Torrid pace of luxury development leaves many neighborhoods largely untouched

30 B Street proposal in South Boston

30 B Street rendering.

Construction cranes may be crowding some of Boston's neighborhoods, leaving areas such as Broadway, Downtown Crossing and Boylston Street in the Fenway looking like something out of a SimCity game on "cheetah" mode, but, in fact, Boston's surge of luxury housing is largely bypassing large swaths of the city. You can get an idea of what's going on by taking a look at the Zoning Board of Appeals' long Aug. 5 agenda and comparing the construction projects going before the Zoning Board of Appeals on Aug. 5 in South Boston with those in Roslindale and West Roxbury:

South Boston

  • 30 B Street
    Raze existing structure, erect a building for 37 residential units, two commercial spaces and parking for 25 vehicles.
  • 230 Bowen St.
    Combine lots, raze existing structure, erect a building for six residential units and parking for six vehicles.
  • 7-13 Vicksburg St.
    Combine parcels, erect four townhouses.
  • 170 West Broadway
    Erect a five-story building for 33 residential units, a restaurant, retail space, and parking for 39 vehicles.
  • 354 K Street
    Change the legal occupancy from a one-family dwelling to a two-family dwelling.

Roslindale

  • 37 Knoll St.
    Erect an addition to rear of property.
  • 56 Stella Rd.
    Erect a two-family dwelling.

West Roxbury

  • 136R Maple St.
    Erect a one-car garage.

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    Comments

    Luxury my butt.

    Luxury my butt.

    Middle income housing and nothing more. You may have granite countertops and stainless steel appliances but so does my neighbor renting with section 8.

    When you can hear your neighbor thru the wall you are not in luxury.

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    Middle income

    By on

    As in same as a no-frills apartment building in a cheaper neighborhood. Price-wise, those buildings are definitely luxury as no one making what's considered middle income would be able to afford them, but there's absolutely nothing luxury about them as far as amenities are concerned. Just a brick box with thin interior walls, low-end fixtures and appliances and the cheapest granite one can possibly find.

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    My experience here

    By on

    I moved here a long time ago, after living in a few other cities. I have consistently paid McMansion prices here to live in ghetto quality buildings. I understand that people stay here due to family or jobs, but I hope to be able to move away. I feel bad for the working families who've been here for generations and are getting pushed out of town.

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    McMansion Price for Ghetto Quality!!!

    I think you just nailed the new sales pitch.

    Realtors.. are you taking notes?

    =================

    Look!! You can have a sucky life for three times the cost of any other comparable city!!!

    Act now and we'll throw in some free sports logos from millionaires playing high school games.

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    What's a piece of property worth?

    A piece of property (or anything else, for that matter) is worth whatever a seller and a buyer, in an un-coerced arms-length transaction, think it's worth. You can't reasonably call something "overpriced" if there are buyers willing to pay that price.

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    The what of it is mapped

    ..with predictable exquisite perfection and crystal logic.

    Too bad it isn't as interesting as the why.

    Or maybe 'how long will this hold water?

    For every market top, some bottom waits in the wings and figuring out where the trend line goes is where meaning sleeps.

    Price discovery..it's what's for dinner.

    2007 wasn't that long ago and little has been done to address the fundamentals. Debt load, market capacity and so on.

    If everyone just admits it's a modified crap shoot then the terms of a disclaimer can be met.

    But that would reek of human frailty and settle out the froth.

    D Street projects

    By on

    is no different from these developments in looks, location and amenities. You are basically living with 30 unrelated owners but paying more than 3/4 million dollars to do so.

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    It's all about status value

    ..and brag factor. It's the strange return of ostentation ordinarily seen among ruling junta families of 3rd world despots.

    West Roxbury lacks the brag value, for now.

    At first glance, Beacon Hill may seem the obvious choice for ritziest Boston real estate given its prominent Brahmin history, sprawling brownstones and unparalleled proximity to a bevy of city amenities. In actuality, though, it's living spaces prove to be less affluent than a certain section of the Back Bay.

    According to The Atlantic's CityLab, which comprised its list of zip codes by home value using data of about half the country's 43,000 zip codes courtesy of Zillow, the Prudential section of Boston's Back Bay – 02199 (update) – has a median home value of $3,330,400 – good for 5th most affluent in America.

