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Board rejects six-unit residential building in East Boston as too dense for street zoned for single-family homes

20 Waldemar Ave. rendering

Rendering of building rejected by board by Balance Architects.

The Zoning Board of Appeal today told a developer that if he wants to tear down the single-family home at 20 Waldemar Ave. in East Boston, its replacement has to be something with fewer than the six units for which he had sought approval.

In a unanimous vote, the board rejected without prejudice developer Gary Carter's proposal to replace the current house with a new building with six two-bedroom units and a six-space garage. The vote means Carter can come back before the building with a smaller year without waiting a year.

Although his building would have bene next to an existing, even larger apartment building, near other multi-family buildings, the board said the proposal would set a precedent that could lead to efforts to demolish even more single-family homes on the other side of Waldemar Avenue.

The Orient Heights Neighborhood Council opposed the proposal, saying the area is already facing the loss of its traditional single-family homes.

Council member and nearby resident Sean Calista said the building would be excessive even under new zoning proposed for East Boston and said the neighborhood opposition reflects that "we want to protect our single-family homes."

Carter's attorney, Richard Lynds sought variances for among other things, density, height and the building's distance from neighboring lots and the sidewalk, citing both the existing multi-family buildings and the short walk to the Suffolk Downs T stop, which he said made the location idea for greater density.

One Waldemar Avenue property owner did back the proposal, saying "the very bottom of the hill is already populated with multi families" and that the new building would be "a value add to the community."

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Comments

board said the proposal would set a precedent that could lead to efforts to demolish even more single-family homes on the other side of Waldemar Avenue.

What a horrifying precedent, having more housing.

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If you want multi-unit buildings on Waldemar Ave, then by all means work with your elected reps to get the zoning changed. In the meantime, the law that allows the board to hand out exceptions to the law is pretty specific about the conditions under which those exceptions can be granted, and "we should have more housing" isn't one of them.

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Take it from a resident of South Boston. That precedent is one you want to stay away from. The housing you think will help will only be available to renters who can afford it. Long time residents or working families will be priced out. The housing your hoping for will not happen by tearing down single family homes to put up condos that will be priced too high for working g families. Stick to your guns Eastie...gentrification is real and it's heading your way. Overdevelopment is a real.thing

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How many renters is the existing single-family home available to?

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what’s cheaper: an apartment or a single family house? which one houses more households: 10 apartment buildings or 10 single family houses?

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Single Family homes are drastically cheaper per square foot than a condo in East Boston & even more specifically, Orient Heights. Single Family homes provide housing for families that require 3 bed 2 bath housing (or more) while providing a yard and outside space. Families are leaving Boston because they don't want to be crammed in a 900sq ft 1-2 bedroom building of 6-10 units. More housing doesn't mean more affordability....

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This is just not true.

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This location is about a football field away from a Blue Line station, and surrounded by multi family housing. But sure, let's keep that lot reserved for single family housing.

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The photo literally shows a 20 unit building right next door. There are several other within yards of this property. I don't get the reasoning here to deny.

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That Photo purposely shows just the left property. Just about all the other properties going down Waldemar ave are single or two family homes. It's important to note that the developer bought the property as a 1F in a 1F district, it's hard to claim hardship when you knew what you were getting into trying to create additional density in an area not zoned for it.

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The majority of the homes are single and two family homes on that street.That photo purposely only shows the one building that's next to it that happens to be the minority. It's a single family zoned neighborhood and the developer is claiming hardship when they bought that property knowing the zoning that exists. It's also a stones throw away from Suffolk Downs which is going to bring 10,000 units to the neighborhood.

Feel free to explore Google Street View to see for yourself.

https://goo.gl/maps/dFvu9DzNcuHnGtCCA

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So your own link shows multiple multi-fam buildings without even leaving the address. The building adjacent looks like 20 units, swing left and you see another 10 unit building and just behind that without even moving down the street you see what appears to be a 40 unit building. Go 300 yards the other way and you have yet another 12-16 unit building.

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While I have spent a lot of time pissing, moaning, bitching, whinging and whining about the ZBA giving out variances like sloppy handjobs, I am also always confused when they deny variances to projects that, given the context, seem like they make more sense for them to approve than 90% of the others (there was another down on Bennington Street by Swift Street and the Credit Union that was a head-scratcher). The fact that this project is in Orient Heights should not be lost on those following this.

