Category Archives: Development

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Board of Selectmen: landmarks, permits and town meeting controversy

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 21, started at 6:30 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board heard from applicants for permits and from petitioners for town meeting articles. It began with the several-years tradition of “announcements” from departing board member Betsy DeWitt. Key among them this week was celebration of a new landmark.

Landmarks: Ms. DeWitt, who has a longstanding interest in Brookline history, announced that a Brookline site had recently been named a national historic landmark, the town’s fourth. It is the Brookline Reservoir–located along the former Worcester Turnpike, now Boylston St. and MA Route 9, between Lee and Warren Sts.–along with the 14-mile Cochituate Aqueduct, connecting it with man-made Lake Cochituate in Natick.

The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct were the first major expansion of the Boston-area water works, which later came to include the Chestnut Hill Reservoir and the Fisher Hill Reservoir. The Brookline Reservoir and Cochituate Aqueduct are the earliest intact example of a reliable, metropolitan water system for a major U.S. city. They operated in full service from 1848 through 1951.

In mid-nineteenth century, when the aqueduct and reservoir were built, Boston-to-be was a conglomerate of a growing small city and nearby towns–including Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Roxbury and West Roxbury, which included Jamaica Plain after 1850. Between 1868 and 1873, these towns agreed to merge with Boston. An 1873 Brookline town meeting refused to join, putting an end to Boston expansion except for Hyde Park in 1912. The aqueduct and reservoir remained key elements of the city’s water supply until the construction of the Quabbin Reservoir, during the Great Depression, and of the Hultman Aqueduct, in the 1940s.

Two of Brookline’s three older national landmarks are well known: the birthplace of former Pres. Kennedy, at 83 Beals St., and the former home of Frederick Olmsted, Sr., the pioneering landscape architect, at 99 Warren St. For some obscure reason, Ms. DeWitt would not describe the other landmark site.

The third older landmark is the former residence of George R. Minot (1885-1950) of Harvard Medical School, for whom the Minot Rose Garden on St. Paul St. was named. Anyone with Internet access can easily locate the site at 71 Sears Rd., now occupied by unrelated private owners. Prof. Minot became the first winner of a Nobel prize to live in Brookline.

In the mid-1920s, Prof. Minot, George H. Whipple of the University of California Medical School and William P. Murphy of Harvard Medical School found that Addison’s disease, a fatal condition then called pernicious anemia, was associated with a dietary factor. They discovered it could often be controlled by adding a water-soluble extract from liver to the diet. The three were awarded the Nobel prize in medicine for 1934. In the late 1940s, the active dietary substance was isolated; it is cobalamin, also known as vitamin B-12.

Contracts, personnel and finances: The board approved $0.08 million in contract additions for storm-sewer repairs with Beta Group of Norwood, also the town’s consultant for storm-water issues during review of a proposed Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village. The contract is part of a continuing program to reduce infiltration and leakage. This year’s repairs affect Addington Rd., Summit Ave. and Winchester St. Peter Ditto, the director of engineering, said he expects the state to reimburse about 45 percent of the cost.

Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to hire an associate town counsel. The position became available after promotion of Patricia Correa to first assistant town counsel. Members of the board expressed appreciation for Ms. Correa, one of the few Brookline senior municipal staff fluent in Spanish. Ms. Murphy said she would be searching for expertise in construction and school law. Ken Goldstein, the board’s outgoing chair, omitted the usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates.

Erin Gallentine, the director of parks and open space, presented a plan for improving the Olmsted park system shared with Boston, also called the “emerald necklace.” It is partly based on a survey of over 7,000 trees in about 1,000 acres of park land. Board member Nancy Daly asked what the plan would cost to implement. Ms. Gallentine estimated about $7.5 million for the total plan and $0.5 million for the Brookline portion, spread over several years.

Ms. Gallentine expects private fund-raising to cover a substantial part of costs. The board voted to approve an agreement with the Emerald Necklace Conservancy of Boston to begin work. The board has not published a statement of the work to be performed, which is supposed to become Exhibit A of the agreement, or evidence of insurance from the conservancy, which is supposed to become Exhibit B.

