JP council votes to oppose 4-unit development on South Street

The Jamaica Plain Gazette reports a developer now has to decide whether to seek city approval of a plan to tear down a two-family house used as an office on South Street and replace it with four units after the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council's zoning committee narrowly voted to oppose the plan. Under zoning, he could put up a three-unit building; he had spent two years negotiating with neighbors.



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    How it works elsewhere

    When I sold my parent's house, I found out that a buyer could tear down the house or otherwise build up to four units there. In that city, a neighborhood group would have no say unless they got the zoning changed, which is possible but not for a single lot at a time. (in fact, it was once zoned for more units, but the neighborhood worked with the city to reduce the zoned density in the entire area). People are not allowed to challenge conforming, as-of-right developments.

    With rapid transit moving into the neighborhood, there is some pressure to tear down old houses and build at higher densities. However, there are people in the area who don't like to see this. You know what they do?

    They buy and flip the houses themselves. That's what they do. I ended up getting three cash bids from three different entities, all of whom resided within blocks and who have made some nice money flipping older houses rather than tearing them down and building more apartments. All of them were folks who were involved in the general downzoning of the area, who wanted to keep the old houses and lower density development, and put their own money out to make it happen.

    Down-zoning and flipping

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    in fact, it was once zoned for more units, but the neighborhood worked with the city to reduce the zoned density in the entire area ...

    ... They buy and flip the houses themselves

    I read that as: a few busy-body elites lobbied politicians to steal property rights from everyone else living in the neighborhood so that they could then later benefit by flipping houses in the artificially constrained market.

    Down-zoning is usually a sign that snob-zoning is in full-force effect.

    But housing gets built

    This downzoning was to take a neighborhood of single family homes which had been rezoned to very high density (six units per 4,000 square feet of lot) to high density (4 units per 4,000 square feet of lot). In other words, downzoning reduced it from six times the existing density to four times the existing density.

    Part of the reason they were successful was that there were seismic considerations included in the zoning at the time of the change (given geologic concerns). It involved few politicians, just a well-defined state and county process that allows community organizations to have input on zoning - as opposed to MA where anybody with a noble theory or demand for bribes can get involved late in the process.

    I'd really love to see you even get to that "snob-zoned" level in Roslindale or West Roxbury, or Hyde Park. Really.

    If people want to put their own money up, rather than do like the North Cambridge Stagnation Committee and the JP buffoons do and file lawsuits and demand trinkets, I don't think you have much of a case if they don't build your personal utopian vision.

    But this is in another city where housing actually gets built because people know that they can buy and build without input from anyone who claims to impacted by walking near it sometimes, or who demands a personal secretary be paid for in exchange for their purported inconvenience. Where the population has nearly doubled in 30 years without an increase in the area of the city, with transit enhancements to match.

    A place that is far, far away from your theories or idealism and extreme naivete about what works and doesn't.

    How does this create housing?

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    Point about downzoning 6->4 granted.

    But you say yourself that their goal is to maintain the original low density. So how does buying up a single family to prevent someone from building what is as-of-right @ 4 units = 'housing gets built' ? Sounds like no housing gets built. Somewhere else maybe but not in their backyard.

    It's certainly their right to do so, but let's face it, whether you spend $ on lawyers and process or spend it buying up properties to prevent redevelopment, either way you're saying no to any change in the status quo. Just a nicer form of nimby.

    What theories? Besides the

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    What theories? Besides the normal operation of the housing market when not screwed with by meddling busy-bodies with political access?

    Apologists for zoning are the ones who have to justify their intrusion into private property rights. Zoning is the Utopian system that was concocted in the 20th century to supposedly "cure social ills."

    It's done quite the opposite, and run wild, veering into all sorts of territory that it should never have.

    And regarding this particular city that you keep nameless, there are clearly other things going on that you didn't mention at first.

    More theories from Matthew

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    My, my. You've gone full libertarian now. There was a world before zoning, and it didn't work nicely. Unless you like having lead smelters in densely populated areas like Somerville did.

    Put down the books. Please. Read some history and visit places other than small areas of Boston and the internet and your wealthy sububburban homeland.

    Ah, there you go, hiding

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    Ah, there you go, hiding behind the one sensible thing that zoning may have accomplished, while forgetting about all the bad things it did.

    Like a coward.

    So you separated a factory from a residence, wow, great job. That's not hard.

    What part of that requires forcing people to grow grass in a 40 foot front yard, or have 2 parking spaces per unit? What's protective about a 25 foot height limit or a 0.75 FAR limit?

    Nothing. Those are abuses of zoning regulation used to exclude people for the benefit of a few rich and connected folk.

    You need to justify your esoteric system of wacky, unscientific rules and regulations. A system that was only legalized in 1926, I might add.

    No - this is why we need

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    "civic engagement" reform. If these self-appointed "neighborhood councils" (who actually have NO LEGAL AUTHORITY in such matters) cannot provide legitimate reasons to oppose development that are based on hard facts, and not just NIMBY-driven "we don't want this, so you can't build it" self serving arguments."

    Guess what - forcing people proposing something to disprove negative concerns beyond a reasonable doubt hasn't worked, and only leads to a huge waste of time and money for everyone involved.

    Maybe, but ...

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    Members of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council are actually elected - they have yearly elections and polling places and everything. So if you don't like the way they're doing things, move to JP and run against them.

    People who don't attend neighborhood meetings

    As a former president of my local civic association that line "they were not involved with the regular neighborhood meetings" pisses me off. If you want a say in things in your neighborhood, go to your local neighborhood meetings! If you don't know what your neighborhood group is or when and where they meet, call your city councilor or the Mayor's liaison for your neighborhood. They know all about community meetings.

    I so agree!

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    Yes, there needs to be community input and going to meetings is how it should be done. Owners, developers, etc., shouldn't just be seen as the enemy, because many neighborhoods need more of everything they provide. So if developers sit through these meetings, hear out their neighbors, compromise, propose incentives like repaving bad walk-ways or planting trees or painting an eyesore, they should have SOME assurance that the process is legitimate and final so all can move on with their plans.

    I agree with a caveat

    While the JPNC has improved recently, they have a history of not announcing when & where they meet. At least they put it on their website now, but I still haven't been able to get emails from them.

    Maybe someone else can address whether or not they allow JP residents to see their meeting minutes now, or if they've finally accepted that they are not a municipal board?

    Is the JPNC really the only game in town?

    JP is pretty big. It's hard to believe that JPNC is the only community group in town. Dorchester has dozens, perhaps scores, of neighborhood groups -- Ashmont Hill, Ashmont-Adams, Bowdoin-Geneva, Four Corners, Fields Corner, Popes Hill, St. Marks, Codman Square, to name a few, and many of these groups have subsets that focus on just a few streets.

    I'm guessing that the abutters and other neighbors involved in this are part some group other than JPNC.


    I wonder if this strategy would work on other areas. I mean, can I ignore staff meetings at work and then refuse to do work assigned to me because I wasn't involved in the meetings?

    If there's adequate notice of a meeting and you choose not to attend, you don't get to complain that no one consulted you. Geez.

    I agree, but the many who

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    I agree, but the many who live in JP and don't agree with JPNC should either start a new group or take over JPNC by getting elected to their board. So long as they're the only, or most prominent, game in town, the City is going to allow them to dominate the development process on behalf of the "community" at large. I don't live in JP, but good luck to those who do in changing the status quo!

    His downfall

    was twofold: The audacity to develop residential property that has a yard, and I didn't see the word luxury anywhere in that article. Silly developer, this is Boston, you're doing it wrong.

    Better uses like...

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    A sanctuary for endangered rhinos. A fried clam stand. A replica of Brunelleschi's dome of Santa Maria del Fiore. A peach orchard. Or maybe a "spritely bistro." Seriously--would love to hear his suggestions.


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    I would love for Woodman's to open a second location in Jamaica Plain.


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    How cool would that be? Though I suppose we might miss the views and the salty Essex air. Still...

    I couldn't go to this meeting but

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    I'll be curious to hear more on this. I'd frankly love to see more housing not of the luxury variety--the "light industrial" zoning does seem to have hampered development and business in this area. I'd just like to see Washington Street feel more dense, more walkable and neighborhood-y. Though I have to say, hearing the developer point out that the height of the building is shorter than the storage place across the street (pretty sure it's another former brewery but I can't remember) seems disingenuous--that place is massive.

    Brewery on Washington St

    It was the Franklin Brewing Company. The back of the building is higher than the front by at least one story, so it is pretty massive.

    C'mon Mayor

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    Show the JPNC who's boss. Ignore them and let this go ahead, assuming it's been okay'd by your professional staff.

    Unless you're afraid of the 12 JPNC members who ran unopposed and were elected by a whopping 245 voters. And let's not forget the remaining JPNC members who were appointed to unfilled seats (by those 12 members) because no one else wanted them. Yup, they call the shots on development in this neighborhood.

    Aren't the JPNC and

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    Aren't the JPNC and Charlestown Neighborhood Council being sued? I think the Walsh Administration wants them gone.


    The JPNC pretty much sums up everything backwards in Boston in 2014. They couldn't suck more if they tried.