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Condo proposal caught between old and new zoning wins approval on Addison Street in East Boston

Rendering of proposed 141 Addison St.

Rendering by Zephyr Architects.

In an unusual move, the Zoning Board of Appeal today approved a 20-unit apartment building at 141 Addison St. in East Boston even though the BPDA has yet to sign off on the project.

The Zoning Board usually waits until after the BPDA has approved proposals with at least 15 housing units before voting on variances requested for them. But while the BPDA staff closed the public comment period on developer Ricky Beliveau's $8.4-million proposal last October, it has yet to forward the proposal to the BPDA board for a vote.

Beliveau's Volnay Capital has proposed razing the warehouse and parking area now on the site and replacing it with 16 market-rate units and 4 affordable units, with 14 parking spaces in a garage. The proposal calls for eliminating roughly 100 feet of curb cuts, freeing up on-street parking along Addison - and would allow green space and street trees on a lot that is now completely covered by concrete and asphalt, Beliveau's attorney, Richard Lynds, said at a zoning hearing this morning.

Lynds said the BPDA planning staff is refusing to submit the project to the BPDA board for a vote and is insisting that the proposal be redone to fully comply with impending zoning in that part of East Boston, since Beliveau is completely razing the current building, effectively starting from scratch, rather than adding to it - even though he submitted his plans under the current zoning.

The BPDA board approved the new Plan East Boston zoning on Jan. 18, but the Zoning Commission, which has final oversight over the city's zoning codes, has yet to vote to replace the current zoning with it.

Lynds said that BPDA staff's seeming effort to put the project in limbo included demanding that the building's rear setback increased from the 20 feet Beliveau proposed - allowed under the current zoning - to more than 33 feet, which would be required under Plan East Boston zoning. He said they also wanted an increase in the side setbacks to 5 feet on both sides from the proposed 3.8 and 3.5 feet, even though the current warehouse building has no side setback at all -as allowed under the current zoning - and to increase the lot's "permeability" (how much of the lot is covered by surfaces, such as dirt, through which rain can pass) to 30% from the 27% proposed. The current lot is 100% covered by asphalt and the building.

Lynds pointed to the permeability issue in particular as an example of how the BPDA staff requirements would let the current warehouse and parking area stay, even though the new proposal would be very close to what the new zoning code calls for - and would be far better than a lot entirely covered by substances from which rainwater would drain into the street, instead of into the ground. Also an improvement, he said: Eliminating a building that now has no setback at all from neighboring lots.

"It's letting the perfect become the enemy of the good," he said, adding complying with it would force Beliveau's architect to completely rework the plans - and ironically would allow a larger building.

While BPDA staff may have gotten used to killing projects by simply sitting on them - as it did for four years with a proposed charter high school in Roslindale - there is no legal requirement for the zoning board to wait for official BPDA "certification" that it's approved a project before voting, Lynds said.

Lynds continued that the BPDA is insisting that Beliveau put the entrance to his garage on the left side of his building, via a neighboring building's driveway, rather than via a curb cut on the right side. Lynds said he spent six months trying to negotiate an easement with the owner of the neighboring building, but that they could not reach an agreement that would fully assuage that owner's concerns. "We cannot simply use somebody's driveway" without their permission, he said - adding that in any case, the ten-foot curb cut Beliveau is proposing contrasts to the 110 feet where no curb currently exists at all.

Stephan Marin of the East Boston Neighborhood Health Center, which has a facility on Addison Street, supported the proposal, as did Addison Street resident Claudio Gomes, who said replacing a warehouse with residences would "improve the neighborhood for the better," in large part because now people congregate at the site and night and "throw garbage everywhere."

The Harborview Neighborhood Association, however, opposed the project. Nobody from the group spoke at the hearing, but an Office of Neighborhood Services liaison said the group's main issue was that that building would "overshadow" neighboring homes and "force families to move out." City Councilor Gina Coletta (East Boston, Charlestown, North End) joined the association in opposing the proposal, saying through an aide she wants to see the project fully conform with the new zoning.

The board voted 6-1 in favor. of Beliveau's requests for variances under the current zoning, which included having too high a "floor-to-area ratio" and having insufficient rear-yard setback.

Member Giovanny Valencia said he thought the project would be an improvement over the current warehouse and parking area and said he hoped the BPDA would improve its process to not just leave developers hanging. Member David Aiken said Beliveau had done "a good job" trying to balance a lot of competing interests in his proposal.

Member Alaa Mukahhal, who cast the lone no vote, said she could not support the precedent being set by approving a project that had not yet fully gone through the BPDA review process.

Although affordable-housing agreements are usually done through the BPDA, Lynds said Beliveau agreed to including the requirement in the zoning-board approval. Lynds added he would draft a specific agreement with the Mayor's Office of Housing to ensure four of the units go to people who make less than the Boston area median income.

141 Addison St. filings.

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I’m sorry but they increased setback requirements in the new zoning? What a backwards step.

Also neighborhood associations being stupid as usual. How does an apartment building replacing a warehouse force anyone out of their homes?

Voting closed 27

I wonder why we have a housing crisis? It can't possibly because of how difficult we make it to build housing, can it?

Voting closed 31