Permits and licenses: Hui Di Chen of Melrose, formerly involved with Sakura restaurant in Winchester and proposed as manager of Genki Ya restaurant, at 398 Harvard St., asked to transfer licenses held by the current manager. This had been continued from February 17, when Mr. Chen was not able to answer some of the board’s questions. Since then, he also applied for outdoor seating. This time he appeared well prepared. The board approved all five licenses requested. Board records continue to contain misspellings of names.

Andrew Gordon of Boston applied for a permit to operate an open-air parking lot at 295 Rawson Rd. The parking lot for 20 cars was created in 1977 under a special zoning permit. Located below Claflin Path and behind houses on Rawson Rd, it has access to Rawson Rd. through an easement between two houses. Mr. Gordon has agreed to buy it from the current owner.

Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, had sent a memorandum saying the department “was not aware of any problems,” but neighbors and abutters said that they certainly were. About 20 of them came to the hearing, and several spoke. They described problems with access and snow clearance. This past winter, they said, problems became extreme, with access to the lot dangerous or blocked for weeks.

The current license, through June 30, requires the operator to “keep the entrance and parking spaces passable and clear of excess snow at all times.” Neighbors also objected to parkers using Claflin Path, a private way, for access to the lot. Board member Neil Wishinsky said that might constitute trespassing and said owners of Claflin Path might consider a fence. It was not clear whether a “doctrine of adverse possession” might apply.

Others described the lot as currently “striped for 30 cars.” Communications from the building and planning departments did not reflect knowledge of conditions. Through a spokesman, Mr. Gordon agreed to observe the 20-car capacity. With uncertainty over conditions, the board decided to continue the hearing on April 28.

Town meeting controversy: The board reviewed several articles for the annual town meeting starting May 26 and voted recommendations on some, including Article 9, which would make elected federal and state officials living in Brookline automatic members of town meeting. The Advisory Committee considered the article April 14 and voted unanimously to oppose it.

Town meetings are the legislative bodies of towns. In larger towns with representative town meetings, town meeting members are elected to represent voters, mostly on local issues. Holders of elected federal and state offices represent voters on different issues. U.S. senators and representatives–as well as the state’s governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and so on–are mostly elected by voters living somewhere other than in one particular town.

None of that seemed to matter to members of the Board of Selectmen, who spoke in terms of social relations and potential influence with officials who might qualify as Brookline town meeting members. They voted to support the article. Such thinking has long been common among members of the board, but over the years town meeting members have seen things differently, voting to trim back the number of automatic town meeting members.

Board members voted to support Article 10, excluding from living wage coverage some seasonal jobs in the recreation department but keeping a one-dollar premium over minimum wages. Disagreement with the Advisory Committee remains over which jobs would continue to be covered by Brookline’s living wage bylaw. As nearly everyone expected, board members voted to support Article 11, proposing a Crowninshield local historic district.

After a skeptical review by an Advisory subcommittee, petitioners for Article 17, a resolution advocating changes in policy for Chapter 40B projects, agreed to refer the article to the Planning Board and the Housing Advisory Board. An approach of further review now has support from both the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation, which takes up the article again April 23.

Article 18 proposes a resolution seeking a study of acquiring Hancock Village buffers, mostly behind houses on Beverly and Russett Rds., for park and recreation purposes. Members of the board expressed concern over involvement in lawsuits against Hancock Village owners over a proposed Chapter 40B housing development. Voting on a motion to support Article 18, Ken Goldstein, the chair, and board members Nancy Daly and Neil Wishinsky abstained. The motion failed for lack of a voting majority, leaving the Board of Selectmen taking no position on this article.

No Boston Olympics: Article 19 proposes a resolution against Olympic games in Boston. urging officials who represent Brookline to reject the proposal for 2024 Olympics. Christopher Dempsey, a Precinct 6 town meeting member, spoke for the article. He is co-chair of a group called No Boston Olympics working to defeat the proposal. The City Council of Cambridge has already passed a resolution similar to Article 19.

