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In Roslindale Square battle between parking and affordable housing, parking wins

The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposed 31-unit apartment building at Washington and Basile streets that would have offered far more affordable apartments than required and below-market rates to two locally owned businesses now on the site because the building would have no parking for residents.

The action came even as the city looks to eliminate parking requirements for new buildings that offer large numbers of subsidized units as a way of encouraging such apartments.

Zoning-board members said the lack of parking in a building in which at least 42% of the units - and possibly all of them - would be offered at below-market rates, would actually lead to gentrification of Roslindale Square and choke off parking for other long-standing, often minority-owned, businesses in an area they said was already experiencing parking problems.

Technically, the board voted 4-3 to approve a motion by member Hansy Better Barraza to approve the project - on condition the BPDA and BTD work with developer Arx Urban to figure out how to put some parking in the building's basement. Under state law, zoning proposals need at least five votes.

Even though the two businesses that would get to stay on the site are minority owned, Better said she could not vote for a project without parking after reading letters and e-mails from other minority business owners in the area worried about parking - and she said that a building with several two- and three-bedroom units would inevitably be rented to families who would need cars even in a neighborhood that is served by numerous bus lines and a commuter-rail stop.

"It's absurd to imagine that a parent doesn't need a car to take their kid to daycare or out of daycare," she said, calling the issue an "issue of equity" for the rest of Roslindale Square and a precedent for the rest of Roslindale Square.

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo, who lives in Roslindale, helped doom even that proposal, by voting no, saying Better wasn't going far enough.

"I do think parking should be maximized as much as possible" in Roslindale Square, she said, citing both parents with kids and prospective tenants who might work night shifts and so need a car. In July, the board rejected a proposal for a smaller building with no parking on the site of the current Morena garage down Washington Street. She said Arx failed to provide a "really compelling reason why the project should come in with absolutely zero parking."

Arx's proposal, which the BPDA approved in June, called for replacing the current one-story commercial block between the Municipal Building and Basile Street with a five-story building with custom-built space for the theater and the yogurt shop on the first floor.

At a minimum, 42% of the units would be rented as affordable and the two businesses would get subsidized rents as well to help them stay in the square. Arx's Benjamin Moll said the concern is seeking additional state subsidies to increase the number of affordable rentals, possibly as high as all of them. The city currently requires only 13% of units be rented as affordable.

Arx's attorney, Johanna Schneider, said the lack of parking was "a trade off" for bringing a large number of affordable units to Roslindale and for keeping two local businesses. She said that adding parking would make it difficult for Arx to offer as many affordable units as it had proposed because of the costs of building them.

Schneider said that she doubted many prospective tenants would have cars. But she said Arx would help pay for CharlieCards for residents and would provide bicycle storage. And she said that Arx had secured leases for off-street parking for up to 20 cars within a half mile of the site just in case some tenants do come with cars.

Better said that wasn't good enough, that the board had to think of the long term, when those leases might end and tenants might try to park closer to their building.

Better actually praised the building and its goals, but said it simply wasn't fair to the Blacks and Latinos who own businesses in the area who are concerned about where their customers would park, something she said could lead to them being driven out of the square altogether.

Some nearby residents spoke to oppose the project as well, nothing that Basile and nearby streets are already chocked with traffic because of buses and parents dropping off students at the Sumner School. One said the building was too tall and "looks like a cheap building."

One resident, Robert Orthman, did praise the proposal and the way it would keep "two very well like and beloved businesses."

When Schneider asked whether the vote was with or without prejudice, Araujo told her the vote means "you come back with a different proposal."

4198 Washington St. BPDA filings.

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Comments

I think we need to stop catering to cars/ parking . Cars have done enough damage to us - let's move on and keep parking available for those that cannot walk, take the T, have mobility issues.

If businesses want personal spaces for their customers maybe they should be paying for them? Isn't it time to stop the free storage for cars?

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These complaining businesses deserve to go out of business. This building would potentially bring 100+ people to the neighborhood. All of them would be potential regular customers. And who the hell are they to tell someone else what to do with their property?

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You want Black and Latinx businesspeople to shut up and put up, so that people making $50-60K/year -- which is 80% AMI (the standard for "affordable" housing) -- can move in. $30/hour (equivalent to $60K/year) is hardly minimum wage...

At $60k a year, it sounds like they will have a decent amount of money than to spend at said local businesses. No idea what the minimum wage or ethnicity or race of business owners in Rozzie Square has to do with it (other than Rozzie, in general, is pretty diverse).

I concede parking is a concern for some small businesses who need places for customers to park.

But is having a place to park more important than having a place for people to live? Especially one where for once the developer actually wants to build more affordable housing than required?

