HVNA Opposes Two Projects

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

During its monthly meeting on Monday, the Harbor View Neighborhood Association (HVNA) opposed two projects initially presented last month at 66 Homer Street and 117 Addison Street.

The first project for discussion and a subsequent vote was 66 Homer Street, which Attorney Richard Lynds presented.

The proposal calls for demolishing the existing one-family home and constructing a new five-unit residential building.

Additionally, five parking spaces are planned, and the unit mix includes four three-bedrooms and one two-bedroom. According to Lynds, these units are also intended for homeownership.

After providing an overview of the project, Lynds discussed zoning as it relates to the project. Earlier this year, the Boston Planning & Development Agency adopted new zoning recommendations crafted through PLAN: East Boston. Since then, the new zoning has awaited approval from the Boston Zoning Commission.

Lynds explained on Monday that a public notice was printed in the Boston Herald concerning a hearing date in which the Commission would vote on the proposed zoning amendments.

According to Lynds, this public notice is essential to note, as he submitted that it essentially means the new zoning is in effect — at least for the time being.

“From a legal and technical standpoint — once the public notice is published the zoning change is essentially effective,” said Lynds.

Under the proposed zoning, which awaits a vote from the Zoning Commission, the site would fall under the East Boston Residential (EBR)-3 subdistrict.

While the project, as presented on Monday, would require relief for a few items, such as use under the new zoning, Lynds argued it would be more preferential to the neighborhood.

Lynds explained that the lot could be legally subdivided into two parcels, and two three-family homes could be built on the property without parking under the new zoning.

“So what we could do here on this lot, without any relief, any zoning relief, any community process, we would file a building permit, and it would be issued is two three families on this lot and no parking,” said Lynds.

“I don’t believe, and I don’t want to speak for the neighborhood, but I don’t believe having no parking and a total of six units is an ideal situation, and that’s one of the reasons we’re proposing to do this as five units with five parking spaces,” he added.

As the presentation progressed, Lynds reviewed some photos of the site, floor plans, elevations and more before taking questions from those in attendance.

When the floor was opened to questions, HVNA Board Member Skip Marcella asked why the project would not be evaluated under the old/current zoning since it was filed before the new zoning.

While Lynds confirmed that the project was applied for under the old/current zoning, he said, “What’s applied when you get to the zoning board will be the new zoning.”

He explained that the project would still have violations under the old/current zoning, and they could request an updated refusal letter or proceed with the current violations.

Another attendee had asked why not take the path of least resistance, seemingly asking why the developer is not just going with the aforementioned proposal containing two three-family homes with no parking.

Lynds responded by saying the five-unit project is easier to build, more economical, and provides parking.

Someone else also asked for more information regarding the new zoning. Lynds reiterated, “The way zoning amendments work is that the notice of the public meeting for the Zoning Commission effectively marks the start of the new zoning.”

Marcella then jumped back in, asked for more clarification, and questioned what would happen if the Zoning Commission voted against the new zoning.

Lynds described PLAN: East Boston as up-zoning the neighborhood and stated that amendments to zoning are usually for down-zoning and provided an example to help explain the situation.

He spoke about an instance where new zoning might lower the maximum number of units allowed in an area and said, “The reason the notice is important because if that were the case here, if they were down-zoning the neighborhood, the day the public notice comes out is the day it’s effective.”

Lynds posited that the Zoning Commission could still decide not to adopt the new zoning, but currently, the neighborhood is essentially in an interim period with the new zoning in effect based on the notice.

As the discussion progressed, Lynds fielded more questions and comments from residents and abutters regarding zoning and other aspects of the project before a vote. Ultimately, the project was opposed by a vote of 15-6.

Next up was 117 Addison Street, which Lynds also presented. This project would involve demolishing the existing two-family home.

A new six-unit structure is proposed to replace the existing structure. The proposal also includes plans for four parking spaces, three three-bedroom units, and three two-bedroom units intended for homeownership.

While Lynds did not rehash the previous zoning conversation, he indicated that the property would fall under the EBR-4 subdistrict under the new zoning. In terms of relief needed for the project, a variance would be necessary for the rear yard and potentially for parking as well.

Under new zoning, parking is not required for buildings with one to three units. However, buildings with four units or more are supposed to have a 1:1 parking spot-to-unit ratio.

Lynds offered a different interpretation. He talked about how the Inspectional Services Department (ISD) analyzes parking under old/current zoning, saying, “They apply the one space per unit for the first three units, then they apply the 1.5 for everything over.”

“We think that the thinking is likely to be the same under new zoning, but we won’t know that until we have a chance to have the zoning board interpret that or ISD to interpret that officially,” he added.

Again, Lynds went through floor plans, renderings, elevations, and more before taking questions from the audience.

Once again, the zoning and application filing dates were discussed, among other questions and comments. Lynds reiterated the aforementioned point about zoning amendments, down-zoning versus up-zoning, the ability to get an updated refusal letter, and more before the project went to a vote.

In the end, those in attendance voted in opposition to the project 11-7. The next HVNA meeting is scheduled for May 6.

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