A developer says the Zoning Board of Appeals illegally rejected a proposed three-family house at 1778 Columbia Rd. that would have looked completely different from its neighbors but which met all of the area's zoning requirements.
The project was before the zoning board because its location, across the street from the water, is in a "greenbelt" district designed to protect certain tree-lined roads, which requires "conditional" approval from the board for projects of its size. In its suit, filed yesterday in Suffolk Superior Court, Platt Development Group of South Boston says this means the board could have set conditions on the project, but not reject it outright.
Platt, owned by Kyle and David Gambone, says the board knew this because its attorney at the hearing reminded them at the outset of the hearing about a 2002 case in which the Massachusetts Appeals Court said the Boston zoning board could not reject a proposal for a house in a greenbelt district if it otherwise met zoning requirements, only set conditions.
The board rejected Platt's project without prejudice, which meant it could come back with a new proposal within a year.
Platt said the board acted after hearing one resident object to the house's style, which she said would lead to the gradual elimination of the triple deckers that now line the street. In the complaint, Platt dismissed her as somebody who, "with zero architectural or design credentials, made criticisms subjectively based on the modern design of the proposed building."
The site isn't in a historic district, so the board should not have accepted her statement as the final word, the company argues, adding that the one architect on the zoning board, Eric Robinson, was the sole member to vote in favor of the proposal, after saying that triple deckers are of another time: "Aesthetics are subjective. Things are built of their time. We don't build like that any more."
The woman in question, Luanne O'Connor, is chairwoman of the City Point Neighborhood Association, which collected some 130 signatures on a petition opposed to the proposal, mainly because of its effect on the character of the street, but also because it includes a roof deck. The Mayor's Office of Neighborhood Services also opposed the project at the hearing, because of its potential impact on "the character of the surrounding neighborhood and streets."
The BPDA, to which approved projects are typically assigned for "design review" after board approval, did not take a position, saying it didn't get details of the proposal before the hearing, but a BPDA planner who attends zoning-board hearings, told the board before its vote that based on community opposition, the proposal would likely need "extensive" design review should it be approved.
Watch the hearing: