By John Lynds
In many ways Orient Heights has been viewed as a suburb within East Boston. It’s mix of one-and-two-family homes, large backyards and driveways set the neighborhood apart from the more urban parts of Eastie like Jeffries Point and Eagle Hill.
So it’s no surprise Orient Heights residents, specifically those who are members of the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council, are trying to buck the trend of large-scale development happening in other enclaves of Eastie.
The group, made up predominantly of longtime Eastie residents and retirees, has recently been rejecting development proposal after development proposal as a way to send a signal to the city that residents in Orient Heights are committed to fighting the gentrification happening elsewhere.
While it remains to be seen how long the fight can continue before the super hot real estate market creeps up to the ‘Heights’ –OHNC members have been drawing a line in the sand.
For example, at the last two OHNC meetings, members rejected two multi-family developments.
The latest rejection came two weeks ago as members voted 29 to seven against a large proposed residential development project on Saratoga Street at the former D&Z Auto Mechanic shop adjacent to Noyes Park.
The developer wanted to raze the existing auto mechanic garage and erect a five story building with 44 market-rate rental units and 44 interior parking-spaces on the 17,800 square foot. lot. The scope and size of the project was reduced after meeting with abutters from 46 units to the 44 now proposed. The developer upped the parking from 35 to 44 and set back the fifth floor so the building did not look too large from the street. They also reduced the amount of gross living space by over 500 square feet.
However, OHNC members again argued that the massing, lack of adequate parking, traffic and the fact the development was geared towards attracting young professionals through one and two bedroom apartment rather than families.
The latter has been a re-occurring theme time and time again at OHNC meetings. In a section of Eastie that prides itself on hosting generations of the same family living in the same homes for decades, OHNC members have been clamoring for development that keeps in step with the look and feel of the neighborhood and not the type of development occurring in Jeffries Point, Eagle Hill and along the waterfront.
However, proponents, like Attorney Jeff Drago’s client proposing the Saratoga Street project, have tried in vain to convince OHNC members that the market is dictating the type of development occurring.
That type of development, happening pretty much everywhere in Eastie, is geared towards single or married young professionals without a car that find Eastie’s proximity to downtown a huge selling point. Residents need to look no further than the Clippership Wharf project on Sumner Street to see how right developers have been in their “build it and they will come” philosophy.
There every pre-construction condo, 40 units in total, that hit the market sold in 36 hours last month. Some units sold for over $1.5 million and set a record for price per square foot in Eastie.
At the last OHNC meeting, Drago tried in vain to educate the old guard in Orient Heights of the type of development in demand in Eastie. He pointed to the Clippership Wharf sales. He told the crowd about the Eddy, where most apartments are occupied but most parking spaces are vacant, when members expressed concerns over lack of parking.
In the end, Drago was fighting a losing battle.
However, the Eastie they remember is slowly becoming extinct.