    Boston is notoriously discrepant when it comes to economic equality. A study conducted back in February shows that when it comes to the income gap between the rich and the poor, Boston's is the 4th largest in the nation trailing only Atlanta, San Francisco and Miami.

    http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2014/07/07/citylabs-study-boston-one-of-th...

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    Couple points

    Development isn't happening in West Roxbury and Roslindale and is happening in South Boston, East Boston, and Chinatown. That much is true.

    What it means, if anything, is of course what people argue about.

    West Roxbury, Roslindale, and several other neighborhoods aren't growing-they have barely gained in population in 20+ years. How much demand is there right now for new construction? (And, when developers wish to build, neighbors say "No"-just like they do in South Boston, South End, et, al.) And how much new demand is there for single-family homes?

    There is pent-up demand for new housing downtown-and that's where zoning allows-so that's where developers build.

    The Atlantic Cities study of income inequality (and other studies) are accurate in what data they are analyzing but I think it has major flaws. ~30% of Boston's population is made up of college students and 22% of its residents live in subsidized housing. That's going to throw off those numbers.

    And, picking and choosing ZIP Codes as they did at AC isn't fair. There were 1,146 residents living in the 02199 ZIP Code in 2010, out of the 617,594 residents living in Boston at the time. That's less than 0.2% (not 2%, .2%). It includes the Mandarin Oriental condos and the Avalon Bay apartment complex, a post office, and not much else.

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    It's pretty transparent.

    They just used Zillow Stats matched against a zip code. It's something anyone can look up.

    It wasn't about population size of zip code or any other deflected thing.

    And the only point is that the average price for zip code makes it up there in expense rankings.

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    Thanks for the logic.

    By on

    I appreciate it. Hopefully this comment is benign enough to get past the censor wall.

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    You are correct, sir

    Having been a West Roxbury resident for the past couple of years, I don't see that "OMG, let's build high rise apartments NOW because it's a hot part of town!" enthusiasm.

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    Go Figger

    Back in the 1970's the previous owners of my house in Hyde Square JP sold and moved-on-up to a nice colonial in West Roxbury, probably bigger than the house they left. Now, for some crazy reason, my house is "worth" twice what theirs is.

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    I believe it

    I'm noticing a LOT of nice houses here going for premium bucks here...we had a house down the street selling for ~$600,000 a few months ago - which compared to Back Bay/Downtown standards is a steal.

    That could be a valid reason why West Roxbury is not keen in becoming another hot nabe for investors and developers - residents are content with additions and expanding what they have rather than sticking obscenely huge towers right in the middle of Centre St.

    Ummm

    By on

    Broadway/Fort Point section of Southie is literally a stone throw away from downtown, hence the yuppification. West Roxbury and Roslindale are out in the boonies right now, with no way of getting downtown other than infrequent and expensive commuter rail or slow buses - what else do you expect? There might be some yuppification in Dot along the red line, but that would be very limited since many areas, while nice, are way too close to the ghetto to attract $500/sqft homebuyers.

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    A few condos on Jones Hill

    By on

    A few condos on Jones Hill have sold for $500 sq/ft (or close to it) in recent months....

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    Jones Hill is nice

    By on

    But it's surrounded by rather shady areas pretty much on all sides. Savin Hill OTB is much more isolated, but even that neighborhood has more than enough property crime spilling over from other sections.

    Stepping out your luxury

    By on

    Stepping out your luxury front door to heroin addicts stumbling about, congregating around your front luxury flower beds, and lowering the desirability of people to buy these places. Nice recipe for development in the City of Boston.

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    You'll never make it in real estate

    Those folks stumbling about, congregating around your front luxury flower beds are there to maintain them by watering them with their urine (which I've been assured is organic and non-GMO).

    /s

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    Oh my god, tell me about it!

    By on

    Oh my god, tell me about it! I always see so many hypodermic syringes in people's front yards around Mass Ave, especially near Mass Ave station. And passed out people. And people stumbling about totally messed up on drugs, zombie-like. It's sad.

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    Yes

    By on

    It's obviously been way too long since I've played that game. Fixed.