In his efforts, Mr. Dempsey has associated with Liam Kerr, a leader in an educationally extremist campaign known as Democrats for Education Reform–nationally typified by performances of Gov. Andrew Cuomo in New York and Mayor Rahm Emanuel in Chicago. Demonstrating the durability of gross ignorance, that group maintains, “Standardized tests have shined a light on the real quality of education.”

Olympics opponents point to $50 billion for the Olympics in Japan–largely at government expense. They argue that a Boston Olympics would bleed state and local governments and usurp public roads and property for weeks to years. Some members of the Board of Selectmen appeared uninformed and wary of the issue, but Nancy Daly said, “I’m against the Olympics.” No representatives of the pressure group pushing for the Olympics showed up, and the board decided to reach out to them and defer voting a recommendation on the article.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 22, 2015


Ellen Ishkanian, Brookline Reservoir and gatehouse named national historic landmark, Boston Globe, April 16, 2015

William P. Marchione, Brookline’s 1873 rejection of Boston, Brighton-Allston Historical Society, c. 2000

Advisory: new park land for Putterham neighborhoods, Brookline Beacon, April 10, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, financial plan, Brookline Beacon, February 21, 2015

Adam Vaccaro, They just don’t want the Olympics, Boston Globe, April 2, 2015. A rambling, chatty account bloated with gossip.

Zeninjor Enwemeka, After WBUR poll, Boston 2024 says it won’t move forward without majority public support, WBUR (Boston, MA), March 23, 2015

Dan Primack, Chris Dempsey leaves Bain & Co., as Boston Olympics battle rages on, Fortune, March 20, 2015

Gintautas Dumcius, Deval Patrick will get $7,500 per day for Boston 2024 Olympics work, Springfield (MA) Republican, March 9, 2015

Neighborhoods: improvements for Coolidge Corner

The North Brookline Neighborhood Association (NBNA) held a public meeting starting at 7 pm Wednesday, April 15, in the Sussman House community room at 50 Pleasant St., focused on improvements for the Coolidge Corner area. Founded in 1972, NBNA is now one of Brookline’s older neighborhood associations. By population it is the largest, serving an area between Beacon St. and Commonwealth Ave. and between Winchester and Amory Sts.

The NBNA meeting drew an audience of near 30, more than half of them town meeting members from Precincts 2, 3 and 7-11. After an introduction by Charles “Chuck” Swartz, a Precinct 9 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, Kara Brewton, the economic development director in Brookline’s planning department, made a presentation and led discussion.

Waldo St.: Ms. Brewton described elements of what she called a “5-year plan” for Coolidge Corner improvements, mentioning a customer survey, gardening projects and interest in the future of the Waldo St. area. Waldo St. is a short, dead-end private way extending from Pleasant St. opposite Pelham Hall, the 8-story, 1920s, red brick apartment building at the corner of Beacon and Pleasant Sts.

Not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this particular meeting was the controversy several years ago when a would-be developer proposed to replace the now disused Waldo St. garage with a high-rise hotel. While a hotel might become a good neighbor and a significant source of town revenue, the garage property did not provide a safe site. Street access is constricted, and emergency vehicles might be blocked. Permits were not granted.

Also not recounted by Ms. Brewton at this meeting was current Waldo St. ownership, with the garage at the corner of Pleasant and John Sts. now in the hands of the owners of Hancock Village. They are involved in a protracted dispute with the Brookline Board of Selectmen, after applying to build a large, partly subsidized housing development, trying to override Brookline zoning using powers under Chapter 40B of the General Laws.

These matters were well known to nearly all present. By skirting them, Ms. Brewton signaled that she preferred to avoid frank discussion of local conflicts. Her presentation was being observed by a member of the Economic Development Advisory Board, for whom she provides staff support. That left a constrained but still sizable clear space for group discussion.

Survey: Ms. Brewton described a 2014 consumer survey in Coolidge Corner, coordinated by the Department of Planning and Community Development. She said the survey had tallied “a few thousand responses,” that it showed who visits the area for what purposes, that a little over half of the respondents lived in Brookline and that their most frequent activity was buying food.

