South Boston project gets variances over objections of neighbors whose building got similar variances

The red-hot South Boston housing market showed signs of chafing today when a divided Zoning Board of Appeals today approved a controversial residential project despite opposition from not only residents of a neighboring building but Mayor Walsh, City Councilor Bill Linehan and state Sen. Linda Dorcena Forry.

The four-story, 45-foot-high building at 340 W. 2 St. will include 29 residential units, 43 parking spaces - 12 of them into which a car elevator will put the vehicles - and first-floor commercial space. Of the 29 units, 18 will have one bedroom, the remaining 11 two bedrooms.

Shamus Holdings LLC's project needed Zoning Board approval because of its density, lot size and height, among other issues. The Boston Redevelopment Authority gave its blessing last year.

Residents of the neighboring building say they are not opposed to any building on the property, but that the proposed structure is just too close to theirs. Residents said the narrow, eight-foot gap between the two buildings would be difficult to clean and maintain and would deprive some residents of sunlight.

"If you can't grow a tree, if you can't grow a plant, how can you grow a person?" resident John Ramos asked the zoning board.

Representatives of elected officials said they could not support a project that has such strong opposition in the neighborhood and for which proponents seemed to give up on trying to reach any sort of agreement with the neighborhood. Both Linehan's and Forry's offices reported receiving numerous phone calls from across the neighborhood.

But George Morancy, attorney for the proposed developers, said his client's project is set back five feet from the property line - the minimum called for in the zoning code - and that it would be unfair to make his client push that back to 15 feet as requested by the neighbors when their project itself got a variance because its building is just three feet from the property line.

And in a warning to neighbors, he said Shamus is concerned that their fireplace vents might violate city building codes and prove a fire hazard that his client might be forced to take action against.

Morancy got support from board member Anthony Pisani.

When the residents' attorney, John Greene, tried to argue that the property itself did not have the sort of hardships for which the board could grant a variance, Pisani cut him off and called the attempted argument "slightly disengeous" given that his clients' own building received similar variances just a few years ago - including a decision to ignore the setback requirement on the side of the building now at issue with the proposed building.

Board Chairman Robert Shortsleeve said if he had his druthers, he'd postpone the vote to give the developer, neighbors and elected officials another chance to reach an agreement. But he added that board rules don't allow deferring votes like that, and he then cast the deciding vote in favor of the zoning request.

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Comments

That's what makes Boston so world classy

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I have no idea, but apparently, that's their policy. I usually cover licensing board hearings on Tuesday, not zoning hearings (which is a good thing for my hearing and sanity, because the zoning hearing room is without doubt, the absolute worst public space in City Hall, and, yes, that's saying something - you've got an HVAC system that was apparently rebuilt out of an old jet engine and you've got roughly 600 people at a time having private conversations in the back of the room).

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Foundry residents said the

Foundry residents said the narrow, eight-foot gap between the two buildings would be difficult to clean and maintain and would deprive some residents of sunlight.

"If you can't grow a tree, if you can't grow a plant, how can you grow a person?" resident John Ramos asked the zoning board.

Uh, by not raising that person in the eight-food gap. What a ridiculous comment. It's a city! Buildings are close together. Deal.

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plus the fact that plants and

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plus the fact that plants and humans have slightly different biological needs, unless Ramos can photosynthesize.

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If he can

If he can, we should just send him to Mars, and he can plan out his suburban community there.

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"narrow, eight-foot gap"

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..."between the two buildings would be difficult to clean and maintain"

How do these people ever clean their houses? Behind the oven? Around the toilet? I have 4 feet between my house and the property line, yet somehow the lawn gets mowed and the leaves picked up.

Of course, in reading this the gap should be 10 feet (5 on each side of the property line.) Is 2 feet really that much?

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Foundry

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Are you sure the objecting residents were from the Foundry? For one, the Foundry building is at 320 West 2nd St., not 350. Also, the side of the Foundry building where this new building is to be built is a solid brick wall, but for an entry door on the first floor. Also, the Foundry building didn't get any variances recently, as the structure is about 100 years old.

Changed

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Thanks for pointing it out. My lack of familiarity with W. 2, coupled with this page did me in.