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    I think you exaggerate, Adam

    By on

    For instance, the Fenway neighborhood did the right thing, got together and created a master plan for redeveloping Boylston Street. The recent work going over there is just a realization of that plan. Is it really a surprise to see cranes on Boylston Street when that's what the plan called for?

    You know you left out a few neighborhoods, too. Plenty of work going on in Dudley Square for instance, let's not forget Barlett Yards. Not to mention the stuff going up by Jackson Square and along the Orange Line. This is stuff coordinated with the local CDCs quite often, and will include affordable housing. Allston and Brighton are starting to see their fair share of luxury development, too. And hopefully some mid-market stuff. And let's not forget the new Charlesview.

    I think the best hope for mid-market is to encourage development where the prices are reasonable, such as in the outer neighborhoods. Do planning like the Fenway did, look to attract a diversity of housing development options for all ranges of income.

    Unfortunately, when someone proposes something, like say in Hyde Park, the neighbors all come out and scream it down. The Mayor's gonna have to put his foot down on that kind of selfish nimby behavior if he wants to see a real dent made in the price of housing. Boston was built on multi-family housing and it's ridiculous that an unholy mix of zoning combined with an elitist minority of residents have made it all but impossible to build reasonably priced city housing like that anymore, other than when big developers cut deals.

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    Sorry, didn't mean to seem like I was being all encompassing

    By on

    You're right about Dudley and there's a lot of stuff being talked about in Forest Hills, as well (and as long as we're in JP, South Huntington Avenue and even down to Hyde Square).

    But as I've been scanning ZBA agendas for the last year or so, it's just been so striking how development in South Boston compares to the lower third of the city (i.e., West Roxbury, Roslindale and Hyde Park). Part of it may be extreme resistance to change (look at the screaming in Hyde Park about one small apartment building next to a train station that would replace two condemned old factory buildings - but compare that to the welcome the substation project is getting in Roslindale Square), part of it may be zoning (single family homes) and the lack of available space, part of it might be things I know nothing about. Whatever the reasons, Boylston Street and the Seaport already look far different than the way they did 20 years ago; I'm betting Roslindale and West Roxbury will look pretty much the same in 20 years.

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    Resistant to change AND outdated zoning

    By on

    If you'd previewed the ZBA agenda for last Tuesday's meeting (7/22) you would have seen an application for a 29-unit (or thereabouts) rental development at the corner of Washington and Green Streets in Jamaica Plain, with retail on the first floor. Unfortunately, this is at least the second time the developer has had a date with the ZBA, and the second time he had to withdraw the application. It is definitely not a luxury development, but it has been stonewalled by neighbors who have objected, in turn, to its size, parking, uses, landscaping, height, and (of course) shadows, picking a new topic of aggrievance each time the developer makes a change to assuage their concerns. Is it the most well-designed, forward thinking, affordable development? No, but it fills a critical need for rental housing, and the inability to deliver those units puts more pressure on the existing housing stock.
    Yet the opponents will settle for nothing less than nothing, and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council won't take a stand. Without their support, it's practically pointless to appear before the ZBA.
    The root of the problem, though, is that the zoning is so outdated that a sensibly dense rental development steps from an Orange Line station needs a variance in the first place. That stretch of Washington Street is still zoned industrial despite the fact that industrial jobs have been fleeing the area for some time. There is a ton of potential to create a real mixed-income transit-oriented community there, but unless the city gets serious about getting a plan together, and soon, it is going to be a discombobulated shitshow.

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    good enough for me

    By on

    Frankly, I don't want to see the level of development in WR, Rossi or HP occurring elsewhere in the city. I would prefer things look pretty much the same in 20 years as Adam has suggested. Our residential development moves at a snails pace and that is good enough for me.

    My parents both grew up here. When I take my father in for a medical appt tomorrow; he will not recognize Boylston Street in the Fenway except for the ballpark lights looming.

    It's not that I don't want change in my backyard. I look forward to technological and environmental evolution. But folks who have lived in this area want to keep the aesthetic the same. The sterile view of high rise apartments is not on our wish list. Green space is a good thing and we are fortunate to have more in our corner of the city than most.

    consequences

    By on

    That's an understandable perspective, but it comes with consequences. Discouraging new development means that as new people want to move into the neighborhood, those with the most means will be in the best position to purchase or rent what stock is available, leaving fewer units for lower-income households. Even worse, current renters may be forced out as their landlords take advantage of a tight market to jack rents or convert to condos.

