ZBA Denies Lot Subdivision at 527 Mass. Ave.

A project that has been years in the making at 223 Northampton St. in the South End was unanimously denied by the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on Aug. 27. The proposal was to subdivide the existing lot at 527 Massachusetts Ave. into two lots, and construct a new four-story, five-unit residential building. The zoning violations include: excessive Floor Area Ratio, recessive height, and insufficient lot size.

Attorney Dennis Quilty said that the reason this lot is fit to be subdivided is because “the Northampton Street side of the lot is shown as a separate lot on the original Chester Square subdivision plans.” He said that there is evidence that “this portion of this lot can sustain a building of this size.”

He said that after “many” meetings with the neighborhood, the project has landed at its current proposal of a four-story, five-unit building, which he said “is in substantial compliance dimensionally with every other structure on the street.” He said that the South End Landmark District Commission applauded the design and the way it would fit into the community.

“Since 1987, the zoning has changed so these violations need to be addressed,: said ZBA Chair Christine Araujo.

“They are exactly the same as every other building on the street,” Quilty reiterated, saying that according to the new zoning codes, “they would all be out of compliance.”

Feedback on this project was overwhelmingly negative, with South End Neighborhood Liaison Faisa Sharif expressing her opposition. She said the Mayor’s Office is opposed due to the fact that the building does not seem to be in alignment with other buildings on Northampton Street, as the proposed building is more dense. She also said that her office was asked to facilitate conversations between the developers and the neighbors, and she said that the developers have expressed that they would like to move forward with the project as-is, despite concerns from neighbors. “We don’t think that’s a good faith effort to work with neighbors,” Sharif said. City Councilor Kim Janey was also opposed.

Several neighbors also came to testify in opposition of the project. Carol Blair, president of the Chester Square Neighbors, said that the same concerns that applied back when this project was presented in 2016 “still apply for the most part now.” She said the proposed building is “taller, wider, and deeper,” and the developers have :not been able to show benefits to balance the neighborhood losses.”

Another neighbor said that this section of Massachusetts Avenue is “terribly maintained,” and another agreed by saying that the maintenance of the existing property at 527 Massahusetts Ave. is not up to par. 

Karen Mauney-Brodek, an abutter on Massachusetts Avenues, said that she does not believe the owner at 527 is being a good neighbor, as the front of the roof is in “terrible condition.”

“I’m very interested in the fact that so many neighbors in Chester Square Neighbors spoke in opposition; many of us were trying to be positive but it hasn’t gone in a way that is possible for the community to support it.”

There were some concerns about the proposed roof decks for the projects as there was one proposed for the rear and the front. Quilty said that the front-deck proposal was removed as a result of community input, and said that there was a shadow study done, as well as a reduction in units and height from an earlier proposal.

“This lot is different than many of the others and why we think this lot should be the beneficiary of zoning relief,” he said.

The building owner responded to concerns about the condition of the building at 527 Massachusetts Ave. by saying that he’s “not proud of the condition” the building is in. He said the interior of the building was renovated historically, but there is an ongoing process for restoring the outside of the building. He said the front of the building with the front roof is subject to historic review and has not been touched yet. The ZBA moved to oppose this project without prejudice, meaning the applicant can come back within a year but with a different plan.

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