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Area around the Shawmut T station no blighted hellhole, school says in suit over BPDA approval of affordable apartment building there

Epiphany School, located right next to the MBTA's Shawmut Red Line stop, today sued the BPDA for its decision to approve a four-story, affordable apartment building next door.

In its suit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the Episcopal elementary and middle school, cites several reasons to block the project, including what it says will be the loss of open space, the potential "overburdening" of an easement it granted to the auto-body garage that would be razed for Trinity Acquisition's $47-million, 72-unit building and the fact that two members of the "impact advisory group" appointed by the BPDA to review the project lease commercial space in Trinity buildings elsewhere in Boston.

But Epiphany's complaint leads with the argument that a judge should overrule the BPDA board because of the way it described the area around the station as "blighted, substandard and decadent."

The school calls that "wholly without merit" and all by itself is reason enough to strike down the BPDA approval, which the BPDA board gave on Nov. 16.

In fact, the Project Area is neither blighted, decadent or substandard.

In fact, to the contrary, the Project Area consists of single and multi-family homes, many of which are valued at over $1m.

The BPDA's determination that the site of the Proposed Project, including the buildings and asphalt parking lot that Fitzpatrick Autobody has used for decades, is blighted, decadent and/or substandard, is misplaced. ...

To the contrary, the current owners, Fitzpatrick Autobody, are conscientious about maintaining the property in a clean, organized, and pristine condition, including mowing the lawn regularly and plowing and removing snow accumulation.

Indeed, several years ago, when graffiti appeared on a section of their fence, they had it painted over the same day.

As part of its approval, the BPDA designated the project for tax relief under a state law referred to as 121A, aimed at encouraging low- and moderate-income housing in "blighted" areas. The Trinity proposal says that with this tax relief, it will offer all the units to people making between 30% and 120% of the Boston area median income.

In its complaint, the school also says all the comings and goings of residents and guests would cause undue disruption to the school's students and that the building would cast shadows on the school. Construction would impede access by emergency vehicles to the school and all the noise from construction, just feet from classrooms, would cause "significant disruption and disturbance" to students, the school charges, adding that the completed building, by being denser than an autobody garage, would reduce the area's "open space" and would cause traffic problems in the area. The building would have a 25-space garage.

The complaint asks a judge to "annul" the BPDA decision and to slap the BPDA for approving a project that exceeds the lot's zoning, conflicts with what it says is the city's overall master plan, would unfairly take advantage of the easement the garage has to use a school-owned driveway and "is not in the best interests of the community."

Complete complaint (6M PDF).
Project's BPDA filings.

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Comments

Shame on Epiphany.

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This charter school just wants to get this real estate on the cheap. And the school doesn't acknowledge the traffic problems it causes.

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She ran on a platform of not simply reform, but actually "Abolish the BPDA". Now the same Philistines are in charge of fast-tracking their own so-called zoning reforms. The reference to "blight" in redevelopment is a term of art, originally meaning economically underperforming property, which is also in a state of deterioration. After WWII, the guys in tweed jackets drew grandiose plans for urban revitalization, often funded by federal funding. Across the country, since the 1950's "blight" has become code for urban (wink wink) areas with undesirable uses, typically occupied by undesirable people. In Boston, the original sin committed by the BRA (now dba BPDA) was to tear down the West End and broom the working class and poor residents, who also happened to be primarily Italians, Jews, African Americans, and other swarthy groups. The Wu Train agenda is making it harder for long term residents to survive in Boston. Connected institutional developers with subsidized financing are making fortunes while presenting themselves as doing the Lord's work.

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Epiphany is not a charter school and takes no public funding.

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It is one of the Epiphany schools which are low or free tuition private schools sponsored by the Episcopal diocese of Massachusetts. There is another one in Lawrence. Not a charter school like the MATCH school where my kids went.

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The Epiphany School is dedicated to helping at risk and disadvantaged youth in their educational years and beyond. They have a building plan that not only creates affordable housing but an actual path to ownership, not to mention more green space and off-street parking. Trinity is of course a corporate landlord with a goal of making a profit, not always having the neighborhood's interest in mind. They also have people that are paid to write comments in their favor. As a neighbor of The Epiphany School, I would much rather have Epiphany expand into that space because they are more invested in this community and I don't mean financially, I mean they will continue to improve our neighborhood.

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Anti-housing NIMBYs are a significant blight on neighborhoods, especially when trying to prevent housing next to a T station.

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Shame on the Epiphany School for trying to frame this as some kind of social justice campaign. I will agree that the area is hardly blighted. How building on an ugly parking lot is going to ruin the neighborhood I cannot say. Parking? Is that really the issue here?

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I bet the following is a big issue.

the Project Area consists of single and multi-family homes, many of which are valued at over $1m

vs.

The Trinity proposal says that with this tax relief, it will offer all the units to people making between 30% and 120% of the Boston area median income.

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The BRA's abuse in declaring things "blight" is as as evil as the way the Federal government claims jurisdiction over everything because of interstate commerce. Any local activity today that touches the Internet or a credit card now falls under interstate commerce.

Any effort to rein in BPDA's limitless scope is a good thing.

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Why did they lie in describing the are blighted? This is near the vaunted Melville Ave. Walk less than a block and behold large gorgeous single family houses that are in great shape.

The BPDA (formerly BRA before the 3/4 millions dollar rebranding) has always reminded me of Robert Moses and NY and NJ authorities. Anti-democratic centers of real estate power that are mostly under the command of developers. Same as the agency that allowed the destruction of the Boylston Building at Arlington and Boylston. A gorgeous facade that will be replaced by walls of dull glass; a style better suited in the most excellent region of anodyne architecture and boring buildings, the Seaport District.

