West Roxbury developer agrees to shrink size of proposed residential project at Centre and LaGrange

Armstrong building

Residents would rather keep fire trap than see 62 apartments here.

A developer who wants to tear down the old Armstrong pharmaceutical factory and replace it with apartments agreed tonight to try to reduce the number of units, maybe make them condos instead of apartments and add more parking - after listening to angry residents tear into the project for more than an hour.

Michael Argiros from Charles River Realty promised to come back before residents with a smaller proposal before seeking formal approval from the West Roxbury Neighborhood Council, the BRA and the zoning board.

That was welcome news to City Councilor Matt O'Malley, who said he could not support the project as initially proposed: 62 apartments and 52 parking spaces in new buildings on the site.

At the contentious meeting at the Elks, close to 100 furious residents applauded when one of their number proposed simply turning what is now a hazardous-waste site into a parking lot. And that was after residents yelled they'd rather keep the current fire trap of an abandoned factory than live with 62 apartments.

Residents booed and cried in outrage when Argiros admitted he lived in Westwood; some loudly asked him if he'd like 62 apartments built on his street.

One resident said she moved to West Roxbury to get away from apartments; another said she just knew the apartments would turn into a project with pot-smoking derelicts hanging out in the historic cemetery next door - especially after she heard that city regulations would require six or seven of the units be "affordable."

"It's gonna end up like a project!" she exclaimed.

Arigiros said the apartments would be aimed at young professionals and would be similar if not better than the new apartments that recently opened up near Roche Bros. and Lord's and Lady's - which only made some residents groan because of what they hinted is now going on over there.

Others complained the number of parking spaces was simply too low and didn't buy the contention the new residents would need fewer spaces because the building would be across the street from a stop on the Needham Line. They noted the line doesn't run on weekends.

They complained 62 new apartments would cause even more problems at an already bad intersection and leave their streets crowded with the cars of the new residents. And they fretted whether the development would have too many Zipcar spaces.

Some residents asked why the factory couldn't be replaced with a few single-family homes. An architect on the proposal from Neshamkin French said the land isn't zoned that way; Argiros said even if it were, single-family homes wouldn't return enough to make the project economically viable.

The land is zoned for "neighborhood shopping." One resident said he would welcome new stores to help the St. Teresa's side of West Roxbury catch up with the booming Holy Name end of the neighborhood. The architect, however, cautioned that the eight to ten stores that could be put on the site would generate far more traffic than even 62 apartments.

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    Comments

    Good for the neighbors

    By on

    Sounds like valid complaints from the "furious" neighbors. Great to see 100 come out for anything, anywhere. It also sounds like a typical developer's strategy of proposing something neighbors definitely won't want, then coming back with something marginally better and saying, "look, we fixed it." Is rezoning still within the City Council's purview? If so, I'm curious why didn't Councilor O'Malley rezone the site, especially if it's abandoned, a firetrap and hazardous waste site and neighbors want something different than what it's zoned for?

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    Toxic Waste Clean-up

    Who pays for that? The developer wouldn't make enough money on a low density project to cover that cost. The choice is among: leaving the toxicity alone; tax payer funded clean-up so that a developer can make money on a few single family residences; high density development that yields enough return to cover the clean-up. I'll take the third option.

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    And people wonder why

    ... housing is so expensive in the Boston area.

    And then they complain about their kids not being able to afford a place, or middle class families being priced out ...

    Why do the neighbors even have a right to care? It isn't their property or money being invested - as long as it conforms to reasonable zoning (not "Everyplace gets single family homes! Because!"), why is it any of their business?

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    That's the problem swirly

    By on

    The zoning in this town is hopelessly out of date - thus my comment below. If you only built to zoning, almost nothing would get built. But that opens up the process for all kinds of obstructionists to stand in the way of good projects or for the BRA to take gargantuan projects from their favored developers and shove them down the throats of neighborhoods that are one by one getting overrun with massively out of scale projects. I don't expect it to change because that would take away all the power from the petty bureaucrats.

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    Middle class families get

    By on

    Middle class families get priced out because of developments like this. Give people the opportunity to buy their homes from absentee landlords so they can alleviate one of their largest monthly expenses.

    There's no general housing shortage. When you have people waiting in line to pay $900/month to live in a dump in Somerville because it's a 15 minute walk to Davis, you loose all affordable housing.

    Gentrification and yuppyfication screws middle class people, not other middle class people.

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    How?

    Turning an unused shabby industrial space into 62 units of housing instead do building 4-5 single families prices out the middle class? That's just not true, sorry. NIMBY BS drives up housing costs.

