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Units in nearly finished East Boston building can't be sold as condos after board rejects proposal to convert use from executive suites to residential

Note: Because the reporter misunderstood what happened, the story has been corrected to reflect that the building can be occupied - as executive suites.

The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a developer's proposal to change the classification of an essentially completed nine-unit building at 119 Addison St. in East Boston from executive suites to condos, which means the developer can rent the units out to Boston visitors, but not sell them as condos.

At issue was the way the building went up in the first place: Developer David Masse of Wakefield originally wanted to put up condos, but when neighbors began to object, he switched his proposal to executive suites - basically furnished apartments for Boston visitors. Executive suites are an allowed use in the "economic development area" in which the property sits - it's across the street from the Maverick Mills complex - so the project didn't need the extensive neighborhood discussion normally required for residential projects. He was granted a building permit in 2018.

The executive-suites zoning also meant the building did not need to provide the sort of "open space," for example, balconies, normally required for residential buildings.

But then the city enacted restrictions on executive suites and Covid-19 dampened the need for space for visitors, so Masse submitted a request to the board to change the building's use from executive suites to residential, his attorney, Richard Lynds told the board. Since the building is already standing, the proposal didn't need to go through the normal pre-permit community-input process.

Because the city granted approval for construction of executive suites, the case is different than 125 Addison St., where a developer last year proposed building a new executive-suites building after the city had changed its short-term stay regulations and the board would not even let construction begin. In that case, the developer is currently in court seeking to overturn the board ruling.

Masse needed zoning-board approval to make the change because residential use is "forbidden" in the economic development area, even though the side of the street it's on consists mainly of residential properties.

By a 6-1 vote, the board sided with residents, the mayor's office and City Councilor Lydia Edwards and rejected the proposal.

Residents objected to the way Masse was using what they called a loophole in city zoning to put up a building with no community input. One resident said the four-story building "sticks out like a sore thumb" on the street, where most residences are one- or two-family homes.

Ricardo Patron, an aide to Edwards, said the councilor opposed the request because the process "took away community's ability to weigh in." But given that the building is already standing, he said that Masse should make at least some of the units affordable. Normally, developers don't have to take affordability into account for buildings with less than 10 units, but normally, multi-family buildings also go through community input.

"I find this hard to swallow," Erlich said of the way the developer was seeking to get what he originally wanted without ever having to meet with residents and elected officials.

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo suggested a possible way forward for the developer if he does want to sell the units: Come back with a proposal that has fewer overall units, to reduce its density.

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Comments

I do not have an issue with the community being upset but I am curious about this part where the rules for executive suites were switched while the building was being built. That seems kind of shady by the city.

Considering the city pulled part of a rug out they should offer to take the building off his hands at cost and turn it into affordable housing themselves or come up with a deal where two of the units go affordable. The developer will balk at both of these but it is only the cities fault that the rules changed on him mid build it is not their fault that the demand for his product has dropped. Buying it at what he spent on buying the land and building the site would be worthwhile for the city and would end this whole saga.

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Voting closed 16

This world class city needs more executive suites. Thank you community members.

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Voting closed 20

What a stupid regulatory framework.

Neighbors like to say no, but all they're allowed to say no to is residences, so the neighborhood gets stuck with executive suites (effectively AirBnBs?) How does this help current residents? How does this help solve the housing crisis?

Other cities allow residences by right in any zone, including industrial. Why can't Boston?

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Voting closed 14

And a small multi-unit building does not in any way stick out here.

For one thing, it's shorter than the tree which reaches over it. Immediately across the street is an industrial wall with poorly patched graffiti. 4 doors down is a box truck parking area.

Why is this 4-story residential brick building the problem on the block?

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Voting closed 19

I hope your kids have to move to Indiana to afford buying a house.

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Voting closed 28

I originally wrote the building would remain empty. Not necessarily true: Because the developer won approval of executive suites before the city tightened up its short-term rental rules, he can still rent them out to visitors. What the board said, however, was that he can't sell the units as condos (or rent them as apartments).

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Voting closed 14

I can't imagine neighbors actually preferring the transient nature of short-term rentals next door rather than condos! I know I'd prefer to live next to people with a vested ownership interest in a property.

Really, every single member of the ZBA needs to be fired and confined to a South End garden studio with a sewer that backs up every time it rains.

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Voting closed 34

The community always wants a say. A lot of the time, unless the proposal is a park with a playground and plenty of parking, they are against it. As Scott says, they are fighting for something that is worse than the alternative. Condo owners would care about the neighborhood. People renting Executive Suites would have zero reason to be good neighbors.

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Voting closed 21

Time to reverse that trend! I'm going to start staying in executive suites and spending my time walking around the neighborhood picking up trash, planting daylilies, and rescuing injured baby squirrels.

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Voting closed 10