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Board approves two contentious single-family proposals in West Roxbury

The Zoning Board of Appeal today agreed to construction of a single-family home on Libbey Street and the expansion of an existing single-family home on Maple Street in hearings in which the board chairwoman felt compelled to tell the attorney for both families to "chill" twice.

The board agreed to let Dennis and Josephine Sullivan put a roughly 2,400-square-foot house on a roughly 4,250 vacant parcel at 8 Libbey St. - 18 months after the board rejected their proposal for a slightly larger house on the lot.

The Sullivans, who live at 11 Libbey St., had the backing of the mayor's office, City Councilor Matt O'Malley and the West Roxbury Neighborhood Council, and some neighbors for the project, which needed a variance because the street's current zoning calls for a minimum lot size of 6,000 square feet.

Their attorney, Kevin Cloutier of West Roxbury, asked to have them speak, but board Chairwoman Christine Araujo said that wouldn't be necessary.

Other neighbors however, said the house, even at the smaller size, was still what one called "a mansion for that small lot" that would bring too many cars onto the side street off a side street off a residential section of Lagrange Street. One abutter said she and a neighbor offered to buy the lot from the Sullivans so they could keep the land vacant, but said the couple wouldn't consider their offer. "This neighborhood is being made to suffer," she said.

Other residents, though, said they've never had any parking or traffic problems on the street.

"We always have a hard time with one families being proposed in one-family neighborhoods," board Chairwoman Christine Araujo said, echoing a similar comment she made in 2019.

The board also gave permission to Colleen and Renzo Monzon to turn their bungalow-style one-story house at 175 Maple St., off Weld Street, into a 2 1/2-story house that would seemingly fit in with the Victorian-style houses on either side, but whose residents objected, saying it would cut off their light and air and invade their privacy.

Rendering showing proposed taller house between two existing neighboring houses:

Rendering of proposed expanded 175 Maple St.

Cloutier, who also represents the Monzons, also sought to have them speak, to explain why they wanted the extra space to put down roots and raise their kids there, but Araujo again did not feel that was necessary. "Can you please chill?" she asked Cloutier, who then chilled, at least for awhile, since Araujo later asked him to "just relax, OK?"

As part of their project, the Monzons agreed to give up the illegally converted living space in their basement, in exchange for a building that Cloutier said would be eight feet lower than the maximum 35 feet allowed.

Neighbors, however, said Cloutier's calculations for what he considered the house's "floor-to-area ratio," a measure of density, did not include all of the attic and dormer-like space that would be used for a stairway up to the attic.

Neighbor Meg Mainzer-Cohen said the added height of the building would block the sun that now streams into her home. "This really does strike at the heart of why we bought our home in the first place," Mainzer-Cohen, who routinely deals with proposals for large and tall towers in her work as president of the Back Bay Association, told the board.

"It's a very large house on a very small lot," another neighbor said.

Araujo asked Cloutier if, in the interests of neighborhood amity, the Monzons would consider lopping the attic off their proposal - which would still leave them room for the three second-floor bedrooms, the first-floor living room, den and kitchen and storage space in the basement. Cloutier said, no, they hadn't considered that, that they thought the fact that the building was already well under the 35-foot limit was enough.

The mayor's office and aides to City Councilors Matt O'Malley and Michelle Wu voiced opposition to the proposal. The West Roxbury Neighborhood Council voted in favor, but unlike with the unanimous vote for the Libbey Street proposal, split 5-2.

The board voted 6-1 to approve the proposal, but added a proviso that the Monzons be barred from building living space in the attic. Board member Eric Robinson said that, legally, they couldn't put living space in the attic anyway, because at 6'10," the space does not have enough height.


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What reason did the mayor's office and aides to City Councilors Matt O'Malley and Michelle Wu give for opposing the second project?

Voting closed 36

On small projects like these (as opposed, to, say, 50-story towers downtown), the mayor's office usually listens to residents, so if a lot of residents are opposed, it'll be opposed, too. Ditto for O'Malley.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say Wu's similar, but her office usually doesn't express any opinion one way or another on most matters before the zoning board (of the four at-large councilors, only Essaibi George has an aide who comments on lots of proposals, although she didn't on this one).

Voting closed 25

Go to the office of campaign finance put in Mark Cohen ( lives on Maple Street West Roxbury and one of those opposing) as the donor and add Michele Wu as the candidate, 01-11-2021 he gave her $900 and then another $100 on the same day?? That alone is questionable then you can also view that he and his wife have contributed over $2500 to Concilor Wu. Ms Wu believes in transparency in government, is this how she will lead the city as mayor?

You can also check Mr Cohen’s wife - Margaret Mainzer Cohen to see he donations to the Wu campaign. She was just elevated to some board by Governor Baker that deals with Casino gambling. A little research will show you of her concerns of neighborhood people as she chairs a Back Bay Business group of wealthy investors.


Voting closed 44

even allowed to weigh in on such matters? It's a neighborhood issue, not a citywide one.

Voting closed 22

Look at the neighbor names objecting and it is pretty clear why the councilors opposed. These two neighbors seems to have objected to nearly
every project nearby. It’s the old “not in my neighborhood” mentality.
Meg Mainzer Cohen should be careful that her corporate clients don’t find out she doesn’t REALLY support development, and the other opposer should re-examine the articles he’s written about supporting multiculturalism when it appears he won’t support a hispanic family living in his neighborhood.

Voting closed 34

Is this the same Meg Mainzer-Cohen who is the President of the Back Bay Association, which consistently has opposed anything that takes away, even temporarily, a single parking space on Newbury St, even if it benefits the businesses?

Voting closed 58

According to Adam's write-up above:

"Mainzer-Cohen, who routinely deals with proposals for large and tall towers in her work as president of the Back Bay Association, told the board."

Voting closed 18

Wow what a giant waste of time and money this whole process is because our zoning is so f*cked up. The zoning should allow by right the types of buildings that already exist in a neighborhood.

Voting closed 49

I used to make the argument that zoning ought to allow by right building to match the average of what is already in the neighborhood, but that approach has two flaws. First, it tends to increase density, as property owners whose buildings are smaller than average expand to meet the average. Second, it doesn’t let us ever change our minds about what type of buildings or level of density we want in a neighborhood.

Voting closed 15

1. Adding a little density is not a bad thing. Given the housing crisis, it's a very good thing in fact.

2. People in the mid-20th century changed the zoning to make much of what exists today illegal. There's nothing preventing people from doing that again in the future should they choose to do so.

Voting closed 24

Jack up this noise by an order of magnitude for every proposed multifamily development and you have a pretty good idea of why there's a housing crisis.

"Local control" and "neighborhood input" sound good and all, but boy I dunno...

Voting closed 41

This variance nonsense is why nothing gets done in Boston.

Voting closed 27