Classic NIMBY

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So... 5' side yard requirements. Proposed side yard is 5'. Neighbors side yard is 3'. Neighbors complain? Are they blind to their own hypocrisy? I know it happens everywhere, but especially in an environment like South Boston, I just don't see how you can show up to a planning board meeting and complain about side yards with a straight face.

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Simple solution: negotiate

Even though the developer has received this approval he/she could still sit down with neighbors to hash out an agreement.

Why doesn't everyone meet with Councilor Linehan tomo ..oh, wait, what? He's on his way to Ireland for vacation?

Never mind.

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I told you

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That the BRA ruined Southie, not Good Will Hunting or Doug Flutie.

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Flutie?

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What does Flutie have to do with Southie?

I think

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Flutie popularized BC, which in turn attracted a ton of students from the Meadowlands, Long Island and Connecticut, who stay here after they graduate. Most move to Southie with their frat brothers and pretend their Irish Catholics and hang BC flags from their windows.

Oh, seriously? What about

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Oh, seriously? What about the fact that a butterfly landed on a tomato plant in Connecticut in 1950, flapped it's wings and inspired a boy to move to Boston, who told all his friends, who all wanted to come with. Suddenly, there was a mass exodus from a no-job town in Connecticut to downtown Boston and several of those folk's children wound up in Southie. God damned butterfly.

Yuppies vs Yuppies

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Yuppies fighting Yuppies....Southie is officially SoBo!

I think anyone -- local or

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I think anyone -- local or 'yuppie' -- would be upset if a 4-story building was being built 8 feet in front of their only windows.

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Confused reporting

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The reporting here is poor and didn't make clear the exact issue the neighbors (350 West 2nd, not The Foundry which is 320) have with the proposed construction of this new building. It is not just that the building is 'too close' The new building will block all sunlight, view, air flow, etc to an entire, window-filled side of the existing 4-story building at 350. Residents' windows will face one another very closely with no view except into each others' bedrooms based on the current designs.

Put yourself in the place of the current residents, who were told the parking lot next door would not be built upon-- you have a wall of living room and/or bedroom windows (in some cases, your only windows) that will soon face a solid wall 10 feet away, or worse, someone else's bedroom and/or living room. It's much different than having just the side of your building close to another. That's just not right or healthy. I'm sure if this happened to a triple decker with a 'local' family you'd feel just as upset as these 'yuppies' you're laughing at.

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Urban Density

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If you walk around many Boston neighborhoods, you will notice buildings of all types, including triple deckers, old multifamily rental properties and condo/coop buildings where neighboring windows look right into one another. It is possible for me to look into my neighbors' windows on both sides of my building as well as having pretty good sightlines into the building across the street. Miraculously, we have all discovered these wonderful innovations called "shades", "blinds" and "curtains". For airflow, we have discovered that opening the windows supplemented by another invention called a "fan" works quite well. Some windows look out at brick or siding. In the case of brick, this is called "charm", in the case of siding, "bad luck".

If you want the wide open spaces around your residence, urban living is quite obviously not a good choice for you. And I personally remain puzzled by the affection by the current residents of 350 West 2nd for a view of a parking lot....

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"Put yourself in the place of

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"Put yourself in the place of the current residents, who were told the parking lot next door would not be built upon"

Are you really that gullible?

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Who told them that?

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So, why aren't they suing the person who told them that? Or the lawyers they should have consulted before purchase?

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They were told this when they bought

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Gee, I bought expensive real estate next to a vacant lot and I expect that it will remain such even though there are no such restrictions on the development of that neighboring lot such that it won't be like my building.

So we are supposed to feel sorry for people who were either 1) dumb enough to overpay or 2) dumb enough to think that their discount condo wouldn't be sullied by neighboring buildings?

Sounds like the creeps who bought Back Bay condos in the 1980s and then whined about students "devaluing" their property ... um, no. You bought devalued property, idiots.

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Neighbors at 320 W 2nd called on the Foundry

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I think several people who live at 320 W. 2nd have appealed to their neighbors in the Foundry to speak out in solidarity, because the Foundry is a fairly large building (~52 condos, I think). That's how the Foundry's name is getting thrown around in connection to this, because, as you said, the side of the Foundry building bordering this project is a window-less brick wall.

