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Zoning board says nine-unit building too large for Dorchester dead end of three deckers, single-family homes

Proposed Downer Court building

Nope, board says.

The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposal for a four-story, nine-unit condo building at 9 Downer Ct., off Bowdoin Street in Dorchester.

Board members said the proposed building was simply too large for its context - a dead-end street with much smaller buildings.

Developer John McCallum had originally proposed a 12-unit building, but reduced that to 9 after nearby residents and neighborhood associations protested. They then protested 9 units and said they could live with six. McCallum's attorney, Joseph Feaster, however, said that was too small to make the project financially feasible.

"It feels a little hulking," board member Eric Robinson, an architect, said, adding he was concerned about the proposed building's height and density and relative lack of greenspace, given how much of the lot the building would occupy.

"I just think it's too big," he said. Robinson moved to reject the proposal without prejudice, which would let McCallum come back with a new proposal within a year, perhaps, Robinson suggested, with smaller, if not fewer, units.

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But if an architect says it's "hulking" obviously that's a technical term and who could argue with that?

Good thing 5 Downer Court isn't too big, since it has three units on a 1600-square-foot lot and this would be 9 units on an 8200-square-foot lot.

Some quick math: 1600/3 = 533 square feet per unit = the neighborhood character or whatever.

8200/9 = 911 square feet per unit = hulking.

Too bad they're next door to each other.

The proponent should come back with a plan showing 5 Downer Court copy-pasted 3 times onto 9 Downing Street which would fit and then say "this is the exact next door building with more green space does this still not fit the character of the neighborhood?"

Voting closed 56

But there certainly is a good amount of hulking, multi family projects in Mr. Robinson's portfolio.

The merits of this particular project on that dead end street aside, one of his projects down the road in Alston could be argued as "hulking" and out of context with the surrounding area context. While the Comm Ave large apartments are bigger, the rest of Greylock St is all houses that this project doesn't fit in with.

Also worth noting the wood façade features have drastically deteriorated over the years and look horrible now but hey, not like the architect specs out finishes.

Although he only joined the ZBA in 2020 so maybe he had a change of heart after his projects went up.

Voting closed 21

While I agree with you on the hulking comment, the Glenville Residences were built 9 to 10 years ago.

Also worth noting the wood façade features have drastically deteriorated over the years and look horrible now but hey, not like the architect specs out finishes.

Maintenance plays a lot into how things deteriorate. You can't blame the architect for a lack of maintenance.

Voting closed 5

Hopefully next time a project of Mr. Robinson's comes up before the ZBA that point gets brought up too.

Voting closed 6

Yes you can, if the architect chose materials that require intensive maintenance that is unlikely to occur.

Voting closed 6

The architect would likely (or should have) have explained why materials were chosen and the maintenance required. The owner has final say in material selection.

Voting closed 3

If I can ask a favor: Could you repost your comment? I deleted it by mistake, for which I apologize.

Voting closed 9

Awful. Absolutely awful decision.

Voting closed 44

Which of the specific provisions of MGL Ch 40A, that would have allowed the board to grant a variance, do you think applies here?

(Note that I'm not asking you to take a position on whether or not building that particular building on that lot would be a good thing or a bad thing overall, only on what would have given the ZBA legal room to act.)

Voting closed 7

The crisis in housing is much bigger than 40A and is due to reasonable for the area projects like this being shot down on highly "I just feeeeeeelllll" criteria, if you can call that criteria.

Voting closed 15

Government agencies don’t get their power by divine right, they get their power from the legislation that enables their existence. The ZBA was never meant to be the arbiter of what gets built and what doesn’t; it has limited power to grant variances to the zoning laws under sharply limited circumstances.

What has us in this mess is that forever we have had zoning laws that basically forbid everything, and people grew to think that a reasonable way out of that situation was to let the ZBA exercise power it didn’t legally have, to grant variances it shouldn’t grant. The vaguely Soviet analogy is to have draconian laws on the books that the “nice, benevolent” officials rarely enforce… it just had the corrosive, corrupting effect of concentrating the authority in places it wasn’t meant to be.

The solution to the housing shortage is to change the actual zoning rules, not to circumvent those rules by encouraging the ZBA to be loose about handing out variances, especially to applicants who are popular with their neighbors, or who contribute to the right candidates, or who hire the right lawyer.

Voting closed 17

of pure ugliness. At one time the Zoning Board would tell you what style of windows you could use.

Voting closed 2

Sorry, couldn't resist.

Voting closed 5

As someone who lives in the Meetinghouse Hill neighborhood, I can tell you we were relieved the ZBA did not approve this project. We were opposed to the number of units, not because the building was "hulking", but because of public safety concerns. Downer Ct is a small dead end street. And residents are already having to park on both sides of the street. If a house on that street catches on fire, it will be difficult as is for emergency vehicles to respond. The proposed number of units needed appropriate off-street parking built in...which wasn't happening.

Voting closed 6