Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions

The Zoning Board of Appeals held a review on Monday, January 5, about 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 reviews, this one took place in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall, starting at 7 pm. An audience of about 20 was present, including a member of the Board of Selectmen, Nancy Daly, plus six senior members of town staff.

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, Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein and Maria Morelli, a Planning Department consultant.

Conditions: For weeks, it had seemed clear that the board intended to approve the project, despite a lawsuit pressed by the Board of Selectmen and nearly unanimous opposition from the community–aside from a few people whose employment or interests involve subsidized housing. The Web pages for the Department of Planning and Community Development have provided a draft comprehensive permit for the project, including 11 proposed findings and 68 proposed conditions.

Based on comments from Jesse Geller, the board’s chair, it appeared that the comprehensive permit had been drafted by Ms. Netter, in consultation with board members, Mr. Nagler and leaders of some town departments. There was no mention at the meeting or in the document of any inputs from elected officials or from the community at large.

Mr. Schwartz, on behalf of the developer, filed a memorandum of objections, available from the municipal Web site. He proposed to change many provisions, entirely removing one finding and three conditions. Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead, representing several neighborhood residents, also filed a memorandum, proposing two more findings and two more conditions.

Taking the pledge: A tangle of arguments ensued between board members and Mr. Schwartz over conditions that bear on long-term status of the subsidized apartments. As long as there are qualifying assisted rental units, under state regulations Brookline gets to count the entire project toward its assisted housing quota under the 40B law. Views of board members seemed to be that a “quid pro quo” for project approval would be preserving the project status in perpetuity–beyond potential future changes in project ownership and funding.

Starting from the late 1960s, Brookline set in motion and then endured hardships from previous subsidized housing–particularly federal Sections 202, 221 and 236 projects and state Chapter 121A projects. For about the past 20 years, the town has been trying to cope with expiring subsidies. Although there remained quibbles about the means to the goal, eventually Mr. Schwartz took the pledge, on behalf of the developer, and agreed to accept some approach to maintaining permanent project status for the Hancock Village development.

Another hurdle: Taking the pledge on permanent status will not likely end opposition to the project. Mr. Talerman’s memorandum asserts that a 1946 agreement between the Town of Brookline and the original developer, the John Hancock insurance company, “is expressly binding on the successors in title”–including Chestnut Hill Realty and its subsidiaries. Mr. Talerman contended that “the proposed project would not be possible” under “the terms and conditions contained in the 1946 agreement.”

A lawsuit being pursued by the Board of Selectmen was described as asserting claims similar to Mr. Talerman’s. While board member Jonathan Book did not favor adding Mr. Talerman’s proposed conditions to a permit, he said he “can’t imagine anyone would start building while this litigation was pending.” Board chair Geller seemed to agree. No one speculated about how long it might take to resolve the issues in court.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, January 6, 2015

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

Housing Advisory Board: new assisted housing and expiring assistance programs, Brookline Beacon, November 6, 2014

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