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Developer, church sue city over the way the BPDA keeps rejecting their proposed hillside apartment complex on the Hyde Park/Roslindale line

A Texas developer that wants to build a suburban-style low-rise apartment complex on 14 acres of hillside that a Mattapan church owns off American Legion Highway this week sued both Boston and the BPDA, which has now twice rejected the development proposal as inappropriate for the city.

The developer, Willow Bridge Property Co. (formerly Lincoln Property Co.) of Dallas, wants to build 270 apartments in nine three-story buildings and 331 parking spaces on the land now owned by the Jubilee Christian Church, in a project that would mean chopping down most of the trees now on the site and blasting and carving away parts of the hillside on the site, on the Hyde Park/Roslindale line next to the Stop & Shop/Walgreens strip mall.

In their suit, filed in state Land Court, the developer and church accuse an "oppressive" BPDA of violating state zoning code by holding up the project, which they claim fully meets city zoning for the land and charged that if they bowed down to the BPDA and made the changes in the plans the BPDA wants, they would have to go before the Zoning Board of Appeal for variances, and that's just not right.

Except, they continued, they are now in an "administrative limbo" because they tried to appeal to the zoning board, but were turned down there as well because ISD won't issue a "denial letter" stating what parts of the zoning code the project would violate - required for zoning hearings - without a formal "adequacy determination" from the BPDA, which is refusing to grant one.

In February, 2023 and again in May, 2023, the BPDA refused to grant an "adequacy determination" because, it said, the project was very much inadequate for a hill in a Boston neighborhood - it only had one main entrance/exit to public ways, the project had too many parking spaces and it would involve too much leveling of a wooded hillside, requiring retaining walls that could reach as high as 40 feet.

Also, the BPDA continued, the plans were not detailed enough for adequate review by city transportation and public-works engineers and that even its one concession to nearby residents - to create a publicly accessible "lookout bluff" at the top of the hillside - was not enforceable because it would be on land that the church would still own after the project was built, but the church would not actually be part of the development beyond selling the land to Willow Bridge.

The BPDA laid out these issues in its first denial and asked Willow Bridge to come back with plans that more closely matched BPDA guidelines for large development, in particular as it relates to the steep hillside on which it would go. The authority issued its second denial after the developer filed additional documentation that the BPDA said the additional documentation failed to show any significant changes.

In their complaint, though, Willow Bridge and the church said they've had enough of the BPDA's onerous demands. Willow Bridge said that since first filing its proposal in 2021, it has:

Submitted 1,902 pages of documents, answered 248 quesitons during public meetings, answered 434 questions in filings with the BPDA, conducted four site walks with various departments, had twenty-four calls with city officials, made seventy-one reports and design submissions to the BPDA, and submitted 148 plan sheets to the BPDA. Despite the extensive, multi-year effort of [Willow Bridge] to obtain approval for the Proposed Project, the BPDA continued to block the Proposed Project by refusing to issue the Preliminary Adequacy Determination and by imposing oppressive conditions that would turn [Willow Bridge's] as-of-right project into one that requires zoning relief and substatal redesign.

In their complaint, the developer and church asked a judge to free them from the BPDA's "unjustified, unnecessary delay" and let them "use, enjoy, improve, alter or develop" the land. Specifically, they seek a ruling that the BPDA has exceeded its authority by continuing to block the project, that its demands for project changes are "unreasonable and invalid" because they would require major changes in a project they say already meets the site's zoning and that it should be ordered to "only impose reasonable conditions" on the project.

Complete complaint (14.4M PDF).
BPDA filings.

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Comments

Have any UHub readers trekked/hiked through that area? What was it like?

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Voting closed 19

I was curious and hiked it a few months ago. It has that "urban wild" feeling; quite nice and exotic for something that's still in the city of Boston. There is an advocacy group that has posted some videos about it. You can watch the one titled "Walking through the woods" at the lower part of this webpage to get a sense.

https://www.savecraneledgewoods.org/videos

Developer Willow Bridge Property Co (I think they should replace the word "Willow" with "Asphalt") has found a good soulmate with the Jubilee Christian Church. They both seem to hate anything with chlorophyll and all of God's other creations. I am saying that because the current site of the Jubille church at 1500 Blue Hill Ave is a full 4 acre of black rubber and asphalt without a single blade of grass -literally, I have witnessed that in person. It's one of the worst flood-inducing/heat-island property in the city.

Fully tax exempt too, which is nice for them. If they need to make a buck (and wanted to be part of the sollution to the lack of affordable housing) they could easily sell a fraction of their huge parking lot to a developper. Even on Blue Hill Ave, they'd make a forturne by selling a couple of acres these days. It's right next to the newish Blue Hill Ave commuter rail station.

And while parking is essential for most of these urban churches business model as few of their parishioners live in the vincinity, I am sure they could work out a deal for Sunday parking with the school nearby.

Link to sattelite pic of 1500 Blue Hill Ave (may be I'll learn how to do hyperlink on Uhub some day)

https://www.google.com/maps/place/1500+Blue+Hill+Ave,+Mattapan,+MA+02126/@42.2732137,-71.0930707,187m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m6!3m5!1s0x89e37c0345dc7267:0xc3bc0cd4076eabc2!8m2!3d42.2732329!4d-71.092421!16s%2Fg%2F11bw43vdtz?entry=ttu

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Voting closed 48

A/k/a - A vacant lot.

