Don't try sticking a suburban duplex on a city street, board tells owner of two Roslindale lots

Proposed suburban duplex

Architect's rendering.

The Board of Appeals yesterday deferred any action on a proposed duplex on Hemman Street in Roslindale because the design - which featured two two-car garages right next to each other under the living space - was just too suburban for an urban neighborhood, even one as leafy as that section of Roslindale.

Scott Johnson, who owns an existing three-family house at 57 Hemman St., about midway between Kittredge and Highfield streets, wants to combine that property with the much larger empty lot he owns at 59 Hemman St., build a new two-unit duplex and turn the house into three condos.

Board members did not express any concerns about the height, density or nearness to property lines of the proposal for the total 14,715 square feet of land. But they tore into Johnson's design, which showed two 16-foot-wide garages right next to each other in the new building.

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo, who lives nearby, said that much garage space in a row "seems inappropriate for the community."

Board member Anthony Pisani, an architect, agreed: "This is totally inconsistent with urban streets. This is a classic suburban layout."

Johnson's attorney, Jeff Drago, said the garages were the result of a series of compromises with neighbors. He said Johnson reduced his original four proposed units to two and agreed to give up an easement to the busier Cornell Street so that cars would only enter the property from Hemmen.

Johnson said he initially looked at a possible driveway for parking, but that that wouldn't work because of the way the land dips in the middle.

But Johnson agreed to look at a possible "tandem" design - in which the garage would basically have two parking lanes for two cars apiece - which would let him build just a single garage door.

The board set a new hearing date of Sept. 11 for the proposal, to give Johnson time to come up with a new design.



Free tagging: 



I have to agree with the critics

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Look, we own 2 cars (and barely need one,) and one of my dreams is to live in a place where one can go from house to garage without going outside, but I wince every time I see a house where the front is dominated by garage doors. I first saw this in San Francisco and it freaked me out. Even a suburban place like Roslindale needs a friendlier house front than a garage.

Of course, if they put the garage doors in the back, it would be more aesthetically pleasing, IMHO.



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I don't believe you. If you state you own 2 and barely need one, you would have gotten rid of 1.

What a strange comment

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You don't believe them? That's weird. Just because you would have gotten rid of one of the cars, it doesn't mean everyone would. Not everyone is in the same financial situation as you or makes decisions the same way you would.


The truth

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I'm being honest.

My wife and I both use the T to get to work. We each had a car when we got married and created a system where a redundant car is a nice luxury (if you count a 2001 car a luxury) to have in addition to having a car for those times when the T does not cut it. The redundant car could go, while the main car is something that is used basically week-ends.

Anything else you'd like to know? Or for that matter, any way you can relate all of your concerns to this proposed residential development?


Chiming In

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My husband and I have two cars. We commute together 4 out of 5 days a week. That one day he has to use his car, other than that it sits in the driveway. It is not hard to believe.

Wait a sec, your dream is to

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Wait a sec, your dream is to go from house to car w/o having to step foot outdoors? Why are you afraid of going outside... is it because you live in the city?? One of my fave things is NOT having to use the car to get somewhere where I want go for a long walk away from cars! To each his own I suppose.

Ever heard of snow

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We do live in New England after all. I for one, am not a fan of driving with a bulky coat. I know, I know...sounds silly, but personally, their dream doesn't sound far-fetched when you have a Nor'Easter outside.


Automatic garage door opener

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They come with a box you can keep in your car. You press a button and it opens the door. Press it again and the door closes. I believe they have wifi models you can control from your phone.

Of course, if I really wanted to be bad, I'd put HVAC in my dream garage. But even that would be overkill for me. Still, I'd bet that new houses have just that.

What, the snow?

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One can go outside wearing said bulky coat to shovel. Then go inside, get ready for work. When ready for the commute get right into the car without the coat.

Or they might be able to afford someone to clear the driveway for them. Or they have kids who did the shovelling for them.

Not such a far-fetched notion, honestly.

Another idea

Walk out wearing bulky coat. Remove bulky coat and throw it in. Get in car.

Then if you get a flat or have car trouble (happened to me when it was -5F), you can stay warm.

But I was pointing out that snow needed to be moved, somehow. Whether or not you have a remote for your garage door and a door straight from your house.

I am not a fan of having the car in the same building as the mammals. My BIL's car leaked gas and blew up his house when the gas water heater went on. My SIL's friend lost two children when her car caught fire in the under-house garage. It is also a source of CO poisonings - on the rise with remote keys in play. I'll stick to storing bikes, boats, and camping gear in mine.