You hate to see it.

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This is an absolute abomination. Mayor Wu should move to quickly replace any holdover members on the ZBA who are still there on expired terms. Chairwoman Araujo is one of them. Time for a ZBA that reflects the needs of a city in a housing and climate crisis. It's not an exaggeration to say there is no way to achieve Mayor Wu's stated goals on those two issues if the parking-obsessed NIMBYs on the ZBA are not removed as soon as possible, given that they have a de facto veto over almost all city development.

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On the plus side, ZBA appointments is one area where the mayor as a lot of say. If Wu can deliver on that and shuffle that board promptly, the developer could return next year with a development proposal with even less parking and may get approval. That's the way I would do it.

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A little late for that!

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The ZBA has become a parody of itself. It's like a bingo board where every square says "parking" on it.

It needs to go. Now.

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Are you suggesting that the City should stop handing out variances and only allow projects that adhere to the Zoning Code?

Zoning needs to go.

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So, when your next door neighbor wants to open an auto body shop on the property line, you'd be okay with that?

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No but most zoning was done to keep people of color from buying homes, a better system could be done.

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When Boston implemented their first zoning code, there was no concern for black people either way. There was a great concern about poor people and certain uses that would affect homeowners, which is why I chose your neighbor deciding to open a shop next door.

Pretty easy to say "this is an area for residences" so no one opens a factory on a street of three-deckers.

But zoning should basically look at whatever the denser parts of a neighborhood are and say "well that seems to be working, so it should be allowed."

So if someone wants to build a four-plex on the property line, go for it. It'll be nice to meet the new neighbors.

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Someone is saying "this is not good for the neighborhood." The neighbors are less than happy with this proposal, and although I love new housing, I see their point. My counter- look at the new development in South Boston and the parking issues they have created. No parking at all for new residences in a dense area that already has parking issues is a red flag to me.

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The people who sandbagged this did so claiming it would hurt theoretical future residents in those apartments and the minority business owners near by (meaning I guess Bob's Pita and Dragon Chef?) There's not a lot of neighborhood resident opposition.

These two shitheads who live in Roslindale but can't walk to the square are not local residents IMO in terms of if their interests should impact this zoning decision.

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I believe that is also minority owned.

I signed my Erasmus Waquiot on the petition opposing this proposal, because this is an area where parking is tight. Do you really think the teachers at the Sumner live in the neighborhood? No, because teachers won't send their kids to BPS, and how do you think they get to work? The commercial may get walking customers (like me) but I know Bob's Pita gets people from outside the area, as does Dragon Chef. I do think it is true that without parking in this development, the situation will be messy. Now do they need 2 spaces per unit? No, but at least 0.5 per unit would allay some fears.

Why there was one just running for mayor! When my kid when to one of the Roslindale K-5s, there were several BPS kids in their class as well.

Honestly not much else to stay. It’s also kind of absurd how many projects Araujo has helped kill just so she can keep parking in the square.

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There are better ways to make housing affordable in Roslindale. How about people just "splitting" mortgage with their best friends.

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Ooh nice, a partisan political jab! That added a whole lot to the conversation.

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We need more housing period. Affordable was great and it is bad this was denied. Are we ever not going to be car centric?

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Christine will NOT be expected to walk to the village like some poor person and she certainly will not be riding a bike.

Meanwhile this other person, Better, strikes me as being completely snake tongued with her 'actually housing without parking is racism' take. I assume she is holding a grudge against either the architect or developer on this project.

I wish both would just move to Newton or Brookline. They clearly hate city living, such as it is here in the southwest reaches.

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"It's absurd to imagine that a parent doesn't need a car to take their kid to daycare or out of daycare,"

She doesn't ever leave her car-centric neighborhood, does she? It's ABSURD the way all these families walk everywhere in the downtown neighborhoods and more than half don't own cars! There are all these sidewalk-level child cares without any parking whatsoever! MUTINY I TELL YOU.

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Parts of Roslindale (ie near the square) have walk scores in the 90s. Araujo lives in the walkable part of the neighborhood, which also has transit scores in the 80s. Plenty of people in Roslindale live car free or car light, it's really quite easy. Her failure of imagination causes direct harm to low income families.

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I mean, how do those poor struggling families on the Upper East Side manage to raise kids without cars!

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Some people who live in Boston work in Milford, Dedham and other places where parking at work isn't an issue as it is for the reverse (Dover residents working downtown). I think we are simply picturing a bunch of people moving into the neighborhood who should thank us that their busses are free and take what we tell them.

Not saying good transportation is bad or cars are necessary but there is some middle ground here for a lot of people.

