units without needing zoning-board approval on the "porkchop" lot that has relatively narrow frontage on Everett but which opens up into a larger space along the Southwest Corridor near the Green Street Orange Line station.

Even though she agreed the proposal was too large, board Chairwoman Christine Araujo cut off a resident of 16 Everett St. who was trying to raise similar concerns - as well as stating DiNicola had failed to prove any hardship - because that relatively new building went up only with similar variances. The resident said she was not around when her building won its variances.

Another resident of Everett Street, but in a different building, said he supported 16 Everett because it included construction of eight affordable units on another lot down the street, but that the 12 Everett St. proposal had no such affordable component.

Another Everett Street resident did support DiNicola's proposal, saying it would help bring back the sort of density the neighborhood needs to thrive.

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Can't they just build two 3-unit buildings instead?

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Voting closed 21

The developer started off with "we want to build NINE units but will settle for EIGHT" Eventually came down to 7 but even then said it is getting to the point of not being economically feasible....

If you can't make $ on the number of units it is zoned for then you paid too much for the lot....

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Voting closed 32

Eric DiNicola from Tewksbury (Alterac Valley LLC, offices at beautiful 853 Main Street in downtown Tewksbury) absolutely did pay way too much for that lot. He also bought the old two-family house next to said lot at 8 Everett and renovated it in about 6 months. One of the condos is now on the market for $1,275,000 - right as the condo market has completely started to soften. "Poor guy". The stupid porkchop lot next to it was for sale separately for a ton of money, and he should not have bought it. The City never approves porkchop lots and he should have known the residents at 16 would complain. They just got there! They don't want neighbors. I'm all about density near transit, but it would be nice to have some housing that's more affordable, and I don't mean deed-restricted, but come on. Even we have trouble affording a $1,275,000 home and we are a $300,000+ annual income family. https://www.zillow.com/b/8-everett-st-jamaica-plain-ma-96Cw89/

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Voting closed 21

That came up in the hearing - it sounded like the board hates the idea of developers carving out pork-chop lots to try to squeeze more units onto an overall piece of land, but that this wasn't an issue here because DiNicola said the lot was like that when he bought it, rather than something he was trying to create. They asked him about it a couple of times, just to make sure.

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Thanks for that context, Adam. Looking to do a "first project" in JP after living here 15 years, we thought about buying the 2-family house and adjacent lot but could not pull off a $3MM balloon mortgage. We also heard that the family was still "emotionally attached" to the property (i.e., you're not getting any deals there so don't even try...). The house was being advertised for $1.5MM, the land was an additional $1.5MM. Not sure what they sold for ultimately, but could find out from the Registry of Deeds. We knew the politics around developing the odd-shaped lot. I don't have a lot of sympathy for a guy from Tewksbury who doesn't do his homework, overpays for an abnormally sized lot, and will likely put more out-of-reach condos there. And believe me, the condos at 8 Everett Street are gorgeous; just out of reach for many of us.

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Voting closed 14

This complaint contradicts itself. If a developer pays X for a property, and then carves it up into 9 separate units, that means each of those units ends up being proportionally smaller, with smaller access to open space and more sharing of every amenity, thus a lower final price tag. The fewer units get built, the more expensive every unit ends up being. If you don't like how expensive the condos are around here, show up and advocate for the larger number of units to be built. And of course we must consider that 0 units (what we would likely get with no variances) means it's not accessible to anyone at all.

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"I'm all about density near transit, but it would be nice to have some housing that's more affordable"

You get that by building more.

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Voting closed 29

I've worked with Eric and his colleagues before and I can almost certainly tell you he doesn't make anywhere close to 300k a year like your family, if money is your biggest issue here, which I don't understand how that is relevant to a zoning decision? You think he sells a unit for 1.2M and just gets all that 1.2M in cash? So it was free to build and the land free to purchase? And no interest paid on mortgages he has? Again, I am not sure why someone else money is relevant to a ZBA decision on density, nor why you would post this guy's address? Very strange reply by you, I must say. Sounds a bit unhinged.

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Then maybe it isn't zoned for enough units?

I was pretty surprised the board rejected this one. Most of the opposition seemed to come from people in the similarly not as-of-right 16 Everett which is definitely not hypocritical, no not at all.

If the board can't be trusted to approve reasonable development near the T, then maybe we need to upzone more of Boston so the board doesn't get a say.

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Voting closed 21

The board is not legally authorized to grant variances unless the request for a variance satisfies the test of Chapter 40A of the Mass. General Laws. The board is stepping way outside of its legal authority when it substitutes its own judgment as to whether or not the project is a good idea, for what the law allows.

If you think that the zoning rules are too strict and that they should be loosened in order to promote more housing and more affordable housing (which is a position with which I happen to agree) then the solution is to change the zoning rules, not for the Board to hand out variances like Halloween candy.

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When the original laws were created for the express purpose of keeping "undesirable people" from living in a neighborhood, the mere enforcement of those laws becomes immoral. Yes, changing the offending code itself would be preferable, but that does not mean that it's morally justifiable to not allow the needed multi-family housing to be built in the mean time.