Um, yes I walk to the grocery

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Um, yes I walk to the grocery store, post office, etc. in snowstorms -- it's really not that big of a deal to dress for inclement weather. You know people aki and snowboard during the winter, right?

Here's my lame winter Friday in a nutshell

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After walking the third of a mile to the bus, then taking the bus to the train, train to work, working, then take the train to Forest Hills and walking a mile and a half to get home, I go back out. Could be a hockey game at BU, or maybe a trip to the Natick Mall. It's cold. Wicked cold. There's a bunch of snow on the ground. If I park in the indoor parking facilities at my destination, I could very easily get in to the facility of choice for the evening, and again one of these is in Natick, without going outside. Therefore, the only thing that is keeping me from being able to go out with having to put a coat on is the walk from house to car. Having an attached garage would mean that I could avoid the bulky coat for just one part of the travels I do in the course of a week. Is that so wrong?

But hey, let's ignore the 20 miles a week I run in the winter and the fact that I recently recapped a walk down Hyde Park Ave and noted the numerous places where children live that are closer to the train tracks than the new construction at Forest Hills that claims that parents won't live close to where trains are.

Since we are making assumptions, I'll just assume that your long walks involve your best friend- your dog- and you let the dog defecate all over the place and never pick it up. You see what happens when one makes assumptions.

I was just reading the bus/RV

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I was just reading the bus/RV thread here on UHub and was wondering what kind of person could possibly concern themselves with what kind of items are parked in other people's private driveways.

Then I come here and see someone claiming they "wince every time [they] see a house where" something they don't like is placed, and how "it freaked [them] out."

Question answered.

Your observation:"Of course,

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Your observation:"Of course, if they put the garage doors in the back, it would be more aesthetically pleasing, IMHO" shows that you are not familiar with the property in question. The existing 3 family (which the developer will tear down and replace with a 3 condo unit) sits on the edge of a significant drop(at least 30 ft.) to the bottom of a valley; in fact the rear of the existing structure is on supports as it is. The garage doors can't be placed in the rear b/c the rear is well below the street level of the front door. It is only one of the problems with this development. Would that aesthetics were the main issue. Clearly the 'Board' does not care to address the real problems posed by this project.


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There’s a drop in the back? You bolster my viewpoint.

But no, I’m not familiar with the property, but I know what I think is bad in a city- house frontage made up almost entirely by garage doors.

It's not a very long post ...

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So maybe read it again - they didn't reject the thing, they just said come back with another garage design, and he agreed to do that, and they'll consider his case again in September.


Possible repeated month-long

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Possible repeated month-long delays are my nightmare. It's why I hope I never need any type of zoning appeal.

They shouldn't be

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The Boston ZBA approves the vast majority of appeals. Regardless of merit.

I read the entire post. He

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I read the entire post. He came up with that design after listening to neighbors. Now, different neighbors don't like it. And no doubt when he makes this change, different neighbors - or the same - won't like that either.

The problem is that the neighbors have any influence on the property at all.


This isnt zoning

Neighbors bitching and demanding control of your property is NOT zoning.

Go to a city like Portland Oregon, where you get to change zoning, but not make specific demands about what your neighbor does with a property so long as it conforms to zoning. Even when variances are needed, the list of things you can bitch about are limited!

If the people I sold my folks' house to had put in three units as of right, the neighbors would have had NOTHING to say about it. If they went for four, the neighbors would only be able to make specific comments about the additional unit, not anything else.

Forested Lot

It's a forested lot at the moment, so not a trash-strewn vacant lot as the OP suggests. Spending time to get the design right is important.

Was there opposition

to the design from neighbors at the hearing? Or did the ZBA take on the design issue on their own?

Asking because i didn't think they normally consider design in their decisions. Sounds like the variances needed (height, setbacks etc.) were not a concern of the ZBA. That sounds about right for them.

Christine Araujo

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I really don't love when Chairwoman Araujo pulls the "I live close to this project" line. If she's genuinely an abutter who has been involved in the process, she should recuse herself from the hearing because the presumption of impartiality is lost. And if she just lives nearby, she shouldn't have to mention that, as she lives in the same city as all projects before her and her board. Does this mean she shouldn't have an opinion on a project in Orient Heights because it is so far from where she lives?

Adam, I believe you live pretty close to this project. What are your thoughts?

I did a quick google maps search and found a few townhomes with a similar style on Chisholm Ln with the double-double garages, and most of the single families built in the past 10-15 years there do have double garages, albeit not next to each other.