Personally, I would love to

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Personally, I would love to see a building go up in this location, however the proximity to other buildings is concerning. I understand that this is the City and many times buildings are built very close to each other… but it doesn’t need to happen this time. From a business aspect, I’m not sure why people will want to rent these units with as the attorney for the developer stated would only have “adequate” light. Why is adequate the standard? Who strives to be just adequate when trying to make money? These residences will be rentals… and now that West Square (an entire city block of rentals) is just one block away I question how the developer could think that windows that are just feet away from another building would be competitive with a complex that offers an abundance of light to its residents.

The City now has unhappy residents whose property value is going to drop. I swear I can actually hear the mumbling of those reading this saying who cares- it’s there own fault. Yes, they should have known that there is a chance that the lot would be developed. But now City/neighborhood will suffer when the assessed value of those residences drop and so do the taxes being collected. Additionally, the ZBA berated the Owners of the units for accepting similar variances. The owner’s did not accept those variances, the developer of the building did. If the ZBA really wanted to make an issue of it they should have rejected the requests at the time. They knew where the property line is- and they also knew how close the building would be to any potential development. This is a problem of there own making- and instead of taking responsibility they point fingers and rubber stamp the plans through. They have now compounded the problem instead of trying to find a solution.

Regardless of the points above, the building is going to go up, the units will rent regardless of the light issue (and many, many others) and the residents of 350 W. 2nd will lose equity in their property. The "Yuppies" as you call us will continue to move into Southie and in a matter of time your home will be facing a similar issue if it hasn't already and because of of yesterdays Vote, the ZBA just created precedence. Best of luck.

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I'm a South Boston yuppy

I'm a South Boston yuppy homeowner; 80% of the windows in my condo are three feet from myneighbors.

It was like that when we bought it. But why would we agree to live with our neighbors so close, you ask?

It's the city, buildings are close together, that's why.

This is more an issue of "Buyer Beware" to the residents of 350 W.2nd, than an example of BRA/ZBA authority run wild.

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So am I

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Brendan, you made an informed choice - as did i when i purchased. I believe I noted that the owners of 350 w 2nd street should have known better and i agree with the "Buyer Beware" statement. However, I was at the ZBA meeting yesterday and it was actually quite appalling. All residents who attended were not allowed to speak due to "redundancy," committee members were checking their phones and consistently interrupting those who were allowed to speak. The neighborhood is not opposed to a building going into the space... they just want to compromise.

A compromise?

On what basis? That the new building use _less_ of the legally permissible footprint, to even out the fact that the older building got to take up _more_ than its due?

First, I think the city is

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First, I think the city is thrilled a brand new development is going up in place of a surface parking lot. Whatever theoretical tax revenue is lost due to the neighbors' assessed values decreasing is certainly outweighed by the new tax revenue a new development brings. However, that is an aside to what is really being missed here: this is the city, South Boston specifically. I live in triple-decker in a row of triple-deckers. There is exactly 0' between me and my neighbors and another 0' between them and their other neighbors. Once you're past them, there's a walkable 6' alleyspace used as a cut through to another street. It's well-maintained, without any presence of trash or anything. It is shoveled responsibly and arguably more effectively than most sidewalks are. If it were ever turned into a grassy area, I'd be fine with that, too. The neighbors on each side have windows 6' from the other. They use blinds, shades, whatever, but frankly, their solution is they are friendly with each other. Why has Boston turned into a city that is so unfriendly and trumpeting privacy at all costs? Meet your neighbor for the benefit of everyone. It's the city - where the serendipitous collisions of humanity create things - isn't that what it's about?

Finally, some people on this comment thread have cried foul over buildings requesting variances instead of sticking to the zoning. Finally, here's a building that followed the zoning on minimum side setbacks and they harp on it! I'm not arguing that the building is perfect, but more that maybe the zoning isn't all that it is cracked up to be?!?! Maybe?!?!? It seems to me like they don't want any development PERIOD. NITBY.

My question

Why on earth was the first building given a variance that allowed a 3 foot buffer instead of a 5 foot one? This might have made sense if the neighboring lot was unbuildable, but otherwise.....