HVNA Members Come Around to Saratoga Street Project

Over the past two years Saratoga Street resident Mike McCormack emerged as the most vocal critic of plans to develop a large vacant lot on his street. McCormack thought earlier blueprints of the planned development at 656 Saratoga St. were ‘too big,’ included ‘too many units’ and would be a monstrous eyesore in the middle of the block.

McCormack successfully led the charge to have Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA) members vote against the proposal to build a 50 feet tall, 40 unit development and send developer MG2 back to the drawing board.

So at Monday night’s HVNA meeting when McCormack gave his endorsement to the proposed changes to the original project HVNA members were taken back.

“This proposal makes a lot more sense,” said McCormack of the changes to the original plans. “This is something I can get on board with. They listened to us on height, on one for one parking, so they did some work and this is something I could live with.”

Attorney for MG2 Richard Lynds, who has gone numerous rounds with McCormack at public meetings over the project, quipped that ‘it is the season of giving’ to which McCormack jokingly responded ‘I hope no one took video of what I just said’.

Developer MG2 plans to develop the 16,500 square feet vacant lot at 656 Saratoga St. into market rate rental housing by combining six parcels on the lot into one developable parcel.

The original plan would have MG2 erect a five-story, 50 feet building. The building would have included 62 units with a mix of studio, one and two-bedroom units and retail opportunity on the ground floor. A later scaled down version then called for 43 units of market rate rentals that would be a mix of studio, one and two-bedroom units and 39 parking spaces and eliminated the retail component.

However, the community still felt at five stories and over 50 feet tall the building was uncharacteristic of the surrounding neighborhood and sent MG2 back to the drawing board. MG2 then lowered the building to four stories and 40 units with 30 parking spaces. This was the plan that was rejected by members of the HVNA at a meeting a few months back.

At Monday night’s HVNA meeting MG2’s attorney, Richard Lynds, said his client has reduced the number of units to 30 and knocked an entire floor off the building, bringing the height down to just under 32 ft.  at three stories.

“This is more in line with the triple deckers that one may see along Saratoga Street,” said Lynds. “This addresses many of the comments and concerns over the height. At 31.8 feet in height the building would be below 35 feet zoning code.”

The entrance to the building’s parking has been moved around the block to Chaucer Street after resident objected to a curb cut and vehicles entering and exiting a garage on Saratoga Street. MG2 also added more landscaped buffers between the proposed building and abutting homes.

Variances MG2 would be seeking from the Zoning Board of Appeals will include Use, Floor Area Ratio or FAR, Open Space and Parking. The developer would also need a variance for Height. While up to 35 feet is allowed in the area and the building is under this threshold, zoning does not allow for buildings to be over two and half stories.

While most seemed to be pleased with the changes some still expressed some concern over the building’s massing and asked the development team if there was anyway to break up the building or incorporate architectural details to make it look less ‘boxy’.

The public comment period for the project will end on Friday, Dec. 7, Comments can be sent to www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/656-saratoga-street#comment_Form.

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