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57-unit all affordable housing complex approved for East Boston but possible lawsuit looms

Rendering of the two building showing their central plaza

Rendering of the two building showing their central plaza by Joy Street Design.

The Zoning Board of Appeal yesterday approved a proposal for a two-building complex with 35 affordable apartments and 22 affordable condos off Saratoga Street in Orient Heights, but the owner of a commercial building behind which the complex would sit says one of the proposed access routes, via a private way, would violate an easement.

The proposal by the East Boston Community Development Corp. calls for one building to house the apartments, with 14 parking spaces, and the other to house the condos, with 22 parking spaces. The buildings would be numbered 80 and 82 Shawsheen Rd., although the possible continuation of Shawsheen from the other side of Saratoga Street would remain greenspace under the plans.

The non-profit's plans call for 10 of the apartments to be rented, via Section 8 vouchers, to people making no more than 30% of the Boston area median income, another 17 to be rented to people making no more than 50% of that level and 10 to people making no more than 60% of that level. Most of the units would have two or three bedrooms.

The condos would be split between people making no more than 70%, 80% and 100% of the area median income.

The new buildings, which would both have solar panels, would sit on either side of a new public plaza - which would have space to extend the East Boston Greenway to one day connect to a proposed Winthrop Greenway. The building's first floors would be raised above expected flood levels as sea levels rise.

August Bros. sold the parcel, which it used for its oil trucks, to the East Boston CDC in 2022 for $3 million. It sits between a Blue Line yard, the back of a CVS parking lot, Barnes Avenue and two commercial buildings on Saratoga Street, with a two-way driveway connecting the site to Saratoga Street.

Nobody spoke against the idea of affordable housing at the hearing. What did generate verbal heat, however, was how people would drive to and from the buildings.

The Rizkallah family, which owns one of the commercial buildings - the 1144 Saratoga St. building that houses its Belle Isle Wines and Spirits and a Domino's - "is vehemently opposed" to the proposed use of a driveway next to its building for access to the 14-space garage in the rental building.

The family owns the driveway, which has had an easement since 1998 allowing its use to access the site. But the family's attorney, Michael Magerer, says the easement was only intended only for the relatively limited use by trucks, most recently oil-company trucks, during limited hours - mainly during weekdays with occasional emergency uses at night or on Sundays.

"There is no reference at all to public use," in the easement, Magerer said. The easement was "clearly intended for the exclusive use of the owner of the property and not to be used by others, certainly not to be used in a capacity of the nature that the developer is proposing," specifically, public access to an apartment building, he said.

Jeff Drago, lawyer for the East Boston CDC, retorted that BPDA attorneys concluded the easement does allow for use as a private way to the apartment building, that the easement says nothing about hours of use and that access to a 14-space garage would be far less intrusive than pounding by an oil company's "large tanker trucks" and that many residents would likely rather walk to the nearby Orient Heights Blue Line station than drive.

And, he said, the Rizkallahs might have an ulterior motive: They are "parking cars illegally" near the easement and don't want to lose that. "I think that's where this stems from," he said.

Drago also sparred with BTD Senior Planner Bob D'Amico over the condo building's access to Barnes Avenue. D'Amico urged the board to ban the project's access to that street completely and to require all access to be via the Saratoga Street driveway.

Barnes Avenue is a residential street and "this massive project will have a devastating impact" on it, D'Amico said.

He added that he does not understand how Drago could say BTD approved the proposed traffic and parking plan when he never gave his approval.

Drago, however, said the project had an entire BPDA "scoping session" in which a BTD representative, if not D'Amico, participated and gave its approval to the project's overall transportation plan.

The board approved the project unanimously, granting variances related to the buildings' heights, overall density and fewer parking spaces than called for under zoning. It did not require any alterations to the Barnes Avenue access plans.

The BPDA approved the project in October.

Watch the hearing:

Project documents.



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I have to say it's incredibly stupid addressing to give these buildings Shawsheen Road addresses, when Shawsheen won't exist north of Saratoga. How is anyone supposed to find the place? They'll turn the wrong way on Shawsheen and get confused. The addresses should be something like "1146-rear Saratoga Street".

Or the city should extend the public street grid back there.

It's kind of ironic that access to these 36 parking spaces is such a big problem when the site is adjacent to several huge parking lots. It would be easier if there could be an entrance from the back of the CVS lot.

I was hoping an old map of the area, like the 1922 Bromley map, would show something like train or trolley tracks along the missing piece of Shawsheen Road heading to the Orient Heights yard. But no such luck.

The 1912 atlas was really confusing in an interesting way. Totally different street layout, and the few streets that do match up with the present have totally different names.

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Is almost exactly the same as present, although some street names differ. It's just that the part which isn't built today wasn't built then either. Most or all of that area was/is Belle Isle Marsh and I expect the property owner/developer expected to fill in the marsh to build housing.

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The title examiner is the unsung hero of real estate deals. But encumbrances can be fixed. Over many, many closing extensions and fighting Land Court. WAAHHHH HAAA HAAA!! THE LAND COURT WILL MAKE YOU ITS BITCH.

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From Boston Planning & Development. Looking at 2 Shawsheen Rd. Somewhere out in the harbor I guess. And trying to look at Shawsheen on Google maps it seems like the algorithm got drunk and I end up looking at the sky.

Hopefully they can work something out. I'm thinking 14 car garage isn't going to be generating that much traffic.

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