    Not to mention the fact that slow housing production has economic consequences. Half of the region's workforce was born before 1970, and two of five workers will be retired by 2030. Unless we build more housing to accommodate young families, or force the old people out of the region, there won't be anywhere for young workers to live, and employers will have a hard time filling the jobs vacated by the retiring baby boomers. Tight labor market = inflated wages = more reason for firms to move to North Carolina. In other words, if we don't get on top of this issue now, things won't look "pretty much the same in 20 yeard," they will look much much worse.

    Those of us pushing for more growth in the city are not looking to develop WR's green space, or even necessarily to build "high-rises," unless you count anything taller than a triple decker as a high rise. What we want is to convert the acres and acres of underutilized land that exists in the city--the empty warehouses, the car storage places, the vacant parking lots--into places where people can live, work, and play. Change is coming whether you want it or not--it's time to plan for it.

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    Interesting threory, but

    By on

    Explain the lack of activity in Roslindale and Hyde Park compared to Southie? Besides, these new developments in Southie don't seem to be helping the less well off locals too much, at least from what I've read here.

    Despite my support of the bizarrely NIMBYed project by Fairmont Station, I cannot believe that the residents of Hyde Park are really trying to keep the "undesirables" out of the neighborhood. I have no idea why the residents are opposing it, but trust me, if you don't know Hyde Park, pay it a visit.

    In the end, Southie is closer to downtown and people in the lower portions of the city like housing the way it is. Therefore, you won't be seeing a lot of teardowns, dividing lots, and the like. You do see them, but Southie is hot while I am enjoying the quiet life in the Boston's sweet spot, Roslindale.

    You'd be hard pressed to figure out

    ..who these undesirables are 'down there'.

    I love doing that long bus run from Forest Hills to Walcott Sq.. no snark.

    And when I first went there, I was surprised by how basically multi-racial and diverse it is, having heard for years that it was a xenophobic bigot pit.

    I vote for the "really inconvenient" explanation.

    A rapid transit run would make the speculation potential on par with JP or whatevs.

    I want to get back there again to just do more photo/video stuff of all the rail activity.

    When morning rush hour hits Reedville, it's really something, like stately railroad choreography.

    http://youtu.be/NzmTheWGlOE

    Who's talking about "sterile

    By on

    Who's talking about "sterile high rises"? The NIMBYs won't allow anything, even nice town home-style multi-family housing to be built. Development is plenty compatible with green space and other values, but I know that doesn't matter to you. Because, to you, this isn't about green space or anything else of that sort.

    This is an example of typical behavior from the NIMBYs: jumping to extremes. It's either nothing or "sterile high rises". In their world, there's no in-between. And as shown in JP, the NIMBYs always have an excuse ready. If one doesn't work, they make up a new one.

    The reason for this peculiar NIMBY behavior is actually because it is largely about elitism, and screwing other people over. Frankly, I don't think that the city should ever condone the kind of selfish NIMBY behavior that makes it impossible to build anything, anywhere. It's childishness of the first order, and Mayor Walsh needs to put his foot down on it just as he did on the Beacon Hill idiots.

    This is a city, you live in a city neighborhood. If a neighborhood doesn't grow and change, then it's not a neighborhood, it's a museum.

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    NIMBYism

    By on

    Is mostly due to the fact that all large developments are required to have affordable units, and cheaper parts of Boston can potentially end up with a glorified housing project, with a few market rate units and the rest set aside for the 0-30% AMI crowd. And, as un-PC as it sounds, no one wants to live next to a housing project.

    NIMBYism existed long before

    By on

    NIMBYism existed long before any kind of affordable housing policy. Actually, affordable housing policies like "inclusionary zoning" were instituted in direct response to NIMBY elitism and their efforts to exclude people using zoning regulation.