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    Um, NOPE

    By on

    Middle class families get priced out because of high demand for an area in relation to its low supply of housing options. Price = Demand / Supply. THAT’S why locals kids can’t afford to live here anymore and it’s why trailer rentals in North Dakota are $2500 a month.

    Restricting supply / new building further does nothing to relieve the demand pressure, and only drives up costs / prices even more. It also makes the local housing market and economy very brittle as you leave a lot of potential growth on the table. Good if you can cash in high and are looking to get out of the market in the short term, but good luck when things turn south due to minority pressures.

    My guess is most of those 100 residents were landlords seeking to keep their rent seeking ventures very profitable, and this had little to do with gentrification or keeping housing prices/rents down, especially since the only way to keep prices low is to build a shit ton more houses and apartments to fill unprecedented demand to live in this region.

    50% of the population are middle men and they don’t take kindly to being cut out.

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    Reasonable Zoning

    By on

    Hey SwirlyGrrl,
    Do some simple research before you decide to chime in with an obnoxious and uneducated response. A quick search on the Boston Assessor site clearly shows that the property is zoned as "Industrial"

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    Industrial?

    By on

    So the neighbors wouldn't be mad if I brought in my rendering plant operation?

    Jobs available on all three shifts!

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    LOL

    I was going to propose a lead smelter or ammunition factory. Or high-throughput auto body and paint facility.

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    The city dump was not too far

    By on

    The city dump was not too far up the road at one time, hugging those same RR tracks that pass over Lagrange street , along with more industry , including a chemical company and a drive- in theatre. A lot of stuff was tucked away in that part of WR , and there was freight traffic on that rail , now just commuter I think. So that zoning was important, Last memory check , there were two oil companies further down Spring street that had been in JP but moved to that area , probably aided by the dreaded zoning. People have to work somewhere, not everything can be emailed.

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    Stop whining

    By on

    This would have been welcomed with open arms had it been condos (i.e. responsible homeowners,) but no one wants what could potentially turn into a mini Bromley Heath right in their backyard. You're 100% right, Boston does need more affordable housing - affordable housing as in reasonably-priced condos normal working families can afford, not $10k/month luxury glass boxes and more section 8 rentals for "teh poor." You know, something that would bring in residents without driving property taxes through the roof or turning the community into a crime-infested shit hole.

    Why is it their business? Perhaps because they live here, they paid for their houses, and they don't want something that could decimate their property values and bring in violent crime? I'm sure lots of them are homeowners, they don't have the luxury of packing up and moving whenever they feel like it.

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    Argiros

    By on

    His name is Michael Argiros. From Wesrwood

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    "Sounds like valid complaints

    By on

    "Sounds like valid complaints from the "furious" neighbors."

    Making racist statements about it being a "project" and making false-flag arguments because you want to protect high rents isn't "reasonable."

    You don't have a right to keep others from using the land around you.

    Boston is DESPERATE for more housing, and for housing built within the last 100 years. Newsflash: population rises, you need more houses.

    Also, the "X" means a building is uninhabited and not up to code, not that it is a "death trap" or "fire trap." It was in active use making inhalers up until a few years ago.

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    You are wrong, the X (red

    By on

    You are wrong, the X (red background with a white X on it) does mean there are serious dangers upon entering. An example would be a building under construction with parts of the floor missing. The symbol for an uninhabited building is the same red sign but with only a single white line through it.

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    It used to be known as

    By on

    "White Roxbury"

    I worked for a former car thief from there in the 70s in a school bus company.

    He had a hilarious scam charging the city for fake school bus brake repairs using fraudulent purchase orders generated by a buddy who owned a clutch repair shop.

    And then he'd make my harmless friend sign them as the parts clerk to cover his tracks and fob culpability on someone else.

    Yeah... that West Roxbury.

    And people beat on Southie, but I swear West Roxbury has even better screeching weasel bigots.

    Good to know it's still basically the same.

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    I just read through every

    I just read through every single comment on that post, and I still don't really understand what the T-Shirt is implying. Is it a racist thing? An Irish thing? A Catholic thing? So confusing...

    ANON

    By on

    Saying the word "project" has nothing to do with race. I grew up in a "project" and I am not a minority. I think you need to look in the mirror and think about your own prejudices.

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    The right to keep others...

    By on

    Correct, no one has that right, but rich suburbs full of ardent poverty advocates somehow seem to be an exception to that rule - you never see public or low-income housing being built in Weston, Westwood and Wellesley, yet there's plenty of it towns and neighborhoods inhabited by lower middle class working folks. If they like low income housing so much, why don't they have some built in their towns, so all those poor disadvantaged kids can enjoy everything the W suburbs have to offer? Or can their hearts only bleed from a safe distance?

