WSANA Members Need Clarification on BMC Housing Proposal Unexpected Controversy Over Jaho Liquor License

Several members of the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association (WSANA) have voiced concerns and questions regarding a new plan by Boston Medical Center (BMC) to include 130 units of supportive housing within their new Institutional Master Plan (IMP).

The IMP process has been crawling along since before the pandemic, and has a deadline of July to finish up, so things are moving fast, but residents would like more clarity on the housing plan. That plan was first introduced this month in a revised IMP filing that eliminated a controversial proposed building on Albany Street, but also introduced the housing plan on the corner of Harrison and E. Newton Street.

IMP Advisory member Desi Murphy said he has gotten different information from BMC about the plan, including some saying it would be for medical patients who are on daily dialysis and others saying it could be for some patients who once had substance abuse issues.

That difference is key to the neighborhood, which has been solidly against adding any new recovery services to their already-overburdened area of the South End.

“We need more information to really evaluate the proposal,” he said. “The task at hand is for the IMP members to approve or not approve the change of use from a medical to (residential) use…It sounds like a sudden change in plans. Some people have said this would be people formerly with substance abuse disorders, and another person said it would be for someone on dialysis several days a week and needing around the clock monitoring.”

Murphy said he was also told that the plan to delve into housing is related to BMC now being an accountable care organization (ACO). That system is all about avoiding expensive emergency room visits and having more preventative care. He said it was explained to him that by targeting high-user patients and affording them housing in the hospital campus, it could help them reduce their reliance on the ER.

Fernando Requena, another IMP member who lives near the proposal, said he is very skeptical of the plan and urged the membership to get involved in this issue.

“I don’t think Assisted Living is anything BMC should be getting into,” he said. “I think we need another facility of this type in our area…We don’t need additional problems with Assisted Livings or shelters. Having 130 units is an enormous amount of units.”

President George Stergios said he agreed there needed to be more information, and said he would invite BMC to an upcoming meeting to clarify the use. He said he would suggest WSANA would be against any type of treatment housing facility.

“We’ve always said we don’t want any more services here,” he said. “If this is medical patients, that’s not addiction and recovery people. If it is addiction and recovery people, that would contradict what we’ve said to the City for some time now.”

Jaho Coffee Shop Liquor License

Members of WSANA took a skeptical view of the proposal by the Jaho Coffee Shop on Washington Street to pursue an all-alcohol liquor license for the 10-plus year coffeehouse.

Owner Anil Menzini and his attorneys appeared at Tuesday’s meeting and said they would like to offer a full liquor complement to their coffeehouse – looking to attract customers to the shop on their way home from work or after work. They don’t intend to change the vibe, or the layout, but hope they can offer a reason for existing customers to come in at later hours. They already have three other Jaho locations with liquor licenses, he said.

“It’s not a sports bar,” he said upon getting negative reactions. “It’s a coffee shop environment and we’re not interested in having a bouncer outside or $4 beers. I get the concern, but we are only looking to attract the same person that already comes in for coffee, but maybe after work and at night to unwind.”

A sticking point for WSANA was the fact that they were requesting a 2 a.m. closing license. While Jaho pledged to close at 11 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, and midnight on Friday and Saturday, there was nothing that said they couldn’t decide to go until 2 a.m. Another point of contention was that the alcohol service did extend to the 20 outdoor seats on the sidewalk, which neighbors said could be an issue. Likewise, there was a great deal of concern about alcohol services starting at 8 a.m. – which would likely be utilized for a brunch type situation on weekends.

“That’s a blank check for Jaho to do whatever they want; a closing hour at 2 a.m. is too late,” said Requena. “If you are a good neighbor, you can ask for 2 a.m. later. To give you carte blanch to open until 2 a.m. if you decide that’s what you want to do is unacceptable.”

Added Helaine Simmonds, “I think 2 a.m. closing is ridiculous. I think starting at 8 a.m. is ridiculous.”

However, not everyone was against the idea.

Murphy said he is a regular customer and they have been a good business for more than 10 years. It was also noted that Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association had endorsed the proposal.

“I don’t see how we can take an adverse position on this when there are multiple restaurants that also have liquor licenses on the same street,” said Murphy. “I strongly support this proposal.”

“I strongly oppose it,” said Simmonds.

In the end, WSANA members agreed to write a letter that would ask to curtail the hours on the license, potentially not endorsing the 2 a.m. closing.

Troubling Attack

D-4 Police Capt. Steven Sweeney gave a crime report to WSANA and detailed that there had been an alarming aggravated assault this week on a woman eating in the outdoor space at Toro on Washington Street.

He said the woman had been eating when someone walking by struck her violently in the head with a chair.

“She was with a couple of friends eating when someone walking by struck her,” he said. “She thought the outdoor heater fell on her because it was such a violent strike.”

He said she was hurt pretty badly from the attack.

He also detailed a man who was shot in the ankle last weekend in the Shawmut and Ball Street areas near Ramsey Park. Finally, he said they are fully investigating the homicide that took place on East Newton Street and Shawmut. A South End man was stabbed to death there on May 14 around 8:30 p.m.

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