Planning Board: opinions on Hancock Village 40B plans

The Planning Board convened a special meeting Monday, September 29, starting at 7:30 in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall, mainly to review the proposed Chapter 40B housing development at Hancock Village in south Brookline. Chestnut Hill Realty, the developers, again sent Marc Levin as chief representative. The audience numbered about 15, fewer than at hearings held by the Zoning Board of Appeals. They included Nancy Daly and Ben Franco, members of the Board of Selectmen, and several town meeting members.

The Planning Board has no direct role in a Chapter 40B application. The Zoning Board of Appeals is the only local board directly involved. Within about a month, the appeals board is expected to make a decision on the Hancock Village proposal. However, the Board of Selectmen has asked other boards to review the 40B proposal and submit comments.

Maria Morelli, the Planning Department’s consultant for the project, described evolution of plans since last year. Changes involved fewer buildings and units placed in open space near Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. but more units in the main apartment building along an extension of Asheville Rd. The total number of units proposed has been reduced by eight, to 184. Ms. Morelli did not mention plans from prior years, which were far larger.

Ms. Morelli said the project will now preserve more than two-thirds of the trees currently in the open spaces. Proposed garage structures there have been replaced with surface parking, but there are still over 360 proposed new parking spaces. The height of the main building has increased by one story: five floors of apartments over two floors of parking.

Planning Board member Mark Zarrillo asked for a project model. Polly Selkoe, assistant director for regulatory planning at the Planning Department, said the Zoning Board of Appeals had made that request, but Chestnut Hill Realty had refused, claiming state regulations did not require a model. The Board might well ask Werner Lohe, a Precinct 13 town meeting member who chairs the Massachusetts Housing Appeals Committee, why not.

At the request of Planning Board members, Ms. Morelli displayed three of the video simulation tours of the proposed development, one circling the main building and two passing through back yards of Beverly Rd. and Russett Rd. abutters, all in so-called “winter views.” Those show deciduous trees bare of leaves.

The proposed main building is situated on a mammoth puddingstone outcrop–Roxbury conglomerate, an irregular sedimentary compaction of extremely hard, igneous cobble and sand that forms baserock of the Boston basin. In 1946, when Hancock Village was being designed, the outcrop was considered unbuildable and was left vacant.

Chestnut Hill Realty plans to blast away puddingstone to create a level floor for the garage, build above that and pile rubble from blasting around the concrete walls of the garage. The proposed main building would rise above the outcrop like a medieval fortress.

Mr. Zarrillo seemed shocked at the southwest face of the main building, revealing about 20 feet of gray concrete wall surmounted by five stories of brick-face apartments. He told Mr. Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty it was the “most irresponsible” development he had ever seen in Brookline. Planning Board member Sergio Modigliani noted that the main building would heavily shade nearby, low-rise garden apartments put up in the 1940s.

Board member Steve Heikin recalled three design teams on which he served for previous 40B projects. “They can be changed,” he said. A Marion St. project has been scaled down from an originally proposed 18 stories to 6 stories, yet to begin construction. A Centre St. project was converted to conventional development. The St. Aidan’s project emerged with far fewer units than first proposed. So far, there has been no explanation about why Brookline did not assemble a design team for the Hancock Village proposal.

Ms. Selkoe asked the board members for suggestions and comments. They all called for scaling down the main building. “It’s simply too big,” said Linda Hamlin, the board’s chair. A consensus seemed to be that it should not be more than four floors of apartments and one floor of parking. The board will review its recommendations at the next regular meeting: Thursday, October 2, at 7:30 pm.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, September 30, 2014

Video tours of proposed 40B project, Chestnut Hill Realty, September 15, 2014, see 3D Model Animations

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