    PS: Let's be honest for a second - how many of home/condo owners here would want low-income housing built next door to them? My guess is NONE.

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    Apples to oranges

    By on

    Fifly-five affordable units in Westwood, with (I assume) a similar number in the other W suburbs, housing no one but elderly and disabled. When was the last time you saw a police car at any of those complexes? As for "affordable housing," there's a huge difference between the 70-100% AMI housing vs the 0-30% AMI housing - you're the one who might want to try again.

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    This is why we can't have nice things

    By on

    This is why we can't have nice things. Good for the neighbors? Hogwash. This is race baiting (I wonder what they think the "derelicts" will look like) and fear of any change. This is not only a local issue: every time housing is quashed by NIMBY nonsense, the overall housing supply is restricted and it becomes even more unaffordable.

    Enjoy the abandoned factory, Westie.

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    So weird

    It's a run down industrial building (which I kind of like) between a graveyard, a street and a liquor store, but turning it into apartments is a terrible idea? I don't get people.

    proofreading note - groaned, not grown. Thanks as always for the local reporting.

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    There's always people that will reject anything

    No matter what is proposed, there will always be a group of people that will not like it. Guaranteed. Always.

    I see it here in the boonies all the time. Somebody proposes a small development with 10 units/houses. NO!!!! Traffic!!! The end of the world! They don't want anything. They don't realize that the owner of the land has every right to do something with the land.

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    Oh No Not Zipcars!

    By on

    You got it right Murph. People were upset that they had too many Zipcars? I defy you to explain how Zipcars could be a bad thing!

    I swear if someone said they were going to open a store that gave away $100 bills to every neighborhood resident, people would still complain that it would screw up the parking.

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    West Roxbury problems

    Just say no, to TOD! Although, the change from rental units to condos might resolve some of the concerns about "those people."

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    what a shame

    By on

    Boston needs more housing, desperately. Especially densely built rental units near transit. And neighbors are opposed to it.
    We need a pro development movement around here. Pro-housing, pro-density, pro - affordability.

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    Adam, I can't tell if that

    By on

    Adam, I can't tell if that was a objective news story or an editorial. There are at least five typos, spelling mistakes and grammatical errors mixed into the news account/editorial/satire. Were you quoting someone in regards to the "fire trap" comment or adding dramatic affect?

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    Fixed one of the typos

    By on

    If you can point out the others, I'll fix them (apologies for any sloppiness).

    No, "fire trap" was not a direct quote, which is why it's not in quotation marks. However, the building is a fire trap - it even has those red-and-white cross signs that warn firefighters to stay out should it actually catch on fire. At one point, the developer or the architect (sorry, can't remember which) asked if people would rather the building stay the way it is rather than have the 62-unit project built - and people yelled they'd rather keep it the way it is. It was that kind of meeting.

    I will admit that if I were still writing for an actual news organization, I would have gone up to people afterwards and asked them for their names. That's just what reporters do. I didn't because I wanted to write up the story as soon as I could (with obvious consequences such as typos) and because I didn't think it mattered all that much in a story like this - pretty much everybody in the room not in the developer's employ was of one mind on the whole thing.

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    Found, fixed a couple more typos

    By on

    Another example of the kind of meeting it was: The woman who said the thing would turn into a project inhabited by cemetery-seeking pot smokers also complained that the developer had done nothing to clean up the property, and never mind that he doesn't own it yet.

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    Tougher than downtown

    By on

    A rep from the BRA told me a couple years back that getting things done in the western neighborhoods was almost impossible. 62 apartments? Please - they propose 300 unit apartments almost monthly downtown.

    Here's a fair solution. Formally divide the city into neighborhoods. Establish some kind of committee to work with the BRA so that if you put together zoning for a 20 year plan, and it's fully built out to zoning the neighborhood will have 20% more housing. Update the plan every 5 years so that you always have 20% growth 20 years out and there's enough slack to accommodate the properties that don't get developed.

    This way the neighbors have to propose where the development goes - but they HAVE to come up with a growth plan that suits the city's needs. You get to say what and where stuff gets built - but you don't get to say not in my back yard - and virtually nothing ever gets built that requires a major variance because the neighborhood has already established appropriate zoning. The BRA and zoning board have ultimate say - but at least they've had REAL community input.

