OHNC Votes Down Barnes Ave. Project

Members of the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council (OHNC) voted 25 to 13 against a project to turn a one family home on Barnes Avenue into five units of housing.

Attorney for the project at 119 Barnes Ave., Matt Eckel, announced at Monday night’s meeting that his client had made some changes to the project after hearing from the community during the March OHNC meeting.

Eckel said his client reduced the number of units from six to five, reduced the number of bedrooms from 10 to eight, increased the number of parking spaces from six to eight, and reduced the height of the building as well as the floor area ratio.

After making all these concessions, a majority of OHNC members still felt the project was too large despite a number of multifamily homes on the block.

OHNC members like Mary Berninger felt some compromise with developers needs to be made especially when the proposal is not a huge development project like some of the others being proposed around Eastie.

“I can never understand that kind of a vote when a developer makes many concessions,” said Berninger after the meeting. “The final iteration showed something that was very much in keeping with surrounding structures. Combine that with the decrease in scope and more parking spaces than originally offered. Trying to find compromise and middle ground is exhausting.”

Others like John Casamassima were shocked at the outcome.

“I’m surprised (by the vote) since nobody really spoke out against it or even made the case as to why it shouldn’t be approved,” he said. “From the outside it at least looked fitting with the neighborhood, unlike so many of these huge boxes that are being proposed.”

In the past OHNC President Joseph Ruggiero III has expressed his fear that the group has gained the reputation among the Boston Zoning Board of Appeals as a body that rejects everything. Ruggiero feels by rejecting everything the group loses credibility with the ZBA whereas if the group was more balanced in its voting–the ‘no’ votes on particular projects would send a signal to the ZBA that there is clear community opposition or that the developer hasn’t addressed the community’s concerns.

“Based on previous zoning and what I can only imagine the future zoning will be, someone could build essentially the exact same structure proposed for 119 Barnes Ave. as a two-family, decrease the amount of parking spots and the new two-family could have two, four to five bedroom units at 2000 sq. ft.,” he said. “There’s no way a building like that would be better to live next to than what was proposed. This is why I suggested before that the OHNC goes to a 2/3 or 3/4 majority vote on projects. If the threshold is met OHNC send a letter of support or opposition for a project. If the threshold is not met in support or opposition the OHNC takes no action.”

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