By Mike Freedberg
SPECIAL TO EASTBOSTON.COM
On May 1, this writer attended the monthly Harbor View Neighborhood Association meeting at the Salesians Boys and Girls Club.
As usual at such meetings, the big agenda items were two development proposals, one at 74 Horace Street, the other at 125 Addison Street. Richard Lynds, who lawyers the majority of East Boston proposals, represented the two separate developers because each requires a zoning law variance. These days variances – granted or not by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal – are not popular with community activists.
Both proposed housing projects require a zoning law variance, and these days variances – granted or not by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeal – are not popular with community activists. (See “Large Orient Heights turnout on zoning shows “there isn’t a lot of trust” in City Hall on EastBoston.com)
Each proposal would demolish an existing two-family dwelling. The proposals did not go well with the audience.
The proposal for Addison Street offered nine units: all of them either one- or two-bedrooms, all for sale (condos), not for rent. Only one variance was requested, but for the Harborview people, the entire project’s size was also a major issue.
The Horace Street proposal seeks three variances, yet asked for only six units, and these would be two-and three-bedroom units, also for sale, not rental. The Addison proposal asked for seven parking places, the Horace Street one for four parking spots.
Why the differences?
I will discuss that question later. First, let me note that in each case, a two-family house currently existing would be razed. Why? What was wrong with these houses? Nothing that I could see.
Each looked in good condition in the planner’s photographs displayed at the meeting. Each has a driveway, however. I guess that is the problem. Driveways relieve density, and today, in East Boston, under the threat of what the city of Boston calls ‘up zoning.” That is to say, greater density, not lesser, is the preferred outcome. (In addition, driveways mean cars, and with City Hall concerned about what its planners call a “climate crisis,” fewer cars, not more, are the desired future.)
Yet climate policy was not the matter that concerned the 50 neighbors attending the meeting. These folks, most of them regulars who come to just about every Harborview meeting at which developments will be proposed pursuant to the City’s “neighborhood approval” process, are used to reviewing proposals which they know they will dislike.
This time there was something else.
I mean, of course, the difference in how two developers approached the same Harborview neighborhood.
Horace Street is entirely residential and home to a great many regular attendees at Harborview meetings. Addison Street, however, has far fewer residences and only two or three regular Harborview meeting-goers (but 135 Addison is home to Harborview’s treasurer, Melissa Campbell.) Thus Mr. Fitzgerald, owner of 131 Addison Street and direct abutter to the 125 Addison Street proposal, gets hit with a nine-unit, small bedroom, four-story building which, as he complained, would destroy his privacy that he has enjoyed as a long-term homeowner, while the abutters of 74 Horace Street must contend only with six, larger units on three stories.
I see this difference as an affront, a cynical recognition that where opposition is less numerous, a developer can impose more units and will grab that advantage.
Not surprisingly, there was less strenuous opposition to the 74 Horace Street proposal than to the 125 Addison Street offering. Yet the 74 Horace Street was up for a vote (as the City planning rules require), whereas 125 Addison Street was not up for a vote. Thus, no formal opposition could be registered.
That said, the Horace Street proposal was voted down 7 to 21.
It would have been helpful had Councilor Coletta attended, or someone from her staff. After the meeting, I posted my observations on my Facebook page; John Cass, an Orient Heights leader of East Boston’s largest zoning skeptical citizens group, the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council, suggested that Coletta should attend Zoning Board of Appeal hearings and voice the community’s opposition to granting the sorts of zoning variances and size asked by the developer of 125 Addison.
Will she do it? So far, Coletta has seemed reluctant to take the opposition side. That said, her staffer Sebastian Parra did attend, as did Jessica Martinez from state Representative Adrian Madaro’s staff.
Mr. Fitzgerald’s complaint was seconded by Mr. Scaramozza, who owns 135 Addison and who stood up to deliver an even longer and more thorough debunking of the entire process. After he spoke, the entire gathering applauded.
Will Messrs. Fitzgerald and Scaramozza be heard by the folks downtown? No one I spoke to thinks so. The common response: “They’ll say they’re listening, but then they’ll do what they want anyway.”
— Mike Freedberg
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to correct an omission. A representative of City Councilor Gabriela Coletta’s office, Sebastian Parra, did attend the meeting. Also a comment about the “same developer” later in the story was incorrect. The sentence: ““ I mean, of course, the difference in how the very same developer treated Horace Street and Addison Street’” has been revised to “I mean, of course, the difference in how two developers approached the same Harborview neighborhood.” We apologize for the error and have clarified the author’s intent.
Mike Freedberg is editor and publisher of the blog, Here and Sphere. He is also a political consultant. He regularly contributes original, participatory content to EastBoston.com