Note: Because the reporter misunderstood what happened, the story has been corrected to reflect that the building can be occupied - as executive suites.
The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a developer's proposal to change the classification of an essentially completed nine-unit building at 119 Addison St. in East Boston from executive suites to condos, which means the developer can rent the units out to Boston visitors, but not sell them as condos.
At issue was the way the building went up in the first place: Developer David Masse of Wakefield originally wanted to put up condos, but when neighbors began to object, he switched his proposal to executive suites - basically furnished apartments for Boston visitors. Executive suites are an allowed use in the "economic development area" in which the property sits - it's across the street from the Maverick Mills complex - so the project didn't need the extensive neighborhood discussion normally required for residential projects. He was granted a building permit in 2018.
The executive-suites zoning also meant the building did not need to provide the sort of "open space," for example, balconies, normally required for residential buildings.
But then the city enacted restrictions on executive suites and Covid-19 dampened the need for space for visitors, so Masse submitted a request to the board to change the building's use from executive suites to residential, his attorney, Richard Lynds told the board. Since the building is already standing, the proposal didn't need to go through the normal pre-permit community-input process.
Because the city granted approval for construction of executive suites, the case is different than 125 Addison St., where a developer last year proposed building a new executive-suites building after the city had changed its short-term stay regulations and the board would not even let construction begin. In that case, the developer is currently in court seeking to overturn the board ruling.
Masse needed zoning-board approval to make the change because residential use is "forbidden" in the economic development area, even though the side of the street it's on consists mainly of residential properties.
By a 6-1 vote, the board sided with residents, the mayor's office and City Councilor Lydia Edwards and rejected the proposal.
Residents objected to the way Masse was using what they called a loophole in city zoning to put up a building with no community input. One resident said the four-story building "sticks out like a sore thumb" on the street, where most residences are one- or two-family homes.
Ricardo Patron, an aide to Edwards, said the councilor opposed the request because the process "took away community's ability to weigh in." But given that the building is already standing, he said that Masse should make at least some of the units affordable. Normally, developers don't have to take affordability into account for buildings with less than 10 units, but normally, multi-family buildings also go through community input.
"I find this hard to swallow," Erlich said of the way the developer was seeking to get what he originally wanted without ever having to meet with residents and elected officials.
Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo suggested a possible way forward for the developer if he does want to sell the units: Come back with a proposal that has fewer overall units, to reduce its density.