Stanley Spiegel, a Precinct 2 town meeting member and a member of the Advisory Committee, asked whether the survey had investigated lack of parking. Ms. Brewton said, “Customers find it hard to find parking.” She said the survey found about a third of respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and those who did tended to spend more money in the shops.

Ms. Brewton said that current priorities for her division, informed by the customer survey, were focused on three concerns: (1) the mix of business, (2) the public spaces and (3) parking. Asked what she meant by “the mix of business,” she mentioned that there was currently no “ordinary clothing store.” It was not obvious what that meant either, since The Gap has a Coolidge Corner location and several other shops also sell clothing.

Coolidge Corner has lacked a full-service clothing store since the former, 3-story Brown’s, at the corner of Harvard and Green Sts., burned in the 1960s. McDonald’s took over the property, building a one-story shop with distinctive arch windows that became a prototype for the company’s urban expansion. With McDonald’s gone since 2007, the shop with arch windows has been subdivided into spaces occupied by a pizza parlor and a branch bank.

A report from the survey contractor, FinePoint Associates of Brookline, is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site. According to that report, the survey tallied 1,740 responses. Data in the report indicate 29 percent of all respondents drove a car to Coolidge Corner and 62 percent of all respondents rated parking “average” or better. The report says, “Customers who walked or biked to Coolidge Corner were more likely to be very frequent customers (coming twice per week or more) than [other] customers.” [p. 10]

Parking: Ms. Brewton described plans underway to “improve” Coolidge Corner parking. The two lots on Centre St., she said, “are in bad shape,” with no major maintenance since 1965. That was when Brookline took property by eminent domain and tore down structures to build and enlarge current parking lots located off Centre, Babcock, John and Fuller Sts. David Lescohier, a Precinct 11 town meeting member, mentioned efforts to develop solar power canopies for the Centre St lots.

Her department, Ms. Brewton said, is “trying to get $100,000 for planning” parking improvements. However, alternatives for Centre St. parking lots have already been planned. A comprehensive study was performed for the planning department in 2007 by Traffic Solutions of Boston. An illustrated report is available on Brookline’s municipal Web site.

While she left an impression of some future fund-raising, what Ms. Brewton was talking about turned out to be Item 6 in Article 8 on the warrant for the 2015 annual town meeting, starting May 26. She showed a drawing of what she called a “parking deck” over the northwesterly three-quarters of the large Centre St. parking lot. That currently has five herringbone rows of 25 to 30 angled parking spaces each.

In the town meeting warrant, the department’s intents are vague, but they are detailed in the FY2016 Financial Plan, where item 10 under the capital improvements section says the $100,000 may be used to design a “decked parking structure” with one to three levels. A “3-level parking deck” is what most people would typically call a “4-story garage.”

A 4-story parking garage would probably become the largest building in the block and the tallest except for the S.S. Pierce clock tower. It would likely be constructed as a wall of masonry along Centre St., a half block from the house at the corner of Shailer St. where Mr. Swartz and his wife live. It could swell public parking off Centre St. from a current total of about 200 spaces to 500 or more spaces.

It is not clear how the Centre St. parking project Ms. Brewton described reconciles with a “5-year plan” dated March 5, 2012, currently available from the Brookline municipal Web site. That plan does not call for any new or expanded parking facilities, nor does it call for a “planning” effort focused on parking. The only parking improvements it anticipates are described as “signage for cultural institutions & parking lots,” a $46,000 estimated cost.

Gardening: Participants at the NBNA meeting were eager to hear about plans for landscaping and gardening. Many felt the area had been neglected in recent years. Unfavorable comparisons were noted with some commercial areas in Boston and Somerville. Ms. Brewton plans to coordinate a “gardening event” from 8 to 10 am on Saturday, May 16. She can be contacted at 617-730-2468.

Some of the town’s attempts at improvements didn’t impress. Frank Caro, a Precinct 10 town meeting member, referred to structures in the small triangle at the intersection of Pleasant and Beacon Sts. as “the volcano,” saying it was easy to trip over masonry edging. Rita McNally, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, was concerned about maintenance of plantings.

Jean Stringham, a Precinct 3 town meeting member, noted some shop or property owners had already set out flowers. She recalled daffodils near the Brookline Bank. Ms. Brewton said there were more near Pelham Hall. Mr. Swartz said lack of water faucets along the street could be a barrier to maintenance. There was mention of a water truck the town has sometimes provided.

Dr. Caro said results by neighbors with landscaping near the Coolidge Corner library were much improved after Public Works installed sprinklers. Carol Caro, also a Precinct 10 town meeting member, said she hoped for improvements to tree wells, mentioning a recently introduced protective material. Linda Olson Pehlke, a Precinct 2 town meeting member, expressed interest in working on the small park spaces along John St.

NBNA activists decided to focus on a small triangle at the northwest end of the large Centre St. parking lot. Currently, it is eroded and mostly barren. Ms. Brewton said she would see if Public Works could harrow and level the ground. Mr. Swartz agreed to coordinate NBNA efforts. Participants began making plans for mulching and planting.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 19, 2015


FinePoint Associates (Brookline, MA), Coolidge Corner Consumer Survey, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, 2014 (3 MB)

Traffic Solutions (Boston, MA), Transportation Analysis for Coolidge Corner, Department of Planning and Community Development, Brookline, MA, March 22, 2007 (9 MB)

Item 6, Article 8, 2015 Annual Town Meeting Warrant, Town of Brookline, MA

Item 10, FY2016-2021 CIP Project Descriptions, Town of Brookline, MA

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Irene Sege, In Brookline, McDonald’s was their kind of place, Boston Globe, February 3, 2007

Linda Olson Pehlke, Coolidge Corner’s future, Brookline Perspective, January 22, 2007

Advisory Committee: missing records, more skeptical outlooks

The Advisory Committee met Tuesday, March 31, starting at 7:30 pm in the first floor south meeting room at Town Hall–conducting FY2016 budget reviews for Legal Services and for Planning and Community Development. This time, the committee turned more skeptical about needs for added spending than at previous meetings this year.

Missing records of meetings: The Advisory Committee and its subcommittees are established organizations in Brookline’s government. As such, under state and local open meeting laws they have duties to hold meetings in public, to post advance notices of meetings on Brookline’s municipal Web site, to record minutes of meetings and to make minutes and other records available to the public. Since last July, the municipal Web site has provided a central archive of meetings on an Agendas and Minutes page. The Board of Selectmen maintains a separate archive that includes additional records for their meetings, called “packets.”

Typically, the Advisory Committee turns in exemplary performance at holding public meetings and posting meeting notices in advance. It has not done nearly as well with meeting records. Many minutes are missing for Advisory Committee and subcommittee meetings. During the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site showed eight full Advisory Committee meetings (one for subcommittee chairs), but as of April 2 it provided minutes for only five of those meetings.

For the first quarter of 2015, the municipal Web site shows four meetings for the administration & finance subcommittee, seven for capital, five for human services, two for personnel, two for planning & regulation and three for public safety. As of April 2, no minutes were available on the site of any of the 23 subcommittee meetings announced for January through March. That risks being seen as a disaster for public information, since it is usually Advisory subcommittees who review budget and warrant article issues in depth.

Subcommittees often describe their investigations on paper at full Advisory Committee meetings, and copies are usually made available to the public then. In at least some cases, they could serve as subcommittee meeting minutes. However, they have not appeared this year on Advisory Committee pages of the municipal Web site or in meeting records on the Agendas and Minutes page.

Budget for legal services: Committee member Angela Hyatt and Town Counsel Joslin Murphy described a proposed fiscal 2016 budget, starting in July, for Legal Services. The Office of Town Counsel provides most legal services for Brookline agencies and departments, excepting matters related to personnel and public school students. Ms. Murphy said the proposed budget was 1.1 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining.

Committee member Christine Westphal asked if the proposed budget includes funds for an assistant town counsel, although a glance at page IV-27 of the FY2016 Program Budget would have shown it does. The position was created after Ms. Murphy was promoted from associate town counsel to town counsel last year. It has gone vacant for about nine months now. A more revealing question might have explored needs for an associate town counsel 1 (grade T-14), an associate town counsel 2 (grade D-5) and a first assistant town counsel (grade T-15).

