Long vacant single-family house to be replaced with apartments on Mansfield Street in Allston

The Zoning Board of Appeals last week approved a proposal by City Realty to replace the unoccupied house at 9 Mansfield St. in Allston with a five-unit apartment building with six parking spaces in the rear.

The board needed to approve variances because the proposed building would be denser and taller than allowed under the zoning for the lot, which also does not allow multi-family housing.

Tony D'Isidoro, president of the Allston Civic Association, which supported the proposal, said the street already has several buildings used for apartments and condos.

The proposed building's closeness to the sidewalk was, briefly, a sticking point for some board members. Board member Mark Ehrlich said the proposal "sticks out like a tooth." But City Realty attorney Jeff Drago said that's because other buildings on the street have their parking in front, while the proposed City Realty building would have its parking in the preferred location, in the rear.

D'Isidoro said his members particularly appreciated the building's design, which he said would fit in well with the existing buildings on the street.

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Zoning

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the proposed building would be denser and taller than allowed under the zoning for the lot, which also does not allow multi-family housing.

Why is there ANYWHERE in Boston which is only zoned for single-family housing?

zoned 2-Family, not single

Assessing
Parcel ID :2201529000
Address :9 MANSFIELD ST, 02134
Owner :CUNNINGHAM CAREY
More Info :Assessor's Report
See Also :Property Viewer
Zoning
Zoning District :Allston/Brighton Neighborhood
Zoning Subdistrict :2F-5000
Subdistrict Type :Two-Family Residential
Residential use: maximum of two units per parcel
Overlays :None,
Map No. :7A-7D
Article :51 (Table; Appendix)

Single-family zoning

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Why is there ANYWHERE in Boston which is only zoned for single-family housing?

Because, even as small as it is, Boston is large enough to support it and not everybody wants to live in a multi-family building but still wants to take advantage of what Boston offers. Yeah, I'm biased, we live in a single-family home (don't worry, it's small, on a small lot). But even New York City has lots of single-family homes once you get out of Manhattan.

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Not the point, Adam.

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The issue is that zoning is so restrictive that in many neighborhoods you couldn't put up a two- or three-unit building even if you wanted to. I'm not saying we should raze every building and immediately build Manhattan. But that if someone wants to add an ADU or build a two- or three-family home in a neighborhood that already has them, they shouldn't be enjoined from doing so without a lengthy process.

It's not just a problem in Boston. I was at a planning meeting in Cambridge where a homeowner had to go through a lengthy hearing—with lots of documentation which certainly wasn't free—to convert their single-family home back in to a two-family which it had been when they bought it. (i.e. they had kids, used the extra space, and then wanted to change it back to a multifamily). All of this adds to the cost of creating more housing, which drives up housing costs.

Or Somerville, where a 2016 Globe article found that something like 22 lots in the city conformed with current zoning. Not 22%. 22.

No one is bulldozing your single-family home. But if someone wants to put up a two-family next door, in a neighborhood that already has them, they should be allowed to by right.

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Boston is large enough to

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Boston is large enough to support it

Or, to put it a different way, it has enough multi-family housing to subsidize the services for the single family homeowners that don't pay their fair share.

and not everybody wants to live in a multi-family building but still wants to take advantage of what Boston offers.

Yeah, but a lot more people DO want to but can't because, what, "I've got mine?"

You could change zoning to

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You could change zoning to allow two-to four-plexes by right everywhere in Boston and you would still have plenty of SFH in the city for the rest of your lifetime. Changing zoning to ALLOW something does not mean it will get built tomorrow. If you like your SFH, then...don't sell it or build on it. Most other SFH owners will do the same, and most of the housing stock will remain, but people like me might be able to afford to stay in the city.

Zoning pt. 2

It's not so much a problem that single family homes exist. It's a problem that single-family neighborhoods are frozen in time by zoning and can never* become incrementally denser. The gradual transition from single family to duplex, triplex, etc. was an ordinary response to rising land values.

Today, a single family home in a single-family neighborhood can only ever be a single family home. As land values rise the old owners may sell their homes to new people who gut the interior or demolish the bungalow and build a McMansion. The neighborhood character still changes, but no more families get to live in it--only wealthier ones.

Minneapolis--another city with spiraling housing costs--is poised to (partially) correct this issue by legalizing triplexes city-wide. It doesn't mean that all single-family homes will become triplexes overnight, but gradually some will change and that means more homes for more current and future residents.

*meaning without a no-holds-barred rezoning process that effectively means never for most neighborhoods

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In Boston, we have the zoning board

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Which rarely sees a denser building it doesn't like. And once you allow one single-family home to be replaced by an apartment building, that opens up that block to further development. City Realty, for example, has proven quite adept at finding and snapping up small, or smaller houses, and winning city approval to raze them for large buildings (not giant monstrosities, and often with neighborhood support, as in this case, to be sure).

but the neighborhood groups will block it.

If we don't allow Boston to become more dense, then all of the single family zoning will disappear. The big developers are already gaming the system by creating fake neighborhood groups to approve their projects. And the winners will be big corporate developers building 5 to 12 stories of beige crap that looks very modern for 18 months and then starts peeling like sunburn.