Also, the law grants the ZBA wide authority to grant variances wherever it pleases.

Oh, and also, Boston is not governed by Chapter 40A.

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Voting closed 14

Our zoning needs a total overhaul. Most of the South End is illegal under current zoning, as I expect are most of what is already built in most neighborhoods. That's insane. It just results in nearly every project requiring variances, making it extremely political, where the City and neighbors try to extort the property owner for as much as they possibly can.

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Voting closed 29

The system in which every project requires a variance leads directly to a kind of soviet-level corruption in which everything is illegal unless you are friends with an official.

With that said, it's not immediately obvious to me that a zoning code under which many existing buildings could not be built is necessarily wrong. We're allowed to change our minds about density and to decide that we don't want future development to follow past patterns. Often, zoning laws and building codes exist to remedy past wrongs. For example, early in the 20th century, laws were passed requiring that each bedroom in an an apartment have a window -- previously, tenement buildings were warrens of unventilated rooms. Entire neighborhoods of existing buildings were nonconforming to the new laws. That didn't make the new laws wrong; the new laws said, "wow those buildings were a bad idea, let's not do that any more."

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When are we collectively going to decide that historic building forms are part of what makes Boston great, and we should be encouraging or maybe even REQUIRING more of them rather than banning them?

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While they do meet the lot size requirements, lot size is only one of several codified parameters that a lot must meet. Also regulated are the setbacks, street frontage, Height, FAR (floor area ratio), open space etc... A large majority of lots in the city are non-conforming and requires a variance(s) in order to build, even if all you want to build is a deck or shed.

The BPDA does publish the requirements and they vary district to district; so a 3F-5000 in JP is going to have a different set of criteria than a 3F-5000 lot in Dorchester. If anyone takes a glance, it becomes apparent that zoning was created to keep people out and preserve and increase existing property owner's value.

https://www.universalhub.com/2020/board-rejects-six-condo-building-overl...

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For whatever reason I posted the wrong link. Here is the link to the JP Zoning Code. https://library.municode.com/ma/boston/codes/redevelopment_authority?nod...

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I'm not familiar with this exact project but my guess is that side yard and parking requirements make such a building non-viable.

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Actually, the project met the side yard and parking requirements. Parking is under.
The only infractions where "frontage and number of units". It is a nice big site overlooking the T and the underused Gordon Street park.

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Right, well once you have to go in front of the neighbors for one variance, it makes sense to try to make it worth your time.

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Near transit, a great bike route into the city and in a dense neighborhood.

'Too dense.'

The Zoning Board is the dense one.

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I came here just to say that

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The proposed building is within spitting distance of the old high school on Elm St (70+ units), 131 Green St (13 units), the bazillion units being built on Washington St, the old police station on Seaverns (17? units), 156 Green (17 units). And of course, the building next door with 9 units. This decision is ridiculous.

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The Zoning Board is the dense one.

The Zoning Board does not make the rules, it only enforces them.

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Actually the ZBA does make the call. They only review projects that do not meet the rules.
They are not an enforcement agency.

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And makes exceptions to them, sometimes but not in this case.

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They are only allowed to make exceptions in very limited cases; they have a history of grossly overstepping their authority. Reining this in, which a couple of city councilors are trying to do, unfortunately creates, over the short term, equity issues. “I should be allowed to get away with it because you let Tom, Dick, and Sally get away with it.” — the fact is that the board was wrong to grant variances to Tom, Dick, and Sally but you can’t reasonably expect Tom, Dick, and Sally to tear down their houses, so stopping the abuse creates a situation in which new applicants don’t get as sweet a deal as prior ones did. There’s no perfectly fair and equitable way out of it.

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The zoning enabling act for Boston is much more permissive than Chapter 40A with regards to what variances the ZBA is allowed to issue. By some reading of the law it is able to consider almost anything as possibly creating a hardship, and case law would seem to bear this out, as many people have unsuccessfully challenged the ZBA's authority to grant variances for multi-family residential buildings in JP.

The rules about variances in Boston:

https://library.municode.com/ma/boston/codes/redevelopment_authority?nod...

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So someone who lives in the brand new 9 unit building next door is saying 6 units is too many? STFU NIMBY. You just moved here and you are already screwing things up.

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How do you know they just moved to Boston?

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she used it as her excuse for not knowing she was being a bit hypocritical.

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I know the person who spoke up, while she just moved into 16, she is a long time JP resident from a couple streets over...

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Duh, the neighboring parcels allowed for 3 3-families, thus 9 units. Neighborhood involvement helped guide the design... what a concept...

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Your rights to equal protection under the law are the same whether you've just moved into the neighborhood or whether your great grandfather built your house out of trees he chopped down himself.

Balancing the interests of one neighbor to get the highest and best use of his property, against another neighbor's interest in light, air, and a predictable level of density in the neighborhood, is complex and subtle. We have zoning laws to codify this. What can be built on the lot in question is limited by those zoning laws. Those laws were not in any way hidden or secret when the developer bought the property. The developer is asking for an exception to those laws to be made in his favor at the expense of his neighbors because "waaah, I deserve it."