As I see it, the precedents for both double garages and for townhouses are there. This neighborhood is also about as close as you can get to suburbia within the City limits, maybe with the exception of parts of West Roxbury and Hyde Park. If the neighbors were happy with the design I feel that the board should have approved it. As it stands, the owner is in a bind where he either has to appease the board or his neighbors, but never both.

The developer has met with

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The developer has met with the abutting neighbors a couple times to discuss his plans. The onsite parking is needed for these units. About half of Hemman Street homes do not have driveways. The other half have driveways that were in place prior to the street being lowered (years ago) which makes them very steep and pretty much useless. Most people park on the street. It should also be noted that the lot is basically a very steep hill. The neighbors are also being cautious because the three-family house he owns already is not well maintained and want to make sure that more cars aren't added to a very full street of cars.

A street completely full of

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A street completely full of cars in Roslindale? Where? You basically mean “I can’t always park directly in front of my house.” Just say that.


Sounds like the variances

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Sounds like the variances needed (height, setbacks etc.) were not a concern of the ZBA. That sounds about right for them.

Probably not a concern because in a modern city, we actually have to build things like housing. And the Roslindale zoning code, like most of the city, is an absolute joke that belongs in a community outside of 495. They ignore it because it’s laughable in making every single property non-comforming even for homes built during the Civil War.

If the zoning code

needs updating, it should be done city-wide in a fair, equitable way, with input from the community. Not by spot zoning decisions and inconsistent approvals depending on the influence of the applicant or the opposition. Residents should not have to spend time and money asking the city to enforce its own regulations.

Saying that the zoning should

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Saying that the zoning should be updated "city wide" and then that it should be done with "input from the community" is actually somewhat of a contradiction. Most people only care about the zoning right next to their home. If we ask "people" to show up and weigh in on zoning reform (as we did in JP), mostly what they do is show up and complain that the zoning for specific parcels on their block shouldn't be above a certain amount. There is little interest in common sacrifice for the good of the broader plan. If we really wanted to have a functional zoning reform process, what we'd do is appoint a team of experts to design something that takes the needs of the whole city into account and then hands it down from on high, and any project that conformed to it could sail through without further neighborhood review. But of course Bostonians would never go for that because we love our neighborhood "processes."

Believe it or not, this "spot zoning" system persists because it works to the benefit of neighbors who want a chance to weigh in on the facade color of every single building on their street. They love complaining about it only insomuch as they think it will block or substantially downsize whatever project it is that they're currently discussing.

"A team of experts

. . . then hands it down from on high."

Sorry, we are the residents in the city and we should have a chance to have input into what happens in our neighborhood. No one I know is against sensible development, especially in areas where people have access to public transit and walkable shopping areas.

"Hands it down from on high" is what happens now with erratic, inconsistent decisions, based on influence. Don't be afraid of working towards making regulations that are applied equally to everyone.

JP zoning change was only in a narrow JP/Rox area. It didn't encompass anywhere near the entire neighborhood.

Input on general issues

Not specifics of your neighbor's property.

And anyone whining about density should be asked to house 20 Bangladeshi climate refugees since whining about density leads to sprawl which leads to commuting longer distances which accelerates climate change which creates refugees in areas that didn't whine about density or use cars very much.

I both agree and disagree

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I actually think the board is correct that the design sucks. We've had several new houses go up near me in Roxbury with the big suburban garage walls and they're hideous.

But at the same time, I don't know what the board is basing their decision on. The lot is huge. Presumably he is doing this project as of right and meeting all the floor area ratio, unit count, setback, height, parking, and other requirements. As long as he is doing what's spelled out in the code, what gives them the right to attack his design? We're allowed to build ugly houses. There's no architectural design review committee in Roslindale (thank God). Along with the bus/camper conversion thing, this seems like the board is stepping way outside of its authority.

I'd rather have ugly houses and half built bus conversions than a group of people with absolute power over every building project but no clear guidelines or rules to follow. If we as a city want to ban street facing garages and RVs in driveways, we need to do that the right way, through zoning revisions and clear guidance for property owners, not in an ad hoc manner done by an unelected committee with no accountability.


Zoning Code is a Joke

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If he was doing what the code allowed, he wouldn't be in front of the Zoning Board.

At the same time, the zoning code in Roslindale and other more 'suburban' parts of Boston is a joke. Every single lot is in violation including homes built a century ago. It's absurd. It gives every nosy neighbor a complete sense of entitlement as to what happens on someone else's property. That's what happened here. The neighbors demanded this guy put in all this off-street parking, so he did, and then the Board said "no, too much parking." Can't win.


Please no garage-scape!