Questions from committee member Alisa Jonas brought out a disclosure that the proposed Legal Services budget does not provide funds for the Nstar property tax lawsuit now underway, for two lawsuits involving the proposed Chapter 40B project at Hancock Village or for some widely publicized employee grievances. About the frequent uses of outside counsel, Ms. Murphy said, “It’s the [Board of Selectmen's] decision to seek outside counsel.”

The lawsuit recently filed by the Board of Selectmen against members of the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) sparked several comments and questions. Ms. Jonas said spending for people “who worked with ZBA” had been a “waste of money.” The ZBA was advised by Edith Netter of Waltham and by Kathy Murphy and Samuel Nagler of Krokidas & Bluestein. Money came from reserve fund transfers approved by the Advisory Committee last year.

Apparently unknown to some Advisory Committee members, at a meeting on Thursday, March 26, the ZBA voted to request funds to hire defense counsel. Committee member Lee Selwyn, who had obviously found out, said that the town was “turning the heat and the air conditioning on at the same time.”

Committee member Fred Levitan asked the basis for suing ZBA members. Ms. Murphy said that, although the ZBA issued a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village 40B project with “70 conditions,” members of the Board of Selectmen believe the action was “arbitrary and capricious,” in view of the “integrity of the site” and a 1946 zoning agreement between the Town of Brookline and the John Hancock Co., which built Hancock Village.

Committee members were clearly wary that unbudgeted legal expenses lay ahead. In the end, however, they voted to recommend the proposed Legal Services budget to town meeting without change.

Budget for planning: Ms. Hyatt, Mr. Selwyn and Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, presented a proposed fiscal 2016 budget for Planning and Community Development. Ms. Hyatt mentioned a “full room at the subcommittee hearing on this budget.” The occasion was to promote an increase in preservation planning. The subcommittee recommended an increase from the current 1.8 to 3.0 staff positions.

Ms. Steinfeld confirmed that early in the budget cycle she had asked for an increase to 2.0 staff positions in preservation planning, but she said Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, had not agreed. The FY2016 budget request for her department is 1.9 percent more than the current budget, not counting costs that might increase from employee benefits and collective bargaining. No changes were proposed in personnel, as shown on page IV-42 of the FY2016 Program Budget.

Several Advisory Committee members spoke skeptically about the need for a relatively large and rapid increase in staff for preservation planning. Christine Westphal said, “It makes a lot of sense to do 2.0, maybe not 3.0 [staff positions] right now.” Mr. Selwyn resisted, describing “tension between the Preservation Commission and the [planning] department.” The commission has begun meeting twice a month to cope with an increase in cases.

Committee member Stanley Spiegel said some neighborhoods have been hiring their own preservation planners, citing a recent report about a proposed Crowninshield historic district. Such an expense, said Dr. Spiegel, is “a luxury that not all significant neighborhoods can afford.”

After about an hour, the committee amended the subcommittee’s approach, supporting an increase in preservation planning staff from 1.8 to 2.0 positions with a split vote: 13 in favor and 9 opposed. The amended approach increases funding by about $14,000 plus some amount for employee benefits. It won approval by a vote of 20 to 2.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, April 2, 2015


Advisory Committee, Town of Brookline, MA

Agendas and Minutes, Town of Brookline, MA

FY2016 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

FY2015 Program Budget (municipal agencies and departments), Town of Brookline, MA (16 MB)

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 20, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: ready to approve Hancock Village 40B, Brookline Beacon, December 2, 2014

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district, Brookline Beacon, March 31, 2015

Jenkins v. Brookline, case 1:2013-cv-11347, United States District Court for Massachusetts, filed 2013

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: in a generous mood, Brookline Beacon, March 19, 2015

Craig Bolon, Advisory Committee: $0.17 million to fight employee actions, Brookline Beacon, February 13, 2015

Craig Bolon, Brookline’s workforce: signs of strain, Brookline Beacon, January 9, 2015

Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation: new historic district

The Advisory subcommittee on planning and regulation met at 7:00 pm Tuesday, March 30, in the first-floor south meeting room at Town Hall. There was a large turnout for an Advisory subcommittee, 25 members of the public and two town staff: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, and Jean Innamorati, a planning consultant and former Brookline preservation planner.