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There are many, many of units of housing in the Parkway they can rent or buy and live in which have parking if that's their need. Some people need to live in an elevator serviced building since they can't walk up stairs - should we require that for every new building?

This weird fixation on all units of housing must meet some maximum check list of features is terrible.

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People can always pay for private parking spaces, or carpool so that one parking space can serve multiple households. The idea that we should build our city so that everyone gets to have their own publicly subsidized parking space is pretty bizarre.

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That’s the point. There are simply a lot of people who live in subsidized housing that need a car. time is money to them and they can’t afford to waste their life in public transportation for one reason or another.

People seem to be under the assumption that this city has such amazing public transportation that a car should be luxury. Or that all the people moving into these new housing developments are outside yuppies with 2 cars trying to turn the city into concrete or something.

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There are simply a lot of people who live in subsidized housing that need a car.

Ok, and there are a lot of people who live in subsidized housing who don't. If we wait to build housing until it works for 100% of the people who might possibly ever live there, we'll never build anything. At some point you have to be able to say "let's prioritize building more housing for people over housing for cars, and if that doesn't work for some people, it will work for some others, which means its a net positive".

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Subsidized housing gets parking, luxury housing gets a free bus pass.

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a big part of the reason that new housing becomes luxury housing is because of the large extra cost of building parking. Again - we're letting perfect be the enemy of the good, and privileging current car owners over a far greater number of pedestrians, cyclists, or transit users.

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I still think many people assume just because you are poor, black and in subsidized housing, that you don't need a car. And it's white people that are going to make these decisions for everyone and defend those decisions (on message boards at least).

That's all.

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that if you're someone who needs a car, but also needs subsidized housing, you very well might be ok with living somewhere where its a bit more inconvenient to park BUT you get subsidized housing? Why not let people make this decision for themselves once the building is built rather than just declare that because it doesn't work for everyone, it shouldn't exist for anyone?

I just don't see how not building subsidized housing AT ALL here benefits anyone here other than the current residents who just get the benefit of a slightly closer parking space. (And the nice ability to keep subsidized housing from being built in your neighborhood but getting to claim that its about parking rather than racism or classism, of course)

I've been an evaluator on many a child welfare case in which a school filed because a poorer/browner person couldn't come pick up their kid immediately, or even answer the phone immediately because of the rules at their job (and, you know, because there is no law that you have to stay immediately reachable when your child is in the care of grown adults who presumably know how to perform first aid and whatnot). And we all know the schools aren't filing on doctors and lawyers whose jobs also won't interrupt them for "your kid has a fever and is lying down in the nurse's office" or "you need to rush over here because your kid shoved someone" and who take the T or bike downtown and also can't arrive immediately. I absolutely get why poorer/browner people say they need a car.

What we need to do though is normalize not using cars, particularly for people with children. I can't tell you how many times I have had healthcare and education professionals do things like give me driving/parking info for something right in the city, I say we'll be walking/biking/T-ing, and they're like "no no, this appointment you have to bring 'the baby' to" (I have never had a child more than a couple months short of 2yo in my home). Shouldn't you be promoting exercise, self-sufficiency, and problem-solving for families with children, rather than telling me that preschool and school-aged children will somehow be damaged if I don't transport them in a private motor vehicle?

I've worked in so many settings where middle-class white colleagues say no families with children can participate in anything that doesn't PROVIDE door-to-door transportation so we shouldn't even suggest any services that don't include it. You know what doesn't provide transportation? Head Start and Early Head Start. Yet families tend to love it, and it has humungous waiting lists across the city.

The car thing is real, but the long-term solution isn't to create parking spots everywhere; it's to provide much better public transit and especially to normalize city living in a city, and not treat non-car-use as something that only neglectful parents do.

bruh if I worked out in Milford I sure as hell wouldn't be paying Boston prices to live in somewhere with as few actual city amenities as Rozzie Square.

These car nuts are physically and mentally lazy. How shitty is that person’s brain if they can’t imagine someone walking to their neighborhood daycare?

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If we can't get this shit done in the heart of Rozzie's commercial district, it really doesn't bode well for any of the southern neighborhoods EVER having any kind of life-improving, commercial-business-supporting, transit-demanding density.

"but local businesses need-" LOCAL BUSINESSES SHOULD COULD USE 40+ MORE PEOPLE WHO ONLY HAVE TO GO DOWNSTAIRS TO GET ICE CREAM INSTEAD OF ALL PACKING UP IN THEIR CAR. At that point drive to fucking stop and shop and get all the fixings.

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In Roslindale Village today. That's partly why there are 9 bus lines running between Roslindale Square and Forest Hills. In any other major American city, a rapid-transit rail extension would have already been proposed and built, while Boston is still 9+ years from Red-Blue and therefore probably won't see OLX until at least 2050...

