Opponents of a 27-unit apartment building on land next to the Fairmount commuter-rail station said the $7-million proposal would lead to poor people infesting the neighborhood with their crime-ridden ways, their children breathing in fumes from the auto-body shop next door and their guests jamming up the local streets with their cars.
And, one opponent said at a meeting at the Hyde Park Municipal Building, project manager Mat Thall needs to stop smirking at meetings. After complaining about what he said was Thall's constant smirking, he accused Thall of smirking even as he was complaining about the smirking.
Mimi Turchinetz, a board member of the Southwest Community Development Corp., for which Thall is working, leapt to his defense. "He actually isn't smirking," she declared. "That's just what he looks like!"
Even Tom Menino came in for some level of derision at the packed meeting, officially called by the BRA. When somebody noted "the mayor" had been the one to first propose housing for the site between Nott Street and the train station, several people shouted, "Former mayor!"
At another point, resident Joseph Smith demanded that a Southwest board member who was videoing the meeting with a handheld camera be ejected. "It's an invasion of our privacy!" Smith thundered. "We were not told there was any videotaping." When the board member said it was a public meeting, Smith replied, "How dare you!" John Campbell, the BRA project manager sent on the long trek from downtown to Hyde Park to run the meeting, asked the board member to stop videoing. He did.
Thall and Southwest board Chairwoman Diana Kelly said the building, which would replace two derelict old commercial structures on roughly a half acre of land, is not a public-housing project. Although three units would be set aside for "very low income" residents, such as homeless veterans, three units would be rented at "market rates," while the remaining 21 would be rented to people making up to about $66,000 for a family of three.
Thall said that would include people such as teachers at the neighborhood's charter schools, nurse's aides and, in a nod to former DPW manager and new City Councilor Tim McCarthy, beginning DPW workers. He added current estimates are that such people would be saving only $100 to $150 a month over market rates.
Thall and Kelly said Hyde Park has a shortage of rental units for people who can't afford to buy a house and that by increasing the number of residents near Logan Square, it would help to revitalize the commercial strip along Fairmount Avenue, which now has a number of vacant storefronts.
Beth Wyman, pastor at the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, said if she weren't married to somebody bringing in extra income, she would qualify for an apartment in the building. "Look at me! [This proposal] is me, this is who would go there."
Thall said that even assuming city approval of the project, it's still three to four years away from construction, due to the complexities of financing such a project in an era that has seen a dramatic cutback in federal housing funds. He added that because Southwest has never built any housing, it had partnered with the Codman Square Neighborhood Community Development Corp., which has built more than 800 rental apartments and which could provide the financial guarantees that would be demanded by private investors and government agencies.
It was the funding of the project that sparked some of the more intense verbal volleys, because Thall declined requests from residents to provide detailed financial information on the project. This was what led to the smirking discussion, during which Thall said the project would be "totally transparent to the agencies that are funding the project." When another resident asked for basic financial information on Southwest, Thall told the resident to go look it up on guidestar.org, a site that collects IRS forms of non-profit groups.
That wasn't reassuring to some residents. "We don't want to wind up with a Filene's, a big hole in the ground for five years," one said.
Like Wyman, other residents supported the project. One nearby resident said she got really mad hearing other residents complaining about the people who would live in the building, accused them of being selfish and said the renovated Washington-Beech project in Roslindale is proof poor people don't bring crime with them, even if they were the only people who could live in the building, which they aren't. And she said maybe the area wouldn't have any parking problems if local homeowners parked in their own driveways for a change instead of on the street.
A traffic consultant hired by the proposal's architects said he spent a fair amount of time in a 750-foot radius of the site last October and found that the area typically has a fair amount of empty curbside parking spaces.
Other residents, however, said, there's already a problem with out-of-towners - especially people from Milton - who park on the street rather than pay the T to use its lot at the commuter-rail station. And the problem is only going to get worse now that the T has lowered the fair on the line - at least as far as Fairmount.
Thall said Southwest might need to try to convince the T to lower the fares to the last stop on the line - Readville - because people who used to get on the train might now drive the short distance to Fairmount to save themselves the $8 a day getting on at Readville would cost them.
Campbell brought the meeting to a close by denying the fix was already in at the BRA for the project. "That is the furthest thing from the truth," he said, adding the meeting in Hyde Park was only the first in a long series of steps before the BRA decides to approve the proposal.
ISD also has to review the plans - and depending on what it says, the Zoning Board of Appeals might have to hold a hearing on it as well.