The topic was Article 11 for the annual town meeting starting May 26: a Crowninshield local historic district. Four of the five subcommittee members were on hand: Stanley Spiegel of Precinct 2, the new chair, Angela Hyatt of Precinct 5, Steven Kanes, not a town meeting member, and Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13. Although submitted by the Preservation Commission, the article represents a neighborhood initiative. Dr. Spiegel called on John Sherman, a resident of Adams St.

Stimulus for preservation: Mr. Sherman explained, to no one’s surprise, that while a local historic district for the Crowninshield neighborhood had been talked about for years, the stimulus leading to action was an application late last year to demolish the house at 21 Crowninshield Rd., followed by stories that the new owners wanted to build multifamily housing, despite single-family zoning.

The map for the proposed local historic district includes all houses fronting on Crowninshield Rd. and on Adams, Elba and Copley Sts. except multifamily housing recently built over the former St. Aidan’s Church parking lot, at the corner of Crowninshield Rd. and Pleasant St.

Map of proposed Crowninshield Local Historic District

CrowninshieldHistoricDistrict
Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Background: Ms. Innamorati and David King, chair of the Preservation Commission, described the historical background of the neighborhood. Once part of the large Sears estate, by mid-nineteenth century the area was owned by the Crowninshield family. In 1899, after the death of the last immediate family owner, it was subdivided into house lots.

The current houses were designed by several architects and built between about 1900 and 1930. Except for the nineteenth-century Crowninshield mansion, the original houses in the district remain intact. Several of them feature the “craftsman style” that was new to the U.S. and popular in the early twentieth century. The scales and setbacks of most houses are similar, despite the variety of styles, designers and builders.

Neighborhood support: Mr. Sherman said neighborhood organizers for the historic district had tried to contact every property owner in the proposed district by telephone, e-mail and first class mail and had found no opposition. There are 61 single-family and two 2-family houses. Residents from seven properties had not yet responded, he said, while of those responding all but the residents of three properties–that is, the residents of 53 properties–joined in a petition to establish the district. The residents not joining said they do not oppose the plan. Dr. Spiegel polled the audience and found no one opposed to the historic district.

The developers proposing multifamily housing at 21 Crowninshield Rd. are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Using powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, they expect to override Brookline zoning. No one from that group came to the Advisory hearing. So far, the developers have not publicly opposed the historic district.

Review: Subcommittee members asked about the effect of a local historic district on a Chapter 40B proposal. Ms. Steinfeld advised that the proposed district would not block such a development when it is considered by Brookline’s Zoning Board of Appeals. However, Kate Poverman, an Adams St. resident, said “town feedback suggests” the development was “not likely” to go ahead.

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member, described herself as an Adams St. resident for 46 years. When she came, “it was a vulnerable neighborhood,” she said–zoned SC-7, allowing conversion by right to 2-family houses. At the neighborhood’s initiative, it was rezoned S-7, allowing only single-family houses. Recently, she said, “there have been houses bought by investors who are not living there.”

Subcommittee member Angela Hyatt, a Precinct 5 town meeting member, said it was “hard to imagine a better case for a local historic district” (LHD). Lee Selwyn of Precinct 13 said “the LHD approach has become more and more important in Brookline.” He mentioned needs for “enough staff in the Planning Department…to enforce” historic district regulations. Dr. Spiegel recommended a renewed effort to contact residents in the seven properties not yet heard from. The subcommittee voted unanimously to recommend approval.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 31, 2015


Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 30, 2015

Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: new 40B project, town meeting reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 24, started at 6:55 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board reviewed a partly subsidized housing development at 21 Crowninshield Rd., which proposes to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws to override the single-family zoning.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Peter Ditto, the engineering director, described a report and request for reimbursement under the 2014 state-funded road program, authorized through Chapter 90 of the General Laws. Brookline is eligible for about $1.24 million; the board approved. Daniel O’Leary, the police chief, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a youth program. Alan Balsam, the health director, got approval to accept a $0.01 million state grant for a low-income nutrition program, cooperating with the Brookline Food Pantry.