If you don't like the zoning laws, then by all means work through your elected government to get them changed. But don't complain about the people who are simply asking that they be upheld.

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Voting closed 14

When people from places like California, NY, and MA with strong NIMBY rights move to places like Oregon, they get upset that they aren't allowed to veto any development in their area just because they don't like it.

Then again, the neighborhoods have a lot more to say there about what the zoning is within the confines of state land use planning, and zoning is regularly reviewed.

All the same, it is highly amusing to watch people migrating from places where owning something gives you the rights to bitch, moan and veto what other people do with their land anywhere nearby come crashing headlong into a system where larger needs of the entire metro area are part of the calculus and neighbors have no legal right to stop it just because WAHHHH I DON'T WANT THAT.

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The rules vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and they aren’t secret anywhere. When you buy property, you know what you can and can’t do with it, and you know what your neighbors can and can’t do with theirs. The problems arise when someone wants a variance because they’re special rather than because they qualify for one, or, conversely, where someone, also because he’s special, objects to a neighbor doing something the neighbor is allowed to do by right.

I have amazingly little sympathy for someone who buys a property that, due to environmental, zoning, or historical preservation restrictions has limited development potential, at a price that reflects that limited development potential, who then tries to create a huge windfall profit by seeking an exception to the rules, and who subsequently whines about “takings” or “impositions on his rights” when the request for exception doesn’t go through.

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You realize that, in Boston, we *only* require developers to build deed-restricted subsidized units WHEN THEY REQUEST A VARIANCE, right? So like, if developers just stopped requesting these variances, we would suddenly get a) Almost zero new affordable housing and b) Only a trickle of very expensive new housing of any kind.

Also, no one is asking for "sympathy" for the developer. The concern is with the neighborhood whose rents are going up because not enough housing is being built.

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You are absolutely right, this time.

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It's baffling that this would be too dense a building for an area so close to the T stop that you could roll right out of bed straight into an Orange Line car.

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And rightly so, here's another unelected body making decisions for you...and this one is already screwing you, in terms of interfering in housing markets.

Don't forget to walk while chewing your gum, folks.

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Glad someone said it. It seems that far too many people are conditioned to think that the federal government is to blame for everything, when most issues happening in someone's daily life, and most things with a direct impact, happen from local government (who often go without scrutiny).

Not saying to ignore what happens in Washington, but a refresh on civics for the general population would do wonders to get things accomplished.

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Voting closed 17

And rightly so, here's another unelected body making decisions for you...and this one is already screwing you, in terms of interfering in housing markets.

The zoning laws are not made by the (unelected) zoning board, they are made by duly elected legislative bodies.

The police officer who tickets you for parking at a hydrant is unelected, too... That's kind of how government works: the elected government sets the rules and then hires staff to enforce them.

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This is the board that makes exceptions. Not the building inspector who tickets you for violating the rules.

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Continuing your analogy, this board is like a building inspector who personally thinks the building code is too strict about electric wire sizes and who routinely signs off on buildings that are not up to code, except when he doesn’t.

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State law grants the ZBA wide authority to make exceptions to zoning. It grants no such authority to any board for making exceptions to the electrical code.

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Actually, the ZBA does hear building code appeals which they very rarely grant.

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I don’t know about electrical, but there is a state board that makes exceptions to the plumbing code.

Among other things, they have to approve custom urinals for trendy bars since they’re not on the list of approved fixtures, and all-gender rest rooms since the code still requires men’s and women’s rooms.

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Nice to see Mike Ross on the side of something I agree with for once.

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Mike Ross is a hired attorney. He is on his clients' side. There's no ideology or principle involved.

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This rejection is pure insanity! Boston needs more housing and we're talking about a fairly dense neighborhood with great access to transit and biking. The ZBA seems so arbitrary in making this decision when the 9-unit building next door won approval. Oh well, the ZBA is basically ensuring that whatever does get built, it will house fewer people and at a far greater cost, making it unaffordable to all the wealthiest of Bostonians.

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Voting closed 21

people keep saying transit oriented housing is needed.

I don't know for sure but driving by and seeing how many windows are in the dark, it sure seems to me that the units in the huge new buildings around the E line turn-around and Forest Hills are not very full... Granted some of those rents are CRAZY but what about all of those units sitting pretty empty?

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It's funny you should say that because I just walked around that neighborhood the other day at night taking pictures of all of the supposedly "vacant" units, and almost every window was lit but for the ones that obviously had curtains drawn.

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This rejection is pure insanity!

Have you read the law that governs when the board may grant a variance? Do you think the three-part test in that law was met in this case?

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It's a four part test, and it does grant this authority.

https://library.municode.com/ma/boston/codes/redevelopment_authority?nod...

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JP's Code :
Section 55-36. - Design Review and Design Guidelines.

This explains what can and cannot be built in an historic
neighborhood. This site is in the Sumner Hill Historic District.
Too many historic neighborhoods are
evaporating due to agressive developer greed. Once its gone - its gone !
( The developer has no intention of building affordable units. The
community saw this as a maxed out Dollar Driven Project; and rejected the
developer's strategy of demanding Zoning 'relief' ! )

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