    Also, you think 10-15% affordable units is going to turn it into a "glorified housing project"? Bullshit. The whole point of that affordable set-aside is to AVOID creating economically segregated housing projects in the first place. It's mixed income for a reason. Is it an awkward policy? Yes. Can you think of a better way? Other than boosting the supply of normal market-rate housing, I haven't a better idea. And that brings us right back to where we started: fighting NIMBYs and their anti-social, selfish, pathological behavior.

    Really?

    By on

    http://www.dotnews.com/2014/proposed-ashmont-tire-project-takes-shape - 44 out of 81 units (i.e. over half) set aside as affordable, with studios going for $470. This is clearly low income housing, not affordable housing for working lower middle class folks. Affordable housing is great, but low-income housing in luxury complexes does absolutely nothing other than take away any incentive to work.

    Yes, really

    By on

    That particular Peabody Square project was discussed on UHub in the past and it is being put together, in part, by a community group that specifically intends to provide more than the minimum in terms of affordable housing. Also notice that it serves a range of incomes, from low to mid-range, in addition to the market rate.

    The affordable set-aside I'm talking about is in ordinary market-rate, for-profit buildings that do not have any particular community-oriented focus. For them it is typically 10-15%, according to city of Boston policy.

    Transportation is a big

    By on

    Transportation is a big difference. South Boston has 2 red line stops, Hyde Park and West Roxbury have only commuter rail that costs 2.5 times more than taking the subway and doesn't go on weekends or much at all at night.

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    Exactly. UniHubbers love to

    By on

    Exactly. UniHubbers love to complain about the T but look at how cleanly it drives investment. I'll take my "sterile highrise" feet from Red, Green, Blue, Orange, and Silver anyday.

    Why transit drives investment

    Transit drives investment because it is inadequate and insufficient. Make everywhere equally convenient, and you level out the influence.

    Not to mention make your city vastly more liveable, overall.

    Bartlett Yards?

    What's happening with that? It was supposed to already be demolished by now, but it's still standing.

    Enough Already!

    By on

    No more 1-2 bedroom condos and apartments!

    The only developments that should be going up in SoBo are:

    1. High End Restaurants / Stores
    2. 3 Bedroom / 3 Bath Condos with minimum 2000 sq. ft.
    3. Row of town homes
    4. Public Space / Parks.

    ...anything else will lower the quality of life.

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    What's wrong with development

    By on

    What's wrong with development in a Boston neighborhood, South Boston, East Boston, Chinatown, I'm glad that new residential Development is popping up everywhere, no one complained when Charlestown or the North End was on the verge of becoming gentrified in the 1980s, why should one complain if Chinatown or Eastie become gentrified, wheather it's low income housing or high income condos, it tells you one thing, population and job growth in Boston is on the rise , there is less housing supply and more demand for housing in Boston. Its great that in southie on West Broadway they are building multi rental units with retail on bottom floors, retail means it can bring jobs to community which is great.

    Except demand for retail rental is pretty maxxed out.

    Brick and mortar locations are no longer very valuable for retail and the jobs are low quality, low pay and mildly miserable.

    And popularity comes and goes, job growth is cyclical and there is no promise that your luxury dump will attract more chumps than the one down the street.

    It's just a more expensive way to gamble than Blackjack or Roulette. .

    Retail also means resturaunts

    By on

    Retail also means resturaunts which can provide employment to the south boston neighborhood residents, bartending, cooks, prep cooks, dish washers, delivery drivers etc. And I might add there are many food establishments to choose from on South Boston's waterfront, I'm sure those establishments are part of the South Boston chamber of commerce..

    Yes but they are

    ..one of the riskiest and most failure plagued forms of small business and are mainly just an underpaid form of entry labor save for the cook management core.

    So it's like taking a moderately risky speculation and then floating it with someone elses even more risky speculation.

    I could do a photo essay in a short walk of all the new buildings here that bet on 'first floor retail and the stuff sits there and has for several years.

    It's either a corporate franchise location for higher end or some small biz experiment on the lower.

    There have been profound changes in how people use retail space. Many of the shop concepts are wiped out except in upscale places like Swellesley where shopping is recreational.

    I could do a similar photo walk of strange little former storefronts that have been turned into residences.

    There seem to be an interesting and oddly mechanistic set of assumptions that keep showing up in these drum beats for real estate speculation that turn even funnier when restaurants are mentioned in the same breath.

