The Zoning Board of Appeals this week rejected a proposed condo building on the site of a former asthma-inhaler factory in West Roxbury, citing neighborhood concerns about density, parking and the developer's proposal to assemble prefab modular units on the site, rather than hiring local workers for more traditional construction.
Local landlord Michael Argiros had proposed tearing down the factory on Lagrange Street near Centre - which caught fire days after he bought it - and replacing it with a 40-condo building assembled out of modular units fabricated in a factory, with 65 parking spaces.
At a hearing Tuesday (watch the hearing - starts at roughly 2:10:00), Argiros's attorney, Dennis Quilty, said that after numerous meetings with residents over more than two years, Argiros reduced the size of the proposed building, decreased the number of parking spaces and agreed to make the units condos rather than apartments, and that the project would remove what is "really a blighted property in the neighborhood."
But board member Mark Erlich, who is also executive secretary and treasurer of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, used the proposed modular construction to open an attack on the project. City officials have frequently expressed skepticism of such prefab units being bolted together, he said. But he added:
It also removes a lot of [work] hours that could be done by people who live and work in the city vs. people in Maine, who wear sneakers.
Mayor Walsh supported the project. Last October, the BRA approved an earlier plan calling for 48 apartments and 81 parking spaces.
City councilors Matt O'Malley (West Roxbury, Jamaica Plain) and Michael Flaherty (at large) opposed the proposal, citing neighborhood concerns about traffic and the size of the project, even at 40 units.
Tim Sullivan, vice president of the West Roxbury Civic and Improvement Association, also questioned what neighbors could expect given the upkeep of Argiros's existing buildings at Carol Circle and VFW Parkway in West Roxbury and in Davis Square in Somerville. The type of problems he said exist there doesn't "fit in with out neighborhood of West Roxbury" - and the fact Argiros has let the Lagrange property rot after the fire doesn't speak well of any future development there.
Residents living near the project said they were concerned about condo dwellers refusing to use the building's garage and instead taking up spaces along Lagrange Street - and using nearby side streets as shortcuts, showing typical Boston-driver lack of concern for all of the runners, bicyclists, parents with strollers and young kids who frequent the area, such as, as one resident pointed out, the annual Shamrock Shootout street-hockey tournament a few blocks away on Temple Street.
One resident questioned why Argiros wasn't using the property for stores, as he'd be allowed under its zoning, in a part of West Roxbury that hasn't seen new commercial development in 50 years; another noted the lack of a loading dock and questioned why the board should let the project be just one foot away from a rear lot line rather than the 40 feet required by zoning.
In response, Quilty said his client has been put in somewhat of an impossible situation: He said that at some meetings, residents complained that many of the existing storefronts along Centre Street are vacant; that Argiros removed the loading dock after a complaint from the same guy who complained about the lack of one at the hearing, and that the rear setback is along the property's border with a cemetery, whose denizens are not raising complaints about the issue.