Hancock Village: development pressures

Chestnut Hill Realty, the owner and manager of Hancock Village in south Brookline and West Roxbury, has been pushing in recent years to build new, partly subsidized housing on currently unoccupied parts of the property that are located in Brookline–using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws to override Brookline zoning. It has not sought similar development on parts of the property in West Roxbury.

Since more than 10 percent of Boston’s housing units qualify as “affordable” under 40B standards, Chestnut Hill Realty cannot force a 40B development on West Roxbury. However, it would be less likely to want to, since the potential value of Brookline apartments is greater because of the draw of Brookline public schools. The company is also trying to raise the value of existing apartments with major renovations.

Potential evictions: From appearances, Chestnut Hill Realty might be trying to replace older residents at Hancock Village with younger ones. Several long-term residents have received lease-cancellation notices delivered by constables, and some are terrified of being evicted.

One of the notices from Chestnut Hill Realty said that “you occupy one of [the] original type apartments we will be renovating…this is to inform you that our office will not be renewing your lease at the end of the current term, and that it our intent to terminate your tenancy…you are required to vacate the apartment…on or before June 30….”

The company offered the tenants who stand at risk of being evicted “a $1000 relocation benefit” and “special rental pricing” if they “sign a new contract [by] April 30,” and it also offered them “special financial incentives…to move out earlier.”

Capturing value: The drift of Chestnut Hill Realty’s management is to capture value for the company from Brookline’s support of public schools. If the occupancy of the currently proposed 40B development were to mirror Brookline’s average, the development might add around 50 students in Brookline schools. However, Chestnut Hill Realty has been targeting rental marketing to foreigners with school-age children.

Neighborhood residents fear the 40B development might bring in 200 or more students. Because many of them might have little English proficiency, they could also be unusually costly to educate. During the Board of Appeals hearings over the proposed 40B development, Chestnut Hill Realty did back away from some components of its plans, including lofts in low-rise units, but the plans still include many apartments with 3 and 4 bedrooms.

Meeting responsibilities: A longstanding complaint from residents of south Brookline, echoed by members of the Board of Selectmen and other town boards, is that Chestnut Hill Realty has been trying to bypass responsibilities under an agreement between the John Hancock Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Town of Brookline, shortly before the 1946 annual town meeting, which enacted zoning to allow Hancock Village.

The agreement was a critical element in persuading Brookline to change its zoning. If is reproduced in full in the 1946 town meeting records. John Hancock Co. agreed that any development would be “high-grade garden village type,” that no buildings would be over 2-1/2 stories, that the land area occupied by buildings would not be over 20 percent of the total and that no more than 25 percent of the housing units would be “horizontally divided.” The company agreed that those restrictions would become binding on “successors and assigns,” of which Chestnut Hill Realty and subsidiaries are the most recent.

With support from abutters and neighbors, in November, 2013, the Town of Brookline filed a lawsuit in Norfolk Superior Court, seeking a declaration that the Mass. Development Finance Agency had failed to follow state laws and regulations in certifying eligibility of the proposed development and also seeking a declaration that the restrictions of the 1946 agreement apply to the project.

Overcoming objections: The defendants in the 2013 superior court suit, Mass. Development and Residences of South Brookline, objected that Brookline had failed to exhaust administrative remedies before seeking judicial review and that the 1946 agreement was a “deed restriction,” expiring after 30 years under Chapter 183, Section 23, of the General Laws.

Judge Patrick F. Brady of Norfolk Superior Court dismissed the 2013 lawsuit on both grounds in September, 2014. Although he provided only a bare outline of reasons, he relied on an obsolete case, Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, in evaluating administrative remedies, and he did not appear to consider two recent cases in evaluating the 1946 contract: Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover and Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans. (All cases before the Massachusetts Court of Appeals)

In November, 2014, Brookline and the neighborhood parties filed in the Court of Appeals, seeking to reverse the dismissal on both its grounds. [case 2014-P-1817] The neighborhood participants include Judith Leichtner, a Precinct 16 town meeting member, who has appeared at many government meetings and volunteered as a contact.