This state doesn't make transit improvements until the density is at breakdown levels. More people means more noise and more support when the OLX inevitably has to happen (and with the improvements to Amtrak that just got signed by Biden, it HAS to happen, or there won't be any truly rapid transit there at all) especially to counteract the old whities in westie screaming about the urban element three stops down.

This corner is already too crowded. The proposal would place a building that is much taller than any surrounding structures in the area right next to a large elementary school, the Sumner, which is the largest elementary school in Roslindale. There is already a significant amount of school bus, car, and foot traffic all around this corner and surrounding streets due to the school. It is difficult as-is for parents to drop-off and pick-up their kids from the Sumner, but it is at least manageable because there is some parking in the area. It would be problematic for development to make the area around the Sumner even more dense. Already, BPS has promised sixth grade expansions to every school except the Sumner. Sumner needs more space, not less. On the other hand, if a development project for this space included extra space for the Sumner, then that might actually help everyone in the neighborhood.

With no parking? Or are you complaining that people walking to/from their homes would be an issue somehow? More parking in the building means more people driving their cars to that specific intersection you know.

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No, I do not support the proposed project scope or scale for this location regardless of parking. As I mentioned, the proposed building would be located at an already over-crowded corner. It’s not a good location for anything that large. It’s a bottleneck already for pedestrian traffic (and for cars, since a crossing guard very helpfully stops all cars in the area frequently to help parents and kids get to the Sumner). Cars are already prohibited from going down the cross street here during certain school hours, except for residents of the street.

There are plenty of places in Boston that can support higher density development. This is just one place that cannot without negatively impacting the existing school community here. The Sumner is also the largest and most diverse school in Roslindale.

All that said, an alternative development proposal could be made to take into account the specific needs of this community, which as I mentioned, is that the Sumner is not getting a sixth grade expansion unlike every other school in Roslindale. If a project for this corner was designed thoughtfully to include extra space for the Sumner, then it could be helpful to this community.

This proves that parking is still King. You bigots who think the low and middle class should have a difficult time driving in the City lost another one.

But it might take some of us a few more times of being stuck in traffic or reading stories about another automotive fatality to realize it.

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The plans as filed, and which are the legal basis for approval stated 60% to 90% Area Mean Income (AMI) as the target for "affordability.". At least one City Councilor participating in an area neighborhood meeting thought it would be 30-50% AMI based on the developer's speculation on some kind of federal funds that they might file for. 30-50% is in line with what the city calls "affordable," but there was never any guarantee that this is what exists today when filed.

The suggestion that these would be 42% affordable begs the question as to whose numbers are being applied. Further as the testimony stated (yes I was listening in) was that the 42% was based on applying for additional federal funds. To be clear, this is speculation that such funds will become available at some future date in order to make that figure. You do not approve any building based on speculation of some future funds that may never manifest.

The developer was also going about Roslindale trying to get off street parking to try to get some minimums but none of the business that have parking wanted the liability of someone's car was damaged and getting sued. They even approached the MBTA to lease some spaces in the train lot. While the T will lease to RVMS on specific dates for the Farmers Markets it has no mechanism to lease out spaces on a permanent basis, and that also raises issues of security and liability. Would you park your car there overnight?

ZBA and ISD requires that mixed use buildings add (combine) the minimum parking for each business type which would have been somewhere around 50-75 spaces and zero were planned for any usage.

"Affordability" was pressed numerous times by the developer's spokesperson but ZBA process cannot take into consideration "affordability," nor can it grant plans based on the speculation that some future grant funds might someday manifest. They even stated that they were still trying to secure off site parking in the call. Guesses, speculation, hopes and dreams.

There was no solid plan on paper for the building to meet all of the expected requirements, nor were there specific reasons given as to why variances should be granted based on hardship or legal reasons, which is why the ZBA process for variances exists.

Yes, we need truly affordable housing for our working people but none of this was ever going to be affordable as the city defines, truly affordable, without applicants getting a housing voucher or some kind of additional federal funds, yet to be applied for.

Ask any Roslindale business if they are hurting due to the parking problem. They won't be public in forums like this given that many were approached suggesting that speaking out against this would be bad for their business. Yes, ask about that as well. Take some time to do your own research rather than reading stories on line. The responses you get will be eye opening. Support for local business by local people. Hmmmmmmm.

The ZBA decision was correct.

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We have a mechanism to ensure people can park near city businesses that depend on street parking, without all the spaces being taken by long-term residential parkers.

It’s called time-limited parking.

It’s been around since maybe 1930.

And it works equally well regardless of the race of the business owners.

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