Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Wednesday, November 12, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin and by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Key topics for this session were construction safety and fire safety, drawing a large audience of around 70, including several town officials and staff. At the most recent session on November 3, the developer jousted with the board over numbers of units in the project and visibility of the top floor of a large building proposed at an extension of Asheville Rd.

Plan changes: At this session, the developer was widely expected to present a best and final plan. What Mr. Levin described, however, were two minor changes to the previous configuration. A smaller building near Beverly Rd. was reduced to four rather than eight units, but three units were added to the fourth floor of the large building, which was reconfigured with sloping sides to give the impression of a hat-shaped roof from a distance.

The board did not seem much impressed by these changes. They leave the large building and 11 smaller buildings totalling 165 dwelling units, 338 bedrooms and 331 parking spaces. In discussions near the end of the meeting, members asked the developer to return with plans such that the large building’s fourth floor, if retained, is not visible from the property line across Asheville Rd. near Russett Rd. The next session is November 24.

Blasting: Brookline brought in a consultant on blasting, Andrew McKown of Beverly, a registered civil engineer. The plan for the large building places it over an outcrop of Roxbury puddingstone, of which the developer proposes to excavate up to about 20 feet by blasting. Mr. McKown said that could be carried out safely but made recommendations, including a review of plans, a 400-foot survey zone and crack-age monitoring for nearby structures. Mr. Levin said Chestnut Hill Realty would accept the recommendations.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, reviewed fire safety concerns. He has already worked with the developer on roadway access for fire apparatus but remains concerned about the large building. Brookline does not have a ladder truck at a nearby station. The closest one, he said, is nearly four miles away. He said access from VFW Parkway, discussed at previous sessions, would be important for fire safety at the large building.

Robert Niso, a transportation consultant for the developer, would not commit to VFW Parkway access and claimed that the large building could be serviced by a ladder truck at a Boston station about a mile and a half away. Mr. Ford said the main issue was rapid response; Boston equipment would be called in only as backup. Brookline has not previously needed a ladder truck in the area because it currently has no tall buildings.

Opposition: The Appeals board opened the hearing to public comment, probably the last such opportunity, which went on for about an hour and a half. On September 16, the Board of Selectmen sent a letter opposing the project, and three of its members spoke up. Echoing the letter, board member Betsy DeWitt said, “The development is poorly conceived,” threatening the historic integrity of Hancock Village. Nancy Daly spoke to the need for fire access. Neil Wishinsky urged the Appeals board to challenge the developer’s assertions that reducing the large building to three floors of apartments would make the project infeasible.

James Batchelor, an architect who chairs the Preservation Commission, described development of Hancock Village in the 1940s. “It is historic,” he said. “The layout of the buildings and open space are carefully planned around the roadways. The current plan is turning that inside out.” Vehicles, he explained, “being fed in from the back…on small roads.” Emily England, a Bonad Rd. resident and president of Baker School PTO, agreed. “This is the worst year ever,” she said. “Cars are backed up ten and twenty on these little residential roads.”

Regulations: Precinct 16 town meeting members Stephen Chiumenti and William Pu reviewed the state’s comprehensive permit regulations for Chapter 40B projects, which were revised in 2008. They emphasized “local concerns” as decision criteria: “the need to protect the health or safety of the occupants of a proposed project or of the residents of the municipality, to protect the natural environment, to promote better site and building design in relation to the surroundings and municipal and regional planning, or to preserve open spaces.” [760 CMR 56.02]

A project application can be denied if the Appeals board shows that “local concerns” outweigh “housing need,” meaning “the regional need for low and moderate income housing considered with the number of low-income persons in the municipality affected.” [760 CMR 56.07] Mr. Chiumenti argued that Brookline has a relatively small number of such persons, most already living in publicly assisted housing. Mr. Pu argued that the developer is proposing to build on sites “needed to preserve open space…communal space in a natural setting.”

Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead represented several neighborhood residents at the Appeals session. “One area where towns have had success” in opposing 40B projects, he told the board, “is with respect to fire safety.” He urged the board to demand reductions in project scale and challenge resistance. “You can’t get there unless you ask for it,” he said. “You don’t get a second chance at it.”

Neighborhood concerns: Several neighbors of Hancock Village expressed concerns that blasting would damage gas or sewer pipes. William M. Varrell, III, of Asheville Rd., a structural engineer, described effects he had found during other construction projects. There are, he said, “utilities that go right through the parking lots,” but the project design “has ignored them.”

Alisa Jonas, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, seemed to express sentiments of the neighborhood, judging from the hearty applause. She told the board, “We feel that you are accommodating…an unworthy project…There is a beautiful green space…[It's] a breach of trust…I really would like you to think of us in the neighborhood…This is a ridiculous proposal!”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, November 13, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, getting to Yes, Brookline Beacon, November 4, 2014

Comprehensive permit regulations, 760 CMR 56, Massachusetts Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development, 2008

Important neighborhood meeting, South Brookline Neighborhood Association, January 9, 2014

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