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In Adams write-up just after the part about it being deemed blighted in has the information on income eligibility for affordable housing. I suspect that those two things are tied together to get the tax relief that makes it possible with bureaucratic requirements being bureaucratic requirements.

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Now it will

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... is duly noted.

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Just to let you know, the Epiphany School has always been about "helping" the less fortunate.

Translation - They think they are smarter than everyone else, especially the people of Dorchester.

The arrogant noblesse oblige put on by this school over the past 25+ years or so that they have been around amazing.

One of the first seals of Massachusetts had a Native American on it with the works "Come Over Here And Help Us". I wouldn't be surprised if it was done by an ancestor of one of the people who run this place.

They first wanted to take over All Saints Church on Ashmont Street and try to run roughshod over the very nice Milton and Caribbean ladies who kept that great church going over the years. The nice ladies told them to stuff it in a very polite but firm way. That brought them to Clementine Park where the arrogance is on display again.

Jim Keefe (Trinity) has done a lot for Dorchester over the years. He is a builder with good people and good projects. You won't find his house on Lowell Road in Concord or that he has a membership at the Country Club.

This residential project will help a lot of people. Is the area around Shawmut "blighted", it isn't, though it is not Wellesley Farms either. Let's just say I think the real power behind the school rolls up the windows and locks the doors when travelling to meetings there.

Housing on top of a train station with a high number of affordable units is needed.

Let's hope the judge tells them to take a hike.

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They forgot to add high crime area. None of which is true but are all racial code terms, shame on the board of the BPDA.

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While the school may be engaged in rent-seeking here (I don't know), the "blighted area" designation is absolutely used by the BRA/BPDA as a lever to gain proprietary control.

What Boston needs is clear, consistent, and transparent zoning by right that imposes the fewest constraints necessary for public benefit. Variances and per-project permitting lead to arbitrary decisions and huge inefficiencies that only benefit rent seekers, while also creating massive incentive for corruption and influence-peddling that favor connected insiders.

We also need to be much more skeptical of the wisdom of planners here, even if they are not crooked. Many--perhaps most--of today's blighted areas are blighted not by some wild and chaotic animal spirits, but as a direct result of past planning.

Remember that much of downtown and Government Center today are the result of replacing dense, organic mixed-use blocks (tenement slums!) with scientific, hygienic, advanced brutalist tower blocks. If we could ritualistically sacrifice a billion or two dollars and magically convert all of this area back to what it was before all the brilliant people from Harvard and MIT and other good and wise places came along and razed it, it would improve the city enormously.

On the whole I think we've learned a bit from some of our earlier planning mistakes, but we are probably underestimating the seriousness of the ones we're making now.

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How convenient.

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Answer: What Is St. Mark's / Shawmut.

Alex - "You are correct".

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... and the bit about what happened to downtown - which isn't even accurate. Perhaps they haven't been?

But your I HATE PERSON OMG MUST SPEW SHIT OR MY DICK MIGHT DISAPPEAR reactivity overcame your reading comprehension, as usual.

Put down the bottle, pick up the directory of mental health services, honey. You're losing it.

https://www.masshelpline.com/

p.s. I am quite familiar with the area in question, dear, because I actually explore the area I live in, have friends, family, and coworkers, etc. I also know people who left the neighborhood in question during the busing era that was made inevitable by over a decade of denial and failure to make changes.

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So, two things.

First, NIMBY scum can fuck off into the sun.

Second, notwithstanding (1), the BPDA's ability to get around zoning restrictions via the "blighted" designation is one of the dumbest loopholes I've ever come across. Maybe ten years ago, I lived just across the street from a former halfway house that had been closed down many years earlier, for whatever reason. It was city property, and in the decade+ that it had been closed, no one had done any maintenance whatsoever on it, so it was literally infested with vermin, and crumbling down. They decided they wanted to reopen it, and make some pretty significant upgrades that violated zoning regs for the lot. Rather than, you know, ACTUALLY FIX THE BUSTED-ASS ZONING, they pulled some strings with the BPDA to get the property designated as blighted, which means you can build whatever the hell you want on it without needing variances or neighborhood cooperation. For those of you keeping track at home, the "they" I keep using is "the city". The timeline is twenty+ years, and there's a bunch of pseudonyms, but it's all the same actor. By that logic, I should board up my house, leave the place to decay, and then wait until it's such a disastrous mess that it's literally a danger to the neighborhood, before I come back, tut-tut about how awful it is, and then use the resulting designation to build a 30-story tower in a residential corridor zoned for 40-foot-max.

Clearly I would not get away with my cunning plan, but I think that's only because I don't know the right people at the BPDA.

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In order the change the zoning, you have to get neighborhood consensus, and that ain't gonna happen anytime soon. If the project goes forward under existing zoning then they will need variances, which ANYONE with legal standing (abutters) can challenge and most likely win (very high bar for developers to win challenges to variances), or at least drag it out for years until developer goes away. The Urban Renewal designation (121A) is not a good tool and has a lot of baggage, but its the only that can clear up old title issues, allow for tax breaks and create a path to a building permit, hence it's use here. 121A doesn't apply everywhere and is rooted in the way the city looked nearly 70 years ago.

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Decadent, can't wait to see how they back that up.

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Have the complainers and pearl-clutchers at this educational institution bothered to read either 1) their bibles and 2) the terms and conditions of their tax exemptions?

Perhaps a review in light of their actions would be prudent.

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