This whole Urban wild thing was a word play of the then BRA in the early 90's to zone previously developed lots where the former houses had burned down or been taken down.

Back then no one wanted the lots.

Today it is a different story.

The Urban Wild designation is holding up infill housing in areas which need it and can support it.

The people holding this development in Roslindale up are no better than the towns where the MBTA communities law have been rejected. It is NIMBYism masquerading as environmentalism.

There are parks / open space all around this area. Plenty of grass, trees, and headstones to absorb the heat.

By the way, Jubilee Church on BHA was originally a grocery store, hence all the parking.

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Voting closed 50

Have a cite that burned down or torn down house lots were declared to be urban wilds? I always thought of them as very steep rocky areas that weren't suitable for buildings or a formal park, or woods that had never been developed in out-of-the-way parts of the city.

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Voting closed 1

I like Allandale Woods, an Urban Wild, and Sherrin Street woods in HP, also an UW, I don't think you would want to develop those would you? Sure there are really small ones, I once volunteered for a clean up of the UW at West and Austin Streets in HP. Its REALLY small, when I asked why it got the same treatment as larger park-sized UWs, the person from the Con Comm (?) said they were all part of an inventory of undeveloped or undevelopable land that had returned to a more natural state, everything in NE having been cleared several times. The Texas developer could consolidate the numerous sprawling buildings into a couple of towers (think of the nice views they would have, City could even give more density) and save more of the surrounding land. But that's outside the developer's SOP, I got tired of going to those mtgs.

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Voting closed 29

That particular parcel of land was never a vacant lot at least as far back as the 1960s when the McDonalds and the strip mall opened. The area really doesn't fit the comparison definition of "Urban Wild" you posted.

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Voting closed 10

Those videos truly depicted an "Urban Wild" area. One of these days I'll have to figure out what bus will get me there. I'd like to check it out before it's gone.

One thing though, Jubilee Christian Church has nothing to do with the state of the 4 acres their church sits on. It was that way when they bought it. Back in my youth it was a supermarket, Publix I think.

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Voting closed 9

unless it's a Texas developer - outsiders - building it on undeveloped land being sold by a church.

Quote from one of the BPDA objections: "should be developed with consideration for park equity and maintaining the existing urban forest." "Park equity" means forcing private owners to maintain parks in less-favored neighborhoods over the designated zoning use, I guess.

HTF do you "maintain the existing urban forest" and build housing? Don't say eliminate parking, when the MBTA is so unreliable and people work in areas inaccessible to public transit.

We expect the church to own the wild forest land forever, even though it's zoned for multifamily residential.

and we can't have a Dallas company collecting rents, that's more important than housing.

Adam's description of "suburban style low rise" is kind of loaded. It's a three-story development.

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Voting closed 50

There are better ways to do this.

Along Dorchester Ave, Dotblock is half way through developing 488 units on 4 acres of land -of which 1.3 will be open space. With plenty of onsite parking.

Willow “let's pave it all” Bridge Property Co and the Jubille Church want to use the better part of 14 acres to develop 270 units. They could get more units on much less land; they just need to hire a better designer.

https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/dot-block

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Voting closed 54

I haven't picked a side in this fight (other than "we need more housing any way we can get it"), but I'm curious if going from 3 to 6 floors significantly changes the cost/sqft.

While the basic building system is probably same/similar, I wonder if you get into things like elevators (or more of them), more costly fire protection, or it constrains other design choices like number of parking spaces or unit size/shape. All things being equal, you would think a developer would want to pack as many units onto an acre of land as possible, so when they don't, I get curious about the reasons.

Everybody wants more housing (though many want it "somewhere else") and everybody wants more affordable housing, but nobody likes what it takes to make housing cheaper to build. We all want rehabbed brownstones that miraculously don't cost a fortune to maintain and have modern HVAC/insulation/etc. I think 5-over-1s are as ugly as the next person, but if we built them as mid-rises or all-masonry buildings, the rent would be even higher.

It's worth considering that in much of Japan, smaller houses (like 1-3 family) are considered pretty much disposable. That has its own problems, but it's an interesting view into an alternate universe where functional buildings are constructed at a much lower cost.

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Voting closed 22

I'm from Texas, and I lived in that style of complex for 20 years. They all stank on ice. It's absolutely not the way to increase housing here.

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Voting closed 47

We don’t need more housing. There’s plenty of housing in Boston, there’s just too many people who want to live here. People need to start moving to other parts of the State.

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Voting closed 1

Yet a church can't move a hillside? No wonder some of us have a hard time being believers.

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Voting closed 27

Normally I'm all build build build when it comes to housing, but the proposal here is so laughably bad, and the BPDA's responses have been delicious, pointed, and very entertaining.

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Voting closed 67

It is that @blues_lead: It is that. Especially after you watch the videos dvg recommended.

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Voting closed 7

The project is not a good fit for the site and also the people fighting it are greenwashing their NIMBYism.

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Remember when that guy tried to build a golf driving range on that hill without a permit?

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Voting closed 1