Neighbors sue to block apartment building at E and Bolton streets in South Boston
Six residents who would live next to a four-story, 24-unit apartment building at 363 E St. in South Boston yesterday sued to block its construction, saying there's nothing unusual enough about the parcel to justify the number of variances the Zoning Board of Appeal had to grant.
The Zoning Board of Appeal voted in November to approve plans by David Winick and David Matteo of Cedarwood Development to raze buildings once used by St. Vincent de Paul Church for their new building, which would have four units to be rented at 70% of the Boston area median income as well as 24 parking spaces in a mechanical "stacker" garage. The proposal is separate from their plans to turn the old church, shut in 2015, into a 35-unit apartment building.
In a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the residents said there were no "special circumstances or conditions" related to the roughly 9,400-sqare-foot parcel to warrant variances related to its height, insufficient open space, rear-yard-setback, number of parking spaces and overall density on the site, among others and asked a judge to "annul" the board's approval.
At the November hearing, Cedarwood's attorney said some of the variances were needed only because neighbors had asked for things that required them; for example, the lack of sufficient open space for residents came after the developers agreed to eliminate a roof deck and balconies for units. The BPDA and BPD both said 24 parking spaces were adequate for a building of the size, and an aide to City Councilor Ed Flynn, who supported the project, said that many spaces would help alleviate the "South Boston parking crisis."
Also at the hearing, an attorney for two of the residents named in the suit said the new building would create traffic and safety issues, although he did not specify them. Another attorney for residents said direct neighbors never had a chance to voice their concerns at neighborhood meetings, although another nearby resident testified there were certainly local meetings for residents to speak up. The Saint Vincent's Lower End Neighborhood Association supported the project.
The BPDA approved the proposal in June.
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I like the attempt to at least design a building with some old school features seen in Boston over the boxy faceless designs seen lately.
South Boston's "parking crisis"
The "parking crisis," as councilor Flynn puts it, will not be alleviated by adding ever more off street parking spaces for these new units! Every shred of evidence we have indicates that this will make parking worse by encouraging ever more people to own cars, drive, and park on the street in this downtown-adjacent neighborhood. The definition of insanity
Look at this bullshit
Two of the plaintiffs own the house on the left and right of this parking lot. The one on the left owns *half* of the parking lot as "unusable" space and pays only about $100/yr in taxes on an assessed value of $10,000 for 960 sq ft of the lot while some guy in Dorchester (gotta be related/friends) owns the right 960 sq ft of the lot and pays his own $100/yr for the "unusable" space assessed at about $10,000 too.
If those lots were together, you could build an entire other house there on that block.
But these assholes wanted it for their own parking lot at $200/yr in taxes so they've gamed the assessing...and now they want to kill a house that isn't even ON THIS BLOCK?
Then, I also have to wonder how many of these cars are owned by the other two complaintants: https://goo.gl/maps/3ipceZ4Jc4s6BxBr9
They live in the house on the left...but their lot ends at the chain fence next to the house and the parking lot is part of the lot being reformed into usable housing by the defendant of the lawsuit. Meanwhile the other half of the house has a driveway that they've turned into an outdoor lounge...more power to them...if they're not parking their cars in this lot on the other side of the house on someone else's land that they probably just lost access to and are butthurt about...
The whole thing stinks of "fuck you, I got mine...and yours".
Yeah this exists all over the place
For instance, check out Mead Street in Allston. On the even side there are 36 units on 12 lots, each lot 1200 sf (24x50, or 25x48) and assessed at about $750,000, for a total of $9 million and taxes of $97,000 per year, about $21,000 of this derives from the land value. (These are probably under-assessed since rent is $2200 per unit, each unit commands $6600 per month in rent which would equate to a million-dollar home but what do I know.) Built in about 1890, these are nowhere near meeting code for a number of reasons but provide 72 (small) bedrooms of housing.
Across the street is the parking lot owned by the same owner. It was subdivided at some point way in the past but never built upon. Those lots are actually larger—about 1700sf—but still "unbuildable" so they are each taxed at only $20,600, so $164800 total, or $1800 of property tax, about 1/12th of what it should be if it were assessed at the same rate as across the street. The road in between is also "private" (probably bought from the City at some point) and appears not to be taxed at all.
The empty lots are used for parking: $85 per month for something like 50 spaces, so about $50,000 in revenue per year (compared to $950,000 in rent for the building). If they were taxed as buildable land—$20,000—then there might be incentive to develop it into housing, but since it's just taxed for undeveloped land, it's easy to keep it as parking, all because of lines someone drew on a map.
TL;DR the City should figure out how to tax parking spaces on "unbuildable" land at the same rate that they would be taxed as if it had housing for people on it instead.
(Disclosure, I am a current tenant of this development.)
I've looked in the historical atlases and found the road as far back as around 1890 when Mead subdivided his land and gave part to a son/brother/relative. Even as far back it was subdivided on the undeveloped side of the road!
I also looked at that parking lot between two triple-deckers that I highlighted in my post and found that as recently as the 60s (and maybe 70s) it was a full row of houses. Something tore down the one on that subdivided lot (and then it became subdivided?)....madness.
NIMBY's and the archaic
NIMBY's and the archaic mentality of the "originally from southie" folks is why our neighborhood is a dysfunctional mess from a planning and development standpoint.
Decisions are made on a case by case basis with zero meaningful planning to lean back on. No real study has been done that I know of or that is enforced in South Boston to address the core growth potential that would benefit the community. Instead each new development goes through the same 20 iterations that the neighborhood rips apart and allows the developer to squeeze the design during construction so you end up with a garbage looking building with a nice interior that will be rotting in 20 years.
If the NIMBY's had any sense of understanding they would look at development not as bad thing, but an opportunity to beautify and refresh a neighborhood and bring it into the 21st century...