We've been told that we need to douche out and upgrade Eastie zoning because "it's unpredictable" (actually it all seems very predictable with the exception of these occasional, weird-ass denials) and that it's too wacky and variable - so "let's make one set of zoning rules for all the residential areas." And yet we're now proposing exceptions for just this neighborhood. We were treated to the recent spectacle of the Orient Hts Neighborhood Council meeting where an overwhelming white and "mature" audience pointed their invective at the black guy at the front of the room, Arthur Jamison. Not that Boston planners shouldn't be taking a boat-load of fertilizer from residents, but the optics were most unfortunate and maybe reminiscent for some. It's not like the majority of the outraged in the audience were going to end up being evicted and priced out of the neighborhood where they're raising their children. But the place would not look like what they grew up with and it would be changed - for the worse in their eyes.

We need housing, yes, but for whom? And if the answer to that is "those that can afford it" then that's not good, in my opinion [insert asshole analogy]. I don't want to see the "character" of the neighborhood change for the worse, but it will no doubt change - probably get denser....until the flood comes and wipes out a good chunk of it. Encapsulating Hog's Island in amber will not retain the character, if by character we mean the people. We'll just end up with West Roxbury-North-East.

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Glad to see the ZBA rejecting a project that was far to large for its lot. The project would have done nothing but add more expensive condos that do not add to the neighborhood, or address affordable housing. Based on the relief requested, per the zoning code and the board's authority, this was the only legally correct outcome.

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how basically every bureaucrat just keeps acting like there isn't a severe housing crisis in this city.

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just incredible how basically every bureaucrat just keeps acting like there isn't a severe housing crisis in this city.

Do you want bureaucrats to follow the law or not?

MGL Chapter 44a lays out very specific conditions under which a zoning board can grant a variance. "There's a housing crisis" isn't one of them.

Beat up on the legislators for refusing to change the damn zoning laws; not on the officials who are doing their job by enforcing the existing laws.

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Chapter 44A appears to be about issuing bonds?

Do you have a link to the specific section about conditions for variance for zoning here? Because I'd be very curious to see why this doesn't qualify when it seems to me that similar projects that don't have local opposition do.

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What all you are missing here is that a few years ago this lot, for years, had an abandoned burnt out house on a lot overgrown with weeds and dead trees at the back end of the lot about to fall on neighboring houses and the City had issued several fines for this unsightly lot. The plan to turn that lot into a beautiful home for families who would appreciate the neighborhood as much as you do and bring value to the neighborhood as well. 24 direct abutting families (closest neighbors) as well as 6 other neighboring families close by gave their support before the meeting. This was overlooked in the decision making.

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But, I'm curious what objective criteria Bob is trying to point to here that this doesn't meet, since in my experience, the decision-making by the ZBA seems to be anything but objective and tends to have a lot more to do with what local neighborhood groups + city councilors have to say than anything about the actual zoning rules in play.

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Boston is not Hong Kong. What’s wrong with single family houses?

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There's nothing wrong with single family houses, but if the owner of a single family house wants to knock it down to put in a few more apartments, what's the problem? There's a huge number of options between "everything is SFH" and "Hong Kong", and a bit more density in an area that's starved for housing would benefit everyone.

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Starved for housing?

Right next door is going to be 10,000 units over the next 10 years. The Blue Line is already saturated during rush hour traffic and East Boston is in an area where you must take a tunnel or bridge to get to Boston via car. One of the main tunnels to get into Boston is regularly closed. Congestion isn't a good thing..... There are areas with a lot more single family housing such as Hyde Park & West Roxbury, why not push it there? Eastie has enough congestion and is already adding that large chunk of housing at Suffolk Downs, this doesn't include the regular development across the whole neighborhood, specifically the waterfront.

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I was surprised today during a ZBA meeting when city counselors Collet and Flaherty opposed a proposal to add 6 additional housing units for a city in the midst of a housing crisis. The Zoning board denied a proposal that was a year in the making collaborating with neighbors and making design changes to settle a design that the immediate neighbors approved of and supported. The proposal would have replaced a single family home that had been burnt out, overgrown and abandoned for years. The site is surrounded by other multi family properties including a 16 unit building directly next door and less than a block to the Suffolk Downs Train Station.

Although the project had opposition of the OHNC neighborhood committee group, most if not all of the opposers don’t live close to the project, and generally oppose everything that goes before them.

What this project did have is close collaboration over the course of the last year between the proponent and his neighbors resulting in multiple design changes to meet concerns which resulted in gaining the support of 30 Orient Heights residents, 24 of which are direct abutters, and other supporters who would not go on record because concerns of backlash from some of the more outspoken attendees at the Neighborhood group meetings.