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    Making Your Neighborhood Suck

    By on

    I don't understand why people fetishize parking. There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of what requiring parking does. Folks who have on street parking don't want newcomers competing with them and sometimes slashing tires is a lot of work. Requiring parking just reduces density, foisting a negative externality on people without cars. So we encourage car ownership and the mean quality of life falls. If anything, developers should have to pay for every parking space they build.

    For the record, I have a car and live on the outskirts of the city.

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    Developers do pay for parking

    By on

    And they pass those costs on to the customer. It's the City that requires those spaces. Try to build without parking (something they did in Miami) and the neighbors howl, try to divorce parking from apartments, opening the option of renting unused spaces to other people (as was attempted by Barry's Corner) and the neighbors howl. Point out that car ownership is falling like a rock, that transit ridership is growing and that onstreet parking demand can be managed by pricing it to reflect that demand and they call you a carpetbagger, biased, a hater of the family and the home and all sorts of unpleasant names.

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    62 apartments means........

    10-20 of them would be low income housing. And west roxbury residents do not like low income housing.

    If the development were to look like the nice town houses on lagrange st on the other side of the parkway, im sure these residents would have now problem.

    That being said, this is seems to be a real small parcel of land for 62 apartments.

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    I wish I had known about this

    By on

    I wish I had known about this, I would have come in support. We are a one-income family with a kindergarten kid and stay-at-home-mom, making a bit more than average. We would rather have a smaller apartment than a larger house (less to clean and no yard work? Yes, please!) Currently renting nearby, but looking to buy. Interested in good public schools but happy to keep homeschooling. An over-educated family, and already very involved in this neighborhood. Working dad who takes that train line in and out of the city every day. We have a car but rarely use it M-F, we'd ditch the car, maybe, if we could. Clearly, we are degenerates who would end up smoking in the cemetery after buying our craft bourbon at Blanchards! I wish there was more innovation in housing for young families in Ros/WR, microhousing, co-housing. We're open to all of that and would love a creative solution to staying in the neighborhood, we don't need the yard and the driveway.

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    Interesting Contrast with Rozzie Sub-Station

    The sub-station project is similar in that it is high density, more units than parking spaces, six low income units, and located at a busy intersection. Yet roslindale residents have thoroughly supported it, along with another similar project on Roberts Rd. by the train station.

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    We joke that....

    ... it was lucky for us that we were too poor to afford a house in WR and had to settle for one in Roslindale.

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    also priced out of JP

    By on

    and so were about 4 of my neighbors.

    glad we were priced out too after what I've been learning about the JPNC.

    I want more density in the square - it would make that area more active and support a bigger range of local business and restaurants (and hopefully help out belgrade ave). There are a bunch of 1-story buildings that could be built up too to add more office space... it would be nice if we had a coffee house, though...

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    contrast? have you been to neighborhood meetings?

    By on

    At the first adam's park meeting - someone suggested making poplar street pedestrian-only and said "we're drowning in cars" - which got applause (not by everyone, but a substantial number of people).

    very different crowd.

    Those ideas are not inconsistent

    I don't particularly favor making Poplar pedestrian only (though it should be studied). But that is a pro-human, anti-car idea, much as the sub-station development. I'm not sure if you understood my comment.

    Design of the new buildings

    By on

    One of the interesting things was the architects came up with something that looks a lot like the existing buildings, right down to the color:

    245 LaGrange

    I suspect the costs of retrofittting the ramshackle buildings would exceed that of just tearing it down and starting from scratch.

    Industrial incubator? In West Roxbury? Maybe at the bottom of the quarry ...

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    That quarry fed a lot of

    By on

    That quarry fed a lot of action feeding the Baker Hot Top plant on Washington street JP , across from Doyle 's , those old Sterling chain drives of Baker could be heard all over the city. That hot top was a lot hotter than any incubator , good honest work too ,putting that stuff down . It was an art , working the lute !

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    Oh, those apartment dwellers

    By on

    as if pot smoking crack heads can't be found in houses and condos. But I digress.

    I think the developer is being super nice. If the area is zoned for what he proposes to build, all the bloviating is to no end.

    Aside from the general ignorance of some of the folks at the meeting, the addition of 52 cars maximum for 62 apartments (and some folks will be taking the commuter rail, I am sure), does not sound like too much of an additional burden on the roadwork, and, more importantly, would fill a need for much needed housing.

    Many years ago, I went to a few Norwood town meetings to add apartments to the old Stop and Shop site (near Norwood Depot station). The land was also a clean up site. Different folks, same arguments. Folks from the "city" taking the train to Norwood to "do drugs". Rather keep it undeveloped than have apartments being built and the like. Developer acquiesced and changed plans from building rather nice looking apartments to a rather ugly condo development (in my humble opinion).