A walkable neighborhood requires taming the car, and that include such design details as a single car width driveway, and where the house facade dominates, not multiple garages.

To see how bad it can get in terms of design, just go to about 855 LaGrange St to see four relatively new multi-unit buildings with the complete lot frontage an asphalt driveway, and even the sides of the yards are paved. No opportunity for street trees, no refuge for pedestrians as vehicles can enter anywhere.



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On the one hand, much of that section of Lagrange is like that. See streetview.

On the other hand, that is a fugly look that shouldn't be allowed to permeate other areas.

I just drove by

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those condos on Lagrange yesterday and they are fugly.

so inconsistent

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They (ZBA and BPDA) are awfully inconsistent. As another poster notes, garage doors are okay sometimes and other times no. Here's Millmont Street in Highland Park - Roxbury.,+Boston,+MA+02119/@42.3264734,-71.0906535,127a,35y,45t/data=!3m1!1e3!4m5!3m4!1s0x89e37a2f32ff8369:0x4a1c0de5d3a85400!8m2!3d42.32784!4d-71.0911679

....and the mayor does nothing. There appear to be other forces at play and suspiciously looking like patronage when one developer is treated differently from another.

...had to eliminate a proposed garage door at my own house, when another appears down the street a couple years after.

Temple Street house

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Temple Street house

I have no clue about the house's history, but suspect it didn't need zoning-board approval because it's a single-family home and looks to have plenty of space on either side.

That may be

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However, a streetview 'walk' down Hemmen St shows it to be a pretty suburban looking street, IMO.

Let's walk down the street together:

  • 80 Hemmen St is just like what you show above, but doubled. - with the front door at street level instead of up some stairs behind a white picket fence.
  • Oh, hey! 84 Hemmen St is also just like 80, except mirrored. (well, 80 Hemmen looks like it's had a facelift in the form of an addition creating a covered front porch).
  • 90 Hemmen used to have a garage, but that was renovated into a second entrance. Apartment maybe?
  • Huh. 90A Hemmen also has a garage facing the street on the first level
  • Going around the corner onto Highfield shows me 2 such homes near 26 Highfield, also with garages on the 1st level. Well, one of them was renovated to remove the garage part. Also perhaps an apartment.

I think you catch my drift. The whole neighborhood is full of suburbia-esque design details.

The Zoning board shouldn't get to decide on design decisions unless they matter to the items covered in the Zoning Code.



Wait, the duplex with the living quarters over the garage is "too suburban," but the colonial with the shed dormer next door is, what, urban?

Existing building

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And so grandfathered (it's also the three-family that the owner plans to turn into condos).

My point was just that it

My point was just that it seems a little odd to say that his proposed design is "too suburban" to go on a street that seems to be mostly colonials and capes.

The irony of providing 4 off

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The irony of providing 4 off-street parking spaces like that is that it takes approx 3 on-street spaces away in order to provide the driveways. Plus, you lose all that occupiable space from the ground floor of the house and ruin the whole front of the house. You could have a small yard and a front porch. Instead you have driveways, garage doors, and cars crossing the sidewalk to get to it.


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You're just speculating that the house is only as deep as the garage.

Would I design the house differently and get the garages in there? Sure. But that's not what is the issue: the zoning board shouldn't be making design decisions unless they pertain to the Zoning Code.

I'm not assuming the house is

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I'm not assuming the house is ONLY that deep. But the garages do take up a significant part of the first floor, and eliminate the ability to have a porch or any windows in the front.


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Not everyone likes a front porch. Not everyone comes from areas that have front porches, perhaps this is this landowner's norm for home design.

They took a cue from the neighboring homes, tweaked that and now are getting dinged for it. It's dumb.

Actually, a nice looking house

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Herein lies the problem with some of our officials. They ignore Roslindale's published zoning and push for "more density" and allow all of those cracker-box buildings that are going up all over. None affordable.

Roslindale's published zoning calls for two parking spaces per dwelling, regardless of what you think about auto emissions, or promoting public transit, bikes, walking, or hang gliders. Residents saw this and worked with the city to commit it to print. The Zoning Board needs to read their own documents.

And... anyone living in that neighborhood on the board needs to recuse themselves.

Now you have officials over-riding published zoning left and right.

Query... will the new occupants of any house get full disclosure on the flight path overhead to Logan?

That is a nice house and I'd welcome it in my neighborhood any day.

You should see

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the crap the Board Of Appeals allows in South Boston.

It's a glorified mini mall

That doesn't look like a house. Rather it looks like a strip mall with an apartment stuck on top. Totally inconsistent with any residential neighborhood, urban or suburban.