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Housing plan would get major review

Posted by Tom Coakley  October 6, 2010 09:00 AM

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By Andreae Downs, Globe Correspondent

A developer’s plan to construct 50 single-family homes in South Brookline has been declared a “major impact project,” which could add a year or more of scrutiny to the project.

Former Selectman Joseph Geller , a landscape architect, filed plans with the Building Department Sept. 29 to build the four-bedroom homes on what is now a green “buffer zone” between Hancock Village , the town’s largest single development, and abutters along Beverly and Russet roads.

Planning Director Jeff Levine said the town’s building Commissioner Michael Shepard has designated the new proposal as a major impact project because it involves more than 16 units.

Levine said that, If the developer wishes to go ahead with the plans as a major impact project, the approval process would take a year or more.

Chestnut Hill Realty owner Ed Zuker and Geller have been meeting with neighbors for roughly a year with plans to build 466 one- and two-bedroom apartments or condominiums on open spaces within Hancock Village.

Josh Safer , a town meeting member from the neighborhood, said neighbors had been clear that they wanted two things: no building or parking on the “buffer zone” and care that whatever is built does not substantially expand already-swollen enrollments at the nearby Baker School .

Safer wrote in an email that the new proposal “ will make just about everyone in town angry.”

Geller explained in an interview that Zuker wanted to find out what could be developed at the site without changing the zoning, which allows single-family homes only. To change zoning, the developer would have to get Town Meeting approval, a fairly difficult hurdle if neighbors are unanimously opposed.

“This is not what we want to build,” Geller said. “What we submitted is just an exploration. We intend to continue discussions with the community around what we want to build: the larger project.”

But Russett Road neighbor Alisa Jonas said neighbors fear the developer has submitted this plan to show them what he can develop without their help, and perhaps push them into accepting the larger proposal.

Levine called that a “false trade-off” because “you cannot assume approval of any special permit,” which is what the current plan would require, “especially one that’s so controversial.”

Jonas said that the larger project involved putting parking where the new plans now show homes.

“The town told abutters when they bought their homes that the green space was protected,” she said. She said that Zuker tried to put parking at that site before, and twice been denied by town officials.

School Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Stone said that any increase in enrollment worries her board.

“We are concerned about our current ability to accommodate our enrollment,” she said. “Our schools are at capacity already.”

Levine said that the project’s impact on school enrollments would probably not be germane to the permitting process. Issues that may slow this project would be whether these homes qualify as cluster housing, the loss of open space and the proximity of the development to the neighborhood.

Andreae Downs can be reached at andreaedowns@yahoo.com.

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