Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a continued hearing on Monday, December 1, over a proposed Chapter 40B housing project at the site of Hancock Village, along Independence Drive in the Chestnut Hill section of south Brookline. Like most previous sessions, it took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. At this session, the board did not invite or hear comments from the public.

Ready to approve: After negotiating about a ten percent reduction from a previously proposed amount of parking, the three regular Appeals board members–Jesse Geller, Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book–indicated they were ready to approve the project. Alternate member Mark Zuroff continued to oppose it. Another session scheduled for 7 pm at Town Hall on Monday, December 8, could become the final one.

Developer Chestnut Hill Realty was represented by Marc Levin, by Steven Schwartz of Goulston & Storrs and by landscape architect Joseph Geller of Stantec Consulting in Boston, a former chair of the Board of Selectmen. Present to assist Appeals were Edith Netter of Waltham, Kathy Murphy of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Fire safety: Paul Ford, Brookline’s fire chief, again reviewed fire safety, repeating some of his previous concerns. He said Brookline could not provide “full first alarm” service to the project within eight minutes, as specified by national standards. At this session, he also focused on time needed to disengage equipment, in order to answer other calls. He said he still hoped to see a connection to VFW Parkway.

According to Mr. Ford, access to the proposed large building at an extension of Asheville Rd. is marginal but acceptable. However, without further changes, he said, it would still be difficult to disengage equipment from parts of the so-called “east side” of Hancock Village, between Independence Drive and VFW Parkway. Fire trucks would have to be backed out of blind locations near the proposed large building and some of the smaller new buildings. With access to VFW Parkway, Mr. Ford said, his concerns would be reduced.

The developer’s representatives agreed to improve access near an extension of Grassmere Rd. onto Thornton Rd., now interrupted by curbing. They will connect the roads, add a service gate and add a lane connecting with one of the new parking lots to the west of Russett Rd. Brookline firefighters will be able to open the service gate. They also committed to “work with the town” to obtain vehicle access to VFW Parkway west of Russett Rd.

According to Mr. Ford, commitments by the developer to install sprinklers in all the new buildings will help. Asked about safety in existing Hancock Village buildings, Daniel Bennett, the building commissioner, said Brookline could not require changes unless those buildings were directly involved in a major construction or renovation project. Simply being adjacent to a major development would not trigger reviews.

Parking: Board members Christopher Hussey and Jonathan Book continued to object to 323 new parking spaces, proposed at the previous session, as “excessive.” Mr. Hussey continued to favor an average of 1.5 new parking spaces per new apartment in the area to be accessed via Asheville Rd. He said that would reduce new parking by 21 spaces.

Mr. Book sought to apply the 1.5 ratio to the entire project. He said that would reduce new parking by 57 spaces. Speaking for the developer, Mr. Geller of Stantec objected that reducing on-site parking would impact nearby neighborhoods, saying, “Cars will find other places to go.” Mr. Levin continued to object that providing less new parking than anticipated new demand could compromise the project. He said board members did not seem to have considered about 25 spaces to be reserved for visitors and about 15 spaces for disability access.

Mr. Levin said parking appropriate in urban Brookline, with its Green Line rapid transit, did not suit the suburban areas around Hancock Village. Mr. Schwartz said the proposed amount of new parking was in line with Brookline’s zoning requirements. (It was actually somewhat less.) He recalled that a town meeting last year had considered reducing zoning standards for parking but rejected the proposal.

Negotiations ensued among Appeals board members and between them and the developer’s representatives. During the discussion, Mr. Hussey again voiced resistance to retaining any of the fourth floor of apartments in the proposed large building, but then he backed away, saying, “My brothers have squeezed me in.” Mr. Book continued to press for reduction of new parking by more than 21 spaces.

Making a deal: After about an hour and a half of discussion, Mr. Book proposed a further reduction of 10 more spaces, beyond the 21 sought by Mr. Hussey, with a condition that those spaces could be included in the project if the developer obtained full access to VFW Parkway. After a few minutes more discussion, the developer’s representatives agreed to that change.

Mr. Schwartz said Chestnut Hill Realty would return to the next session with a full plan for 12 new buildings with 161 apartments, 333 bedrooms and 292 new parking spaces. This session of the Appeals hearing gave no consideration to numbers of new residents or potential impacts on town services–particularly 200 or more added students atttending Brookline schools.

With a recently reported 824 students, the nearby Baker School now has the largest population of Brookline’s elementary schools and is well beyond rated capacity. Brookline has no plan to cope with 200 or more added students coming from Hancock Village. Among its few obvious options might be a major addition to Baker School or some use of the former Baldwin School or its ten unrestricted acres of grounds on Heath St. at Woodland Rd.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, December 2, 2014


Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, parking and traffic, Brookline Beacon, November 25, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B, safety concerns, Brookline Beacon, November 13, 2014

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

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