There has to be some compromise in zoning that will allow more density with neighborhood input (not neighborhood siege tactics). We have a very unrealistic idea about how much space we each need. And it is fine if you can afford it, but it shouldn't be artificially created with zoning. In the 50's boston had 800,000 people. And many of those people shared bedrooms and bathrooms. It is strange that now we treat this as a necessity. My Grandparents owned a 2-family in Chicago. And despite the fact that my mother slept in her parents bedroom until her older brothers went into the service, they rented out the first floor to another whole family. We are only 10 years past a global recession caused by bad mortgage lending, but you seem to forget that when you say "not everybody wants to live in a multi-family building". Why is it about want? What about need? If all of boston became 2-3 family zoned, what would happen? Some people would sell to big developers, but a lot could stay and build on to their existing properties to create a rental unit. And that would be individual choice. You can keep your single family home, but are you saying that you don't think you should have to live next door to triple decker?

Which rarely sees a denser

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Which rarely sees a denser building it doesn't like.

Has it occurred to you that this might be because, based purely on the need for more housing, there are very few neighborhoods today in Boston that are currently as dense as they should be?

Also, most of the existing buildings don't even comply with the zoning, so perhaps the zoning board is approving all of the density variances just to prevent us from going backwards and becoming more suburban at a time when so many more people are trying to move in to the city.

In the case of the City Realty upzonings, it's not that allowing one building to be upzone somehow "paves the way." It's that there are whole streets in Boston that are very low density, but where a lot of people want to live (mostly the neighborhoods near transit where City Realty works), so it makes a lot of sense for the city to allow the housing that people, you know, want to live in.

City Realty

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If you don't like City Realty building big projects on various formerly-low-density lots, you should support a city-wide SFH zoning ban. The reason City Realty does this is because they have deep pockets and connections and they can afford to wait out neighbors and other objections until they get something through the process. And by the time they do that, their goal is to build as big as possible. If neighbors are going to get mad about a 4-unit place that you're barely breaking even on, you may as well try to make it 8 or more.

If du or tri-plexes were allowed by right you would get more smaller builders and "better" (or at least smaller) developers building them instead of companies like City. This could theoretically make them more responsive to the community and keep more of the money local.

I don't support what City Realty does but they're capitalists and they're just following profit. If it wasn't them other companies would be doing the same thing under the current political situation.

For example, the building proposal at 197-201 Green St that City Realty is proposing used to be owned by a different developer, who may have been less evil, but they couldn't get anything through the process and sold it to City. Neighbors don't like City, but they also couldn't work anything out with the former owner.

Zoning pt. 3

Going through the Zoning Board process is both time consuming and expensive, so it favors large scale developers (and therefore bigger, more expensive projects to recoup the upfront costs).

This wasn't always the case. The advent of streetcars created demand for new homes in Roxbury, West Roxbury, and Dorchester. Over 30 years, 22,500 homes were built (mostly wood triple deckers that exist today). Unlike today, 9,000 individual builders constructed these homes (avg. 2.5 homes/builder).

Homeowners and small-scale developers don't really have a chance to do anything similar today.

One of the biggest issues is that Boston hasn't had a comprehensive zoning overhaul since 1994 (with amendments only through 2001). How much has changed since then? Enough to basically require any project of any size to need several variances.

One example: the Floor Area Ratio in the North End is only 3.0. That means a building that is the size of its lot can only be three stories tall by right. Virtually no buildings in the North End could be rebuilt under that requirement today. It also doesn't really make any sense to have such a restriction in a neighborhood adjacent to downtown and every rail transit line.

As a result, every project in the North End must go through the expensive and time-consuming Zoning Board process--even when the end result will mimic the height and density of every neighboring building. While the Board often grants the relief needed for construction, the upfront costs pass onto new home buyers and renters.

This pattern repeats throughout the city (and region) and soon enough we have an affordability crisis.

Source: Warner, SB. "Streetcar Suburbs: The process of growth in Boston (1870-1900)." Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978.

Homeowners build in Boston

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On one of my usual running roads in Hyde Park, I watched a house get torn down and a new one get constructed for the current occupant. And when I say torn down, I mean that they laid a new foundation.

Of course, then there are the rehabs and construction that I know is speculative, but to your point, you can still build. Costs are greater than they were 125-150 years ago, mostly since land is in finite supply. That's why two and three family buildings are being converted into condos- people are more able to buy the smaller unit.

My old neighborhood

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I lived on that street -- about a dozen or so doors down on the opposite side -- when I first moved to Boston in the early 1980s. There were a lot of other people who like me Weren't From There, but still quite a few residents native to the place, if not exactly that place.
It was where I learned that a "spa" wasn't necessarily a place where you went to take the waters for health and recuperation, and a "tonic" wasn't necessarily what you mixed with the gin. Also where my car, a '69 Dodge Dart, was stolen, later to wind up by the side of the Mass Pike because it ran out of gas (hadn't kept the tank full); when I asked the tow-truck operator who helped me bring it back why someone would steal an old, unglamorous car like mine, he dead-panned, "'Cause they got good taste."
I only stayed a couple of years, and can't remember the last time I visited. I have a hard time visualizing that proposed five-unit apartment building, but that may simply be nostalgia getting in the way.

Foaming at the mouth anti

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Foaming at the mouth anti-NIMBY'ists are determined to NOT keep Allston shitty. Keep pricing working class folks out of Boston, fools.