The Town of Brookline and neighborhood participants argue that in 2008, after the Marion decision in 2007, the state changed its regulations for Chapter 40B developments, providing no administrative review after a project is found eligible. They also argue that the Killorin and Samuelson cases establish that restrictions resulting from zoning actions are not deed restrictions and do not expire under Chapter 183 in 30 years.

Going forward: Briefs from both sides have been filed for the Court of Appeals case, as of February 12, 2015, and the case looks ready for motions and arguments. However, as of February 21 it had not appeared on a docket. If the Court of Appeals reverses the dismissal of the original case, that case will be reactivated in Norfolk Superior Court for arguments on its merits.

Meanwhile, as expected for many weeks, the Brookline Zoning Board of Appeals has granted a comprehensive permit for the proposed Hancock Village Chapter 40B development, filed with the town clerk February 20. At its most recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen suggested that they may challenge that permit, saying they will be considering it at their meeting on Tuesday, February 24. An executive session has been proposed for 5:30 pm on the agenda, about “litigation.”

Given the high potential values and costs involved, it is possible that the case may wind through more stages of review in court, no matter what the next outcome. If the 1946 agreement remains effective, then its land coverage restrictions are likely to be of much interest. Current zoning, enacted in 1962, allows a maximum floor-area ratio of 0.50 in the Hancock Village M-0.5 apartment zone and 0.35 in the S-7 “greenbelt” area near Russett and Beverly Rds.

The 1946 agreement’s restrictions–written before Brookline’s zoning bylaw regulated by floor-area ratio–may be equivalent to a maximum floor-area ratio lower than current Brookline zoning for Hancock Village. However, there appears to be no recent, systematic analysis of as-built dimensions in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village and no systematic comparison with the 1946 restrictions.

A so-called “density analysis” sent to Jesse Geller of the Zoning Board of Appeals in October last year by Alison Steinfeld, the director of planning and community development, uses an antiquated measure, “dwelling units per acre,” that does not accurately reflect town or neighborhood impacts and does not correspond either with current Brookline zoning or with restrictions contained in the 1946 agreement.

In a presentation to the Board of Appeals made in January, 2014, the Hancock Village developer claimed, “The current Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is only 0.29.” [p. 20 of 76] That document did not describe the basis for its claim. If the 1946 agreement is upheld, then no more development might be possible in the Brookline parts of Hancock Village.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, February 22, 2015


Comprehensive permit for The Residences of South Brookline, LLC, on the site of Hancock Village, Zoning Board of Appeals, Town of Brookline, MA, February 20, 2015 (4 MB)

Town of Brookline and others v. Mass. Development Financing Agency and others, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2014-P-1817, filed November 14, 2014

Samuelson v. Planning Board of Orleans, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2013-P-1418, 86 Mass. App. Ct. 901, decided July 2, 2014

Killorin v. Zoning Board of Appeals of Andover, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2010-P-1655, 80 Mass. App. Ct. 655, decided May 5, 2011

Town of Marion v. Massachusetts Housing Finance Agency, Massachusetts Court of Appeals case 2005-P-1848, 68 Mass. App. Ct. 208, decided February 12, 2007

Hancock Village 1946 Agreement, Article 23, Annual Town Meeting, March 19, 1946, from Brookline, MA, 1946 Annual Town Report, pp. 32-34

Hancock Village 40B project eligibility application, PreserveBrookline and South Brookline Neighborhood Association, August 28, 2013

Alison C. Steinfeld to Jesse Geller, Density analysis, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, October 20, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Presentation, The Residences of South Brookline, January 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Hancock Village 40B conditions, Brookline Beacon, January 6, 2015

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

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

Board of Selectmen: opposing Hancock Village 40B, defending METCO, Brookline Beacon, September 17, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: architecture for Hancock Village Chapter 40B, Brookline Beacon, September 9, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals: Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village, Brookline Beacon, June 20, 2014

Setting the record straight: claims related to the development of Hancock Village, PreserveBrookline, undated

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>