(Images courtesy ISD, altered by Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
Tensions flared at a recent meeting on a proposed condo development on West First Street.
At the Wednesday night meeting, sponsored by the St. Vincents Lower End Neighborhood Association, residents sparred with an attorney and developer over what some residents saw as a drastically different project than the one shown to the neighborhood 10 years ago.
Residents also contended that developers were intentionally keeping them in the dark about the project.
Threats of a lawsuit were also made by the developer's attorney to association member Brian Mahoney, for articles Mahoney wrote for the local newspaper South Boston Today.
Located at 401 West First St., the project would include one interconnected building with a courtyard for 45 units and 63 parking spaces, according to documents filed with the city’s Inspectional Services Department and developers.
The tallest part of the four-story building would reach up to 51 feet and includes common roof decks and unit specific roof decks. The project also includes space for an accessory office, storage, and art display. The building would be named after Edward M. Sullivan, a Marine combat photographer who was killed in action in Vietnam.
The original project proposed for the site, once home to the Norcross Lumber Company, was submitted by The Geneva, LLC in 2001 and approved by the Boston Redevelopment Authority in 2002. The original project proposed constructing two connected buildings for 45-units.
The five-story building would house 38 of the condo-style units with non-retail commercial space and the one-and-a-half story building would house seven loft units. In the original plan space was also allocated for a gallery, which was to be named after Sullivan. According to Boston Redevelopment Authority documents, plans also included parking for 60 vehicles.
The original project did go through a community-review process between 2001 and 2002, BRA documents show. The review is standard for any large project before it is approved by the BRA.
In addition to forming an Impact Advisory Group, which includes residents, the process also has a public meeting component and a 30-day public comment period.
After financial struggles the site exchanged hands a number of times and was eventually purchased by the current developer, Gregg Donovan, in the summer of 2012.
According to Donovan’s business associate, Jason Rey, who was present at Wednesday’s meeting, construction at the site began in November.
The project has all the proper permits and is allowed to continue work on the site, according to ISD.
"As far as ISD was concerned there were no major changes with the footprint of the project, which allowed us to issue a permit providing they receive the BRA design review approval," said Lisa Timberlake, spokeswoman for ISD.
Because the permits had been renewed over the past 10 years, the passage of the 2012 Permit Extension Act, which automatically renewed any permit “in effect or existence” between 2008-2012, and the new design did not change the footprint, a community process was not included in the repermitting, nor did developers have to refile with the BRA.
"I think one of the things that makes this an issue for the community is the stretch of time that went by. People forgot about the building then all of a sudden there's construction," said acting ISD Commissioner Bryan Glascock. "When you go through a big process like Article 80 and then there's a big gap in time and something starts up, people are taken by surprise."
ISD handles the dimensional aspects of the building and reviews projects for code violations. Because the previous 2002 approval by the Zoning Board of Appeals for zoning variances carried over and the new dimensional changes were not "significant" ISD did not flag the project.
"We issued the permit because they had gone through the BRA design review and had been approved for that," said Glascock. "From what I understand anyone who looked at the previously approved project and looked at the new project universally agreed that the current plan is far superior to what had been previously approved; it's broken up a bit and doesn't look so massive."
The BRA handled the ascetic design of the building and approved it in it's design review process.
“The project was originally approved 10 years ago and our understanding is someone bought the property and submitted design changes to ISD and the BRA,” said Melina Schuler, a spokeswoman for the BRA. “The project didn’t require a new filing because changes were minimal to the footprint and the number of units.”
Mahoney, over the past couple of months, had written several articles critical of the project and his interactions with the developers. Calling for the meeting in a recent article, Mahoney said developers have withheld information from residents.
“If you have a new plan then logically you would have to go before the neighborhood,” Mahoney said at Wednesday's meeting, held at the South Boston Lithuanian Club. “This [the changes] seems more than just a minor change, the community might have been supportive of the changes, but we don’t know.”
At Wednesday’s meeting Gregg Donovan was not present, but his attorney, David Merritt, read a prepared statement.
Merritt said they were only informed about Wednesday’s meeting at the last minute and that what was being said about the project was “false.''
“We told Brian [Mahoney] work would start in November,” Merritt read from the statement. “The project has always been properly permitted.”
Merritt did, however, inform residents that the developer was planning on holding a public meeting Jan. 26 at 9 a.m. at the South Boston VFW post located at 7 Ellery St.
After reading the prepared statement Merritt immediately left the meeting and refused to comment on current designs or on the litigation that was threatened against Mahoney for the articles he wrote for South Boston Today.
Mahoney said he wasn't concerned about Merritt's accusations.
"Everything I said can be backed up," Mahoney later said.
Donovan, who was reached by phone Thursday, said his project is an improvement compared to past proposal.
“The residents really want something down there and the past project was just a big wall, now it has open space, green space, and is a lot more fitting,” said Donovan
Donovan blamed residents' anger and confusion on South Boston Today.
After Merritt left Wednesday’s meeting, residents continued discussing the proposal, at times the discussion turned into shouting matches between residents.
Some said the project or any project for the site was a benefit to the neighborhood compared to a vacant lot.
“They should be praised for this than the people leaving the neighborhood,” said Florence Holmes, a P Street resident. “For once we will have a building that is well maintained and nice.”
One East 6th Street resident said the Norcross site has always been derelict and a source of problems.
“It was full of junkies and attack dogs, and you’re opposed to this [development]?” said the resident, who would not give his name.
By the end of the meeting a number of residents weren’t outright opposed to the changes or the project, but were concerned that no one had come to the community to discuss it with them.
“That lot needs development, but there was a process the community went through and it seems what is being built is not what came out of that process,” said Jon Ramos, a West 2nd Street resident. “It’s a good project from what I see, but it’s not the project that was seen [in 2002].”
(Image courtesy Google Maps)