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If you have a big backyard in Boston, don't think you can just put a second house back there

The Zoning Board of Appeal yesterday rejected a proposal by the owner of a two-family house in Roslindale to subdivide her land and build a single-family house in what is now the backyard.

Pamela Bardhi of West Roxbury, who bought a two-family house at 233 Metropolitan Ave., then sold them as condos, had sought permission from the board to carve roughly 6,900 square feet off the rear of the 14,000-square foot lot and build a 3,000-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-bath single-family home there. A 20-foot-wide easement that extends to the back of the property would serve as a driveway and access for emergency responders, she told the board.

But the board voted 7-0 to reject the plans.

"This board has not been very open to having a subdivision created in this way," board Chairwoman Christine Araujo said. Araujo said the main concern is privacy, not just for the neighbors on either side of the two new lots, but of the people who would live in the existing house.

Bardhi said she would be willing to plant trees to help preserve privacy.

The plan was also opposed by the mayor's office and the offices of City Councilors Ricardo Arroyo, Michelle Wu, Annissa Essaibi George and Michael Flaherty. Conor Newman of the mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services said "there was a lot of resistance expressed by the neighbors" over the privacy issue.

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Comments

Not being able to just subdivide their lots and throw up a second house is really going to throw a monkey wrench into many of my neighbors' retirement plans. Here in Readville (and in many Roslindale neighborhoods), you walk down entire blocks of NEW HOUSE old house NEW HOUSE old house NEW HOUSE old house, where all the old timers broke up their lots, built giant McMansions in the side or back yard of their modest ranch or cape, and sold them to fund their retirements.

Personally, I'd like to see a few more lots remain un-subdivided, but I bet you'll hear pushback from a lot of people who are watching their retirement plans evaporate right now.

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They still allow it. But you probably need to know someone to get it through.

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Although then you run into lot-size issues, which, at least in places like Hyde Park, Roslindale and West Roxbury can be an issue because much of the zoning is really aspirational rather than a reflection of reality - if an area is zoned for minimum 6,000-square-foot lots you can bet most of the lots are actually more like 4,500 square feet (hey, just like our house on our street!).

You can, of course, then apply for a variance and maybe, if you're lucky and you're on good terms with your neighbors, and you can even get one, even in West Roxbury.

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Seen it happen in West Roxbury. Of course, the person building it was tight with Marty and board members.

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You'd be surpised how many places call for SFH w/ 5000+ sqr foot lots in Dot and other neighborhoods. I know mine does and the majority of houses are lucky to have half that lot size and are at least 2 families.

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You can build a house only if the yard is a separate Lot.

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while a 3k sq foot house seems excessive, it's a shame the board is resistant to building anything. Seems like a perfect opportunity to tweak the (frankly useless) ADU program to be more on par with programs in places like Oregon where it actually works, because they can build separate 1k side homes instead of trying to eek out attic space from an existing 1.2k century house.

Wonder what the result would have been if the owner had gone for an addition on the existing house to build a multifamily instead.

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Who would concern troll the non-existent residents of a non-existent house?

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If you oppose stewardship of the commons as a concept, you might try living in a government-free libertarian paradise like Somalia for a while and let us know how it goes.

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Or, I could speak for those who struggle to retain shelter, and defend the egalitarian ideals which our country is supposed to be based upon.

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Duplicate

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Or, I could speak for those who struggle to retain shelter, and defend the egalitarian ideals which our country is supposed to be based upon.

Then by all means do so, and quit speaking for the people whose economic power grossly exceeds yours and mine, and whose primary focus is on trashing regulation.

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Owns this house in Rozzie?

"Privacy." (Expletive) off, neighbors and government. Only dissent I want to hear is from the sewer commission.

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How is worrying about the privacy of future residents who choose to move into a rear-lot house stewardship of the commons?

And this is one glaring false dichotomy. There are choices besides "no subdividing the existing lots" and "Somalia". Like, for example, allowing houses close together, like we used to in Boston.

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If you oppose stewardship of the commons as a concept, you might try living in a government-free libertarian paradise like Somalia for a while and let us know how it goes.

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Houston's closer, for those who want to live in a paradise unspoiled by intrusive zoning laws.

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I don't think the city is crying out for a new 3,000 sq ft home, but privacy is the main concern here?! Have they heard of curtains?

We live in an era of increasing housing shortages, and NIMBYS and their pet zoning boards are shutting down new housing because some CITY dweller might accidentally get a glimpse of their neighbor's amazon package. Wait till they hear about apartment buildings...or even triple-deckers. It's so ridiculously short-sighted.

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The long-standing law doesn’t allow a house to be shoehorned into that space. The same kind of law that prohibits building a gas station or a 50 story office tower in the middle of a block of one family houses. Because the law can’t possibly anticipate every situation, there is a mechanism to apply for a variance — an exception to the law — if you are genuinely getting screwed by the law. But there has to be a good reason for the exception, not just “yeah I want to build at a higher density than everyone else. Ruling that the applicant doesn’t have a hardship and that the grounds for granting the applicant an exception to the rules, does not constitute “shutting down” anything.

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The zoning board cites 'privacy' concerns but regularly is approving new condo buildings built out of posterboard and aluminum - there's no standards for developers to include things like soundproofing, isolated utility systems, designated mail areas, secure laundry areas, building-specific green space, etc, things that actively make these buildings significantly less pleasant or bearable to live in from a privacy standpoint.