    A friend of mine just noted "Aaah Restaurants and Real Estate.. the only jobs where a criminal record isn't much of a liability.."

    And he worked at a number of the former for years.

    The similarity of pitches that follow each of these posts suggests the pitchers think in formulas rather than attempting to get a sense of the ecosystem and its long term prospects.

    That would be my counter dogma.. get more inventive. It's foolish to talk about 'pent up demand' for luxury while assuming there isn't even more 'pent up demand' for middle class affordable given demographic stats alone. Speculators just aren't as eager to suck up to the middle class as they once were.

    They don't have faith in numbers and are trying to cherry pick everything when the cherries are getting a bit too ripe.

    What's wrong with development

    By on

    What's wrong with development?

    Nothing. I am all for it. We can all agree that we don't want SoBo turning into Alston/Brighton with the "im 23 and I still think im in college" frat houses on every block.

    Large, penthouse size condos and townhomes prevent that. Apartments *can* encourage that.

    As more companies move to the Waterfront, the demand for living in SoBo will grow and the just out of college bros will be priced out.

    So I think we are safe but we should still be looking to prevent it.

    - The Original SoBo Yuppie

    SoBro

    By on

    It's the 23 year old frat house morons down M Street beach who call South Boston SoBo. You want Southie to improve? Stop calling it by the name you made up.

    Nope.

    By on

    They call it Southie. For some reason they think that is cool.

    SoBo is what higher end yupsters call it.

    Not necessarily

    By on

    That $4000/month 3 bedroom: More likely to be rented by a 3 former frat guys just out of college each with an income capable of supporting $1300/mo rent, or a family, who probably can't swing a $4k rent bill?

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Exactly...

    By on

    ...Which is why I said "no more apartment complexes in SoBo".

    We need 3 Beds / 3 Bath / (minimum) 2000 sq.ft. CONDOS for the higher end yupsters couples. 22 y/o frat boy can't afford an 800K condo.

    YET AND STILL THE HOMELESS

    By on

    YET AND STILL THE HOMELESS POPULATION COUNTINUES TO GROW. TAX DOLLARS GOING TO HOUSE FAMILIES IN HOTEL AND MOTELS. BHA HAS LOST OR SOLD MORE THAN 50 percent of their units.i can see a need for mixing up the cultures in some of these area with the home if increasing the peace but I promise u, it's only a matter of time and those site will be nothing more that an upscale projects with the upscale and the whites scrambling to figure out how to get their money back.

    Bleeding heart tax credit

    By on

    I wonder what sort of deal the ashmont tire site developer has finagled with the city, since over half of the units are going to be low-income housing (as in $500/month studios, which certainly aren't intended for the 60-100% AMI group.)

    They're Far

    By on

    Compared to downtown, they're almost as far as Arlington...

    Kind of Apples and Oranges

    By on

    This is really just an issue of density and zoning. If you have taken a long walk around S.Boston (or just scanned over it with Googlemaps) you can see that there is lots of space to take old commercial/industrial properties, raze them, and build dense residential. And the neighborhood is primarily made up of multi-family tripple deckers to begin with. Roslindale and WR, by contrast, have far less old commercial/industrial space to pick away at, and the neighborhoods are made up primarily of large single family homes (some sitting on double lots!). So even when you can find a piece of land, automatically you are going to have to consider whether the zoning and neighborhood will allow for a dense multi-family building. However, where there is available space to be converted it is happening. The old funeral home on Washington Street in Roslindale Square is being razed and converted into a relatively large apartment building (I think at least 15 units). An old gas station nearby has been razed and they are also building a multi-family property. It may be that at some point developers will run out of options in S.Boston, Chinatown, the Seaport, the South End over by InkBlock, etc. and turn their sites on neighborhoods further out, but there is still plenty of room for infill closer to downtown at the moment.

    Land owners in Southie are

    By on

    Land owners in Southie are building 3 family dwellings on land with only 800 to 1300 square feet parcels, how can this be possible, I thought the requirement in the city of boston is 5000 sq feet for a 3 unit triple decker..someone please explain requirements, is the building codes any different from any other part of boston.