Lately there has been a big push by a small group of special interest neighborhood residents that oppose any change to their single family home neighborhood in the Orient Heights section of Boston. A common theme at the OHNC monthly meetings I've heard repeatedly in response to any new building is referring to anyone who didn't grow up there as outsiders and/or "Transients" who they don't want in "their neighborhood". and that's not in keeping with the Spirit of Inclusion that is supposed to be a Hallmark in this great city. At the end of the day OH is part of the city of Boston (not a single family suburb in western MA), and I suggest should grow accordingly in proportion to the city’s growth and what’s best for the majority not a small group trying to keep things the same..
Respectfully
Gary C

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Gary,

Based on your name, you are the one who owns that property that applied for the zoning relief. If I'm mistaken, I'm sorry...it just a pretty big coincidence.

The owner of this property bought a property that as it sits, is a single family home in a residentially zoned neighborhood. If the developer wanted to develop a 6 unit building, they should have bought in an area properly zoned for that. It's hard to claim hardship when you're a developer knowing exactly what you're getting into ahead of time.

Folks have moved into Orient Heights because they want to be in an area that isn't overpopulated and has the proper zoning protections in place to ensure it doesn't turn into an overpopulated area. Your comments around Orient Heights being part of the city...yes, it is part of Boston, though couldn't you say the same thing to Roslindale, Hyde Park, and West Roxbury? These all have plenty of suburban parts to the city that are currently zoned at 1F to protect that.

In terms of the residents, not all residents of Orient Heights are lifelong residents. We've seen an influx in young families moving to our neighborhood to get the opportunity to raise a family in a 3 bedroom home with a yard rather than being in a small box apartment. Ultimately, this developer is out to make money, not make the community a better place for the existing residents to live. It's just sickening that this property couldn't have been purchased by a family, renovated and preserved, rather than having someone trying to make a few bucks.

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Hi thanks for your comments, even though you didn't leave your name, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but lets get the facts straight. If a family wanted to buy and renovate this property they had the three plus years it sat here abandoned after a fire and on an overgrown lot to do so.

In response to your comment about not being out to improve the community ... I think many would disagree and adding a new building for new families to contribute would make the community a better place for everyone ... at least the majority of my closest abutters I worked with over the last year agreed it would make the community better compared to what was there.

As for Waldemar being solely a single family neighborhood that's simply not accurate because there are multi family buildings on each end and in the middle of of Waldemar including 18 units; 16 units; 38 units; 9 units at 5 Walley so in comparison a six unit is not excessive and would have brought new homeowners to add value and appreciate the neighborhood. Some people enjoy condominium living and doesn't make them any less valuable homeowners than someone in a single family. As a matter of interest the streets behind Waldemar are mostly multi-family.

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That is a 1F zoned neighborhood and you purchased a property knowing that. The MAJORITY of the homes on that street are single-family homes. If you wanted to build a 6 unit development, do it in an area zoned for such.

I'd be interested to see if you even live yourself in a condo, probably a single-family home around the neighboring suburb. Developers think It's okay to push density as long as it's not in their back yard and it makes them money.

If you were concerned about affordability, why didn't the proposal include any affordable housing? Proposing 6 units on that plot of land is pure greed.

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In front of the board I saw nothing in your proposal that indicated these condos would have been affordable, and find it disingenuous to suggest your project was designed to solve the housing crisis. What your proposal did include was roof top balconies, which I'm sure was to attract top dollar while selling, not to solve your described housing crisis.

The ZBA has been used as a work around to the zoning code that developers do not like. It does not exist to grant wholesale changes to the zoning code, and yesterday was one of the few instances it operated within its legal authority. The lot you purchased was zoned single family, if you wish to change that feel free to continue to lobby the elected officials via PLAN East Boston. Then again your project was not even permissible under that proposed plan.

I would suggest that what's best for developers is not always what is best for the residents of the City.