It's just more increasing stratification where if you're wealthy you can buy a 3k sq foot manor house on a triple lot in the leafy southern neighborhoods, and if you're not, fuck you, hope you want to hear your next door neighbor's every bowel movement and get your underwear stolen by creeps. Cost of living improvements should be part of design review if the city actually wants to make density attractive and not something people settle for.

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If you want a "private" lot you can move out into suburbs and buy a huge lot that no one else lives near. But it's not like this would be squeezing a house right up against a property line. These lots are huge, by Boston standards. #233 is 60 feet wide, and 230 feet deep. There is plenty of room for a building to be built in the rear and not encroach on any other houses. A 30x40 foot plot there would cover 1200 square feet and allow for an amply-sized single-family home and would be at least 80 feet from the nearest structure. There's no proposal to build a house

[Can't embed google map, so, see here]

In fact, if each of these deep properties there built such a home in the rear portion of their property, it would mean homes for 8 more families in Boston. No one is forcing them to, but no one should be kept from doing so just because a neighbor in a city might see a house.

Shame on the neighbors, shame on the councilors, and shame on the planning board.

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If you don’t like the zoning laws, lobby to get them changed. But don’t complain about the zoning board enforcing the existing law; that’s their job. Handing out variances to everyone who asks for them as a back-door way to change the zoning rules is kind of shitty governance.

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not on solid facts, but on the subjective opinions of abutters like "ooh, I don't like the style of the building" or "ooh, we already have too many of that type of business in the neighborhood" or "the councilperson or the Mayor's Office doesn't like the proposal" is eqyually shitty governance.

When objections are raised, the burden of proof should be on those raising the objections. It should not be the responsibility of the person making the proposal to disprove the objections.

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Chapter 44A is pretty clear about the criteria for a zoning variance. Whether or not anyone likes the architectural design, or whether or not the neighborhood "needs" this type of business are absolutely not supposed to come into the decision.

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Which is appointed by cronies, and uses their power to extract bribes.

I think Michelle Wu kind of misses the point. We could keep the BPDA and reform zoning (which we should do! ADUs and by-right three-deckers for everyone!) but we really should reform the BZA. A bunch of real estate and construction "professionals" are, not surprisingly, going to tend to act in their own interest.

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The statute that dictates the makeup of the board requires those professionals to be on it and that law can only be changed by the statehouse.

I don't think having those professionals is necessarily a bad idea, as the right, ethical professional brings a wealth of knowledge, but the board should be bigger with a few more at-large and community seats that can even out those interests.

Meaningful zoning reform would give the board a much lighter workload and much less influence. Right now, if I want to build a small deck or finish my basement, I need a variance which is ridiculous.

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builder will be allowed to do something like what has been done on Northdale Rd. The parcel technically has enough square footage but they built a house within a few feet of one next door.

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The future you want is the city is those 'Matrix' towers full of humans in pods of goo and then pre-Colombian levels of development everywhere else.

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One of my favorite activities on sites like Zillow is trying to pick out the ones that were built in back yards, moved into back yards or had a house built in front of them. You always have that one little 10 foot egress point that normally awkwardly saddles the driveways of the neighbors. Despite having no real front and back they are always built just like houses on the street so the real estate photo is always super wide right up against the porch.

It would be nice if these back yard homes got a new design to recognize the fact that every window will be three feet away from neighbors, maybe more skylights. A better design would also be nice, one where the structure was visibly appealing all the way around. If we are going to cram structures into these small backlot spaces they should at least be pleasant to observe for the neighbors.

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Personally I'm not a big fan of backyard housing as years of living in East Cambridge taught me to eyeball with suspicion any houses that had a half number for the address. I was told that all came about after WWII when there was a dire housing shortage, think families living in Quonset huts set up in neighborhood parks, and to alleviate that they allowed folks to build a house for the kids in the back. Privacy was not a concern as the joke was that you could kiss your neighbor good morning from your bedroom window. It's close quarters over there.

Roslindale not so much, and in the case of Bardhi Investment Group, LLC even less. I'm going with a group of neighbors came up with "privacy" excuse as a way to avoid having a developer come in, drop a two-family out back, remodel the front into another two-family and pave over the rest of the lot for parking the eight cars that will be attracted to the dwellings. Since the usual "parking" excuse probably wouldn't work, they used "privacy" instead as a means to preserve their quiet little fief the way it is and not draw any attention to the large swimming pool and cabana complexes or the other weird looking structures they have in their own backyards.

tl;dr: another case of city dwellers pretending they live out in rural America.

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Agreed with the other commenters that this sucks.

Anyone who claims to support affordable housing but then turns around and opposed projects like this should be ashamed of themselves.

This lot, at 240 feet deep, is about 3 times as deep as the lots across their back fence.

With all its zoning restrictions, Cambridge actually encourages this type of infill development. What's Boston's problem?

I wonder if there's a creative way around this. I once saw a condo that effectively was a freestanding house, except they got past a restriction like this by connecting it to the original house on the lot with a breezeway, so it counted as an addition rather than a new structure.

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(over 100 years ago) in what was formerly a large back yard by a father for one of his grown children and new family to move into. Still had a decent-sized lot for the neighborhood.

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My Mom grew up in Brighton and her grandparents lived in the house behind them and they lived in the front house.

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Pull up a street view of 23 Chickataubut St. in Dorchester. They built what looks like a row house, I wonder what their hardship was?

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just get a permit and start the construction, then worry about getting the needed variances after the fact. Has happened twice that i know of in my neighborhood of West Roxbury.

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