After passing restrictions on further development in Hancock Village, Brookline’s largest rental property, town officials and neighbors expected the owners to try some other way to build some of the 400 new units they had proposed.
Chestnut Hill Realty, owners of the 530-unit property on the border of West Roxbury, has filed an application to add 271 rental units under the state's controversial anti-snob zoning law known as Chapter 40B.
“I am delighted to propose this new, much needed housing in Brookline,” said Edward Zuker, the company’s president,
Under Chapter 40B a developer can avoid some local zoning requirements in communities where the number of housing units deemed affordable by the state is less than 10 percent of total number of units.
To qualify under the law, the developer must agree to rent or sell some of the units at below market rates
According to Fran Price, housing development manager for the town's Planning Department, about 8 percent of Brookline's housing stock is considered affordable under state 40B guidelines.
Zuker said that he believes that the town needs more affordable housing. In fact, he said, the median price of a single family home in Brookline is $1.2 million.
Price said the median rent for a two-bedroom in town is between $1,800 and $2,000 a month.
According to the Hancock Village Chapter 40B application, a below-market-rate two-bedroom in the proposed expansion would rent for $1,037 a month including utilities. The units would be available to families who earn 50 percent or less of the area median income.
Roughly half of the new units would be located in a five-story building on the east side of the property, according to the developer’s literature. The rest would be in 11 three-story buildings along the northern edge of the property. 55 of the units would be affordable, and the application proposes 124 one-bedroom, 125 two-bedroom and 22 three-bedroom apartments.
The location of the apartments hits on the one objection that neighbors had repeated in community meetings: They’d like to preserve the green strip, promised in the 1950s by John Hancock Insurance as part of the construction deal as a buffer between the garden apartment complex and the neighborhood.
Other neighborhood proposals included having the development include more retail and services—commercial offerings that are scarce in South Brookline and would be useful to neighbors and less of a drain on town revenues. These are not part of the new project.
As late as last fall, Chestnut Hill Realty’s proposed development included roughly 400 new housing units: mostly rental apartments, but also some single-family homes.
Town officials and neighbors worried about how more housing in this south western-most corner of Brookline would affect the nearby Baker School. That K-8 school, like many in Brookline, is struggling to find classroom space for bulging elementary and middle school classes as part of a general demographic trend in Brookline toward larger numbers of incoming Kindergarten classes.
The town tried to find a solution that would allow the developer to realize new income, generate tax revenue for the town and provide needed services to that part of Brookline. The resulting committee, according to Josh Safer, a neighbor and Town Meeting member, proposed a number of creative changes. Chestnut Hill Realty, he said, kept coming back with proposals to build a large, cheaply-constructed rental property.
Frustrated with the lack of progress, town officials proposed a Neighborhood Conservation District at last November's Town Meeting. Such a district is similar to but less restrictive than an historic district, and can be defined at the local level. In the case of Hancock Village, a two-story maximum height and a certain amount of buffering green space could thus be conserved.
Town Meeting overwhelmingly passed the bylaw, and immediately made Hancock Village the first district, over the objections of Chestnut Hill Realty representatives.
Knowing that history, the current application did not come as a complete surprise, said Selectman Chairwoman Betsy DeWitt. But the town has yet to develop a response. In the next few weeks, town officials will look at 40B guidelines and process, DeWitt said, to decide on how to proceed. This may involve hiring a consultant with expertise in 40B.
“We’ve had 40B [developments] in recent years, but it’s been awhile since we’ve had one as hostile as this one,” DeWitt said.
The 40B application has been submitted to MassDevelopment. If that body decides that the proposal is appropriate and eligible for a 40B designation, the matter would then go before the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals. Any decision besides full approval could be appealed to the state Housing Appeals Committee.
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