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From my reading of your reply I’m seeing a lot of assumptions in your response. For instance, (1). I have been transparent throughout the entire community process and anything but disingenuous and as I understand it Sean you are a member of the neighborhood committee and during this process I emailed to the committee design changes I made in response to neighbors concerns and asked they be posted on the Facebook committee site to generate discussion and collaboration with residents outside my abutters but got no response from any committee member and nothing was posted; (2). during the ZBA presentation it was covered thoroughly that all the neighbors I worked with wanted Home Ownership at any approved project they would support and they as well as other members of your group on more than one occasion stressed there are hundreds of affordable housing units on the highway side of Waldemar Ave.; (3). The units would have been sold to new homeowners at market rate whatever that might have been; (4). I didn’t suggest my project proposal could solve the housing crisis but every project that is approved helps ease that crisis by affording more housing. (5). it’s not my described housing crisis as you, in substance said, there is a housing crisis in Boston and housing is in demand; (6). I didn’t attempt any work around to zoning through the ZBA, as you point out the ZBA has authority to grant or deny variances and I worked closely with a number of my abutters, made some good friends in the process, and ultimately reached a design many would support and then presented it through the community process to the ZBA at which point mainly residents who live nowhere close to 20, like yourself, opposed because they desire to keep Orient Heights single family homes intact. While I understand that desire I would also suggest this is an area in transition and it is not practical to expect to keep Orient Heights section of Boston a single family zone because it’s so close to the city itself; public transit into the city including two 2 train stations that can have commuters into Boston within 10-15 min; major highways in and out of the city; ferry access to Boston via the T to Maverick; (7). a proponent presenting a project to the ZBA who put so much effort and time into collaborating with his close neighbors who would be most affected by the proposal and had so much support I would argue should have received ZBA approval for those efforts Not denied at the request of other residents who live farther away and historically oppose any proposal outside a single family; (8). At my neighborhood vote prior to ZBA I did receive 38 opposition votes but there were also two other cases on for vote that night and they each received 37 and 38 no votes leading to the inference it’s the same people voting no no matter what the project is because the people who don’t mind change are not logging on to vote because they are not concerned so the no votes are not necessarily representative of the community but rather one group.

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I have no affiliation with the OHNC, besides that I live on Waldemar Ave, which is covered by the OHNC. I believe you are referring to Sean Calista who is on the board. I guess you weren't working as close as you claim with the neighborhood.

I will say I know you had only 8 yes votes at the ohnc meeting, so the late surprise to gain 30 letters of support without further changes begs the question as to why the sudden change of heart. A review of those letters should tell more as to why. You continue to claim that all opposition was from far away, yet I live on Waldemar and walk by the property nearly every day.

I do think that for myself and other homeowners, we purchased homes in a neighborhood zoned 1F, with limited 2F or 3F lots, so it is completely reasonable that we expect and continue to fight to keep it that way. There are plenty of neighborhoods in Boston that offer similar buildings as you tried to build, however there are very few that offer single family neighborhoods and what that can provide to those who live here. We are not seeking to have an acre of land on each lot, simply enough space to breath and raise a family. The community has been outspoken as to its opposition so it should come as no surprise to a developer that they face an uphill battle if looking to build outside the zoning code. The decision on Wednesday should also send that message loud and clear.

As for the ZBA, if you have been mislead by your legal counsel to believe that a variance of this nature is appropriate, then I will leave that to you two to resolve. Ultimately the Courts who have continued to overturn the ZBA when an abutter can afford representation, tell us the ZBA does not really have the ability to grant the large changes you seek. But then again the board said as much with their own decision on Wednesday.

As you've described housing is in such a demand that I imagine now it should take no time at all to finish renovations, restoring its former value, and place the home on the market as the single family that it is. We look forward to welcoming them to the neighborhood.

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Hi ... I understand you are passionate in defending your cause and perhaps that is clouding your interpretation of what I said in my 3/30/23 @ 6:51pm reply.

To set the record straight and add some clarity for those who later read your comments.
What I said was that during the community process I reached out to the OHNC to create dialogue but that the OHNC never responded. On the other hand, my direct abutters were open about sharing their opinions and concerns, and the plans were adjusted accordingly.

Support letters are gained over the course of the entire community process and in working with neighbors to address their concerns in an attempt to find common ground.

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Agreed with statement above. I’m having a hard time understanding why this was not approved when there are multiple multi family units a stones throw away from this location. Not to mention the large development that is being built across the way.

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Single-family zoning within 500 feet of a T station is obscene, and should be illegal at the state level.

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If the existing property is a single family home -- old and perhaps decrepit -- it certainly should be available for a reconstruct / redevelop

However, the typical single family lot from the Orient Heights original development era is quite small -- a 6 unit apartment's building on such a lot with variances to the boundary setbacks is too much of a change

Let the developer put in a 3 story 3 unit [tripple decker anyone] without needing any kind of Zoning Exception -- that would provide increased density -- yet be family friendly

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Hi … so on the proposed building the rear yard setback was the required 25 feet so no variance required. The left yard setback was 3 feet from the proposed building to the property line (same as the existing house there now), but the actual distance between the building and the apartment building on the left was at least 15 feet. The right yard setback was at 4 feet to the property line -vs- the six required but we had 10 feet between the proposed building at 20 and the existing house on the right at 24.

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