    NIMBY is as NIMBY does.

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    Part of the reason there was

    By on

    Part of the reason there was such vitriol at the meeting was word was spread on social media beforehand by certain "Parkway people" fanning the flames about all this "affordable" housing coming to the neighborhood. It's ridiculous.

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    Sort of OT, but not really

    By on

    Maybe 8-10 years ago they had public meetings regarding the renovation of the W Roxbury Hess station. As usual people showed up to complain about everything. I recall that Hess had to agree that they wouldn't sell condoms in order to get the renovation done. Last time I was in there I laughed to see condoms prominently displayed near the checkout.

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    Unconcerned Neighbor

    By on

    I live a couple blocks from that site and I support the project 100%! We need more density in WRox in order to support more/better bars and restaurants and more/better public transportation.

    All the clamoring against "yuppies" in this city is so dumb. I am a yuppy. 35 y/o, grew up in CT, lawyer, 2 kids, married, two cars, office downtown, sold my condo in JP to buy a bigger one in WR, etc.

    BUT I talk to and get along with ALL my neighbors, who are mostly townies, many of whom make way more money than I do and have WAY less overall debt. They like me because I'm friendly and nice. I like them for the same reasons.

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    IGNORANT

    Really? This project is going to bring crack smoking undesirables into West Roxbury? I wish I had been able to go to this meeting to tell these idiots this project will benefit people LIKE ME. People that are looking for good housing, cannot afford a house (or don't really need one) and want to stay in the city of Boston.

    I'm sorry, but the pickings for good affordable housing are getting slim these days. And, really, does W.R. need another hair/nail salon, funeral home or pizza place?!

    Le sigh...

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    Will be a blessing IF done right....

    By on

    As an architect and West Roxbury home owner, I would be thrilled to see some new development on this end of Center street. I live off Lagrange and Vermont and always find myself on the opposite end of Center street.

    A majority of my work is developing socially and economically conscious multi-family housing throughout Boston and Cambridge, and am more than familiar with the stigma surrounding dense and/or affordable rental units. I do believe that a 62 unit development is probably too dense for the site, especially with less than one parking spot per unit, but what typical "suburban" homeowners don't realize is that density is a good thing. Density brings foot traffic, which stimulates the local economy resulting in increased investment in the area in terms of shopping, food service, general retail, etc. This would ultimately lead to a revitalization of this end of Center st. and result in increased property values for all. And yes, there will probably be a little more automobile traffic on those nice weekend afternoons when people are out enjoying themselves. But with more services closer to your house, you may just be able to ditch your car and take a nice walk or even dust off your bike.

    I really hope the BRA gets involved and pushes for a mixed use development on the site with market rate condos or apartments above small retail with concealed surface parking or underground parking for residents and parallel parking for the retail - not unsimilar to retail parking for the rest of Center St. With public transportation so close, It would be ideal for young professionals who commute into the city everyday and are not ready/able to take on home ownership but can still provide some vivacity to the area.

    Let's face it.... West Roxbury is growing in popularity and the demographic is changing. Let's steer the growth in the right direction - providing benefits for long time residents and younger generations who cannot afford condos in Back Bay and don't want to move outside of 128.

    Change isn't always a bad thing....

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    This is the company , Charles

    By on

    This is the company , Charles River Realty , that already owns rental property on the VFW Parkway. If that is his business model, that's what he wants. He wants to take a haz site and recycle it to the good. His market is the in-town young earners that will ride the train back and forth to work. His risk , so let it be. Not too shabby a deal for Blanchard's or the Corrib either. If you want to jack him up . get a donation for the little league.

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    "Some residents asked why the

    By on

    "Some residents asked why the factory couldn't be replaced with a few single-family homes. An architect on the proposal from Neshamkin French said the land isn't zoned that way;"

    Really? I didn't think zoning worked like that. I thought zoning established maximums, not minimums.

    W Roxbury is full of conservative, close minded whites

    By on

    Driving through W Rox is like going back into some Irish neighborhood from the 1950s. Good for you, people, for living in the past, but fact is, you live in the city of Boston. So the developer lives in Westwood? Guess what? He makes more money than you! If you wanna go live in the suburbs, leave and go live in them! Stop holding the city back with your middling, white, lower middle class values! What if the original people 70 yrs ago fought all the postwar development of w Roxbury - where would you be now? Cities grow and expand, and it's time Boston expands outward. You don't like it, go follow the suburbs further out.

    Oh, and don't act like only white family types have a right to your neighborhood. And your thinly veiled remarks about a housing project only show how racist and close minded you people are.

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