They are holding off for a pay day They are smart .You come to out neighborhoods expect to share the wealth !!
Can you make your point
Can you make your point without profanities?
I'm sure it is valid, but I stop reading your posts after the second f-word.
The only thing you missed was the final sentence?
does not fit into the neighborhood just like all the other buildings this developer has put up. Look around folks, they want to cram as many units onto a site with not enough parking.
Then the owners of the units end up parking on the already crowded streets.
I know I'm a broken record on this topic...
... but the question is not "is this a good building or a bad one?" nor is it "Does Boston have a housing shortage?", nor is it "Are the neighbors a bunch of NIMBY jackwagons?" it's very specifically, "Did the ZBA have the right to grant this variance?" Almost certainly they did not.
The zoning laws say what they say. If we think they're inappropriate or wrong or outdated, then we have a mechanism for changing them through the workings of our democracy. It's really shitty governance to have the law, duly enacted by our democratically elected representatives, say one thing, and for an administrative body to ignore the law and do something else. That's pretty fundamental to how the rule of law is supposed to work.
Then why have a appeals board at all? Surely construction and zoning aren't the kind of things where suddenly a floor area ratio or a building height comes at you out of nowhere. You know what your lot is. You know what you want to build. Does it fall under the allowable number or not...if not, why is that appealable?
So, if your point is that there's no wiggle room in the law given that it's written as such as we demand it be followed by our legislative process...then there's no point in asking for variance because either you meet those boundaries or not and if not, you knew what those boundaries were so the building board will turn you away (which you should already be able to calculate for yourself before you approach them for approval).
The ZBA by your "duly enacted" limits has zero function...they'll never have a right to grant a variance because that's literally a right to say "the duly enacted limit is wrong" regardless if it's in this case or all cases or any case.
There are spelled out
There are spelled out requirements for variances in Boston, they are too long to copy and paste but you can google them.
For the most part variances are for special situations like your lot is slightly smaller than the requirements and would be unbuildable otherwise, or there’s a weird shape to your lot, something out of the ordinary that is preventing you from building.
Not you want to build more than zoning allows.
If you want to change this you need to change state law.
Does this meet the requirements for obtaining a variance?
"Zoning variances are governed by Article 7 of the city Zoning Code. There are three primary conditions that must be met in order to obtain a variance: 1) There are “special circumstances or conditions” that prevent “reasonable use” of the property under the current zoning code. 2) Due to “practical difficulty and demonstrable and substantial hardship,” a variance is required for “reasonable use” of the property, and the variance is the minimum variance required for this purpose. And 3) the variance is “in harmony with the purpose and intent” of the zoning code, and will not be “injurious to the neighborhood” or “detrimental to the public welfare”. For a complete description of the requirements for a zoning variance, see Article 7 of the Boston Zoning Code."
Zoning in Boston is a joke
Kaz, you pose a legit question and the answer is simple. The code surprises nobody. The code is useless because basically nothing is allowed by right. Existing buildings from decades past could not be built by right today. Put another way, every project before the zba definitely gets at least 1 variance because the code is so out of touch with reality.
This is not how zoning and variances are supposed to function, not even close. Zoning boards are not supposed to review everything that gets built. It is for special permits and the rare variance. Call any land use/zoning attorney with experience in Boston and confirm.
Why does this bizarre process exist? It's a matter of control for the city (BPDA) and various neighborhood/housing groups. In theory, if every abutter to every project had tens of thousands of dollars to challenge these projects, then they could all be rejected. But usually what happens is the cases get settled for some dollar amount.
Look up any existing building and there's a good chance it would not be allowed by right with today's code. In other words, if it was just a lot, likely nothing could be built or what would be allowed would be far undersized compared to the buildings around it. The most usual limiting conditions are minimum lot size, number of stories/height, number of units, outdoor space, parking, and set back requirements. Most of these serve little to no purpose from a zoning perspective in an urban setting.
How should zoning actually function in Boston? At a minimum, it should PERMIT BY RIGHT new housing that generally aligns with what is already built around it. Ideally, it should take into account the needs of the neighborhood and be designed to increase density around areas that make sense like transit hubs and decrease further away from said hubs. Single family zoning in any city should be banned. It is a terrible waste of very limited urban land.
The BPDA is pushing for a carless city, FYI, and waiving requirements for affordable housing while pushing for minimums for other projects.
Every Mayor since Manino could have prioritized REzoning to reflect the needs of the city. The reason it has not seems fairly simple. To allow more by right would piss off many existing residents (e.g. lack of parking, density, noise) and to build less results in "unaffordable" housing via higher rents and home prices (obviously some can afford these units, or else they wouldn't be built/sold/leased).
The BPDA is the agency that enforces building design. Unless the BPDA is involved from the start, most smaller projects will get approved then get tweaked by BPDA after approval. It's a great process that further pisses off the neighbors since projects can look different than approved at ZBA.
There's minimal enforcement of BPDA's designs, so some developers don't follow the guidance.
The entire zoning process is a hot mess and why pretty much everyone involved (neighbors, developers, onlookers, neighborhood groups, and the housing advocacy groups) hates the process.
The city needs to rezone if it intends to add supply to meet demand. Otherwise, we all need to live with the current process and the joys it brings.
I find it hard to believe
I find it hard to believe this huge thing is considered one building. They don't call a row of connected brownstones one building. How are they getting away with this?
Good for them
And they have a good chance of winning, because there's not much legal justification for the quixotic decisions of the ZBA. The trouble is a lawsuit like this is expensive - so only people with a vested interest in a parcel can afford to mount one. But it's probably the only thing at this point that's going to keep Boston livable. Neighborhoods should seriously begin thinking about pooling their money into legal defense funds to keep City Hall and the ZBA at bay.