Mr. O’Leary also received approval to replace a traffic supervisor who is retiring. Dr. Balsam got approval to replace a program coordinator who is leaving to become assistant health director in Belmont. As to both, Ken Goldstein, the board’s chair, made his usual request to seek a diverse pool of candidates and consult with the personnel office and the diversity department.

New 40B project: The board considered a recent proposal to develop partly subsidized housing at 21 Crowinshield Rd. in North Brookline. A response to a Mass. Housing agency application had apparently been drafted by Maria Morelli, recently hired as a planner, who as a consultant had coordinated the town’s professional efforts reviewing the proposed 40B project at Hancock Village.

The developers are a local group calling themselves “21 Crown” and including Robert W. Basile, a Precinct 14 town meeting member. Last year they bought the single-family house at 21 Crowninshield Rd. and an adjacent, undeveloped lot to the north. Then they cut down almost all the trees and plantings that had grown over about a century, leaving the house isolated and exposing to Crowninshield Rd. residents a stark view of the back of the Arbour-HRI Hospital, on Babcock St.

House21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

Instead of fireproof construction, the “21 Crown” developers are proposing a “4-decker” wood-frame building divided into 20 apartments with an elevator. Two are called “three bedroom” and the rest “one bedroom” units, but all would be fairly small–around a thousand square feet. The design recalls a “suburban hamster cage” concept that was previously seen in Cambridgeport starting in the 1960s.

FourDeck21CrowninshieldRoad

Source: Brookline Planning Dept.

No representative for the developers appeared at this meeting of the Board of Selectmen. Ms. Morelli said comments from reviewers had called the proposal “inappropriate for the site.” Developers, she said, “tried to cast the context as Commonwealth Avenue business.” Mr. Basile owns nearby property along Commonwealth Avenue now housing Enterprise Rent-A-Car, Firestone and Sullivan Tire.

Kate Poverman, a neighbor on Adams St., called attention to the large “concentration of affordable housing in our area” but said, “We’ll work with the developer.” Barbara Scotto, a member of the School Committee who lives diagonally opposite the site, described hazards, saying, “Traffic is already backed up frequently at Pleasant and Adams.” The board approved the response to be sent to Mass. Housing, with several revisions.

Budget reviews: The board reviewed proposed budgets presented by Patrick J. Ward, the town clerk, for the town clerk’s office, by Mr. O’Leary for the Police Department and by Andrew Pappastergion, the public works commissioner, for the Department of Public Works. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, has proposed defunding one patrolman position in the Police budget, currently vacant. Mr. O’Leary said the Police Department would continue to function without the position if necessary.

The board reviewed two warrant articles for the spring town meeting: 4. Close-out of special appropriations and 12. Snow bylaw amendments. There are currently no special appropriations eligible for close-out. The bylaw changes had been drafted on behalf of the Board of Selectmen. They raise fines for failure to clear snow from sidewalks, specify new violations and fines, and eliminate a requirement to notify on a first offense instead of citing and fining. The public works commissioner would have increased discretion.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 30, 2015


Application letter for 21 Crowninshield Road 40B project, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, March, 2015

Response to 21 Crowninshield Road application, Brookline Board of Selectmen, April 1, 2015 (8 MB)

Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: projects and budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 17, started at 6:45 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. The board began reviews of budgets and warrant articles for the 2015 annual town meeting in May. They will continue at least through April.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Alison Steinfeld, the planning director, got approval for a $0.01 million contract with Public Archaeology Laboratory of Pawtucket, RI, to complete a National Historic Register application for Hancock Village in south Brookline. If approved, Hancock Village would become the largest National Register site in Brookline.

A National Register application for Hancock Village has been under discussion for several years. Last summer, board member Betsy DeWitt said it should become an urgent priority, at a hearing of the Zoning Board of Appeals about a proposed housing development under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts General Laws, which can override zoning.

Lara Curtis Hayes, from the Department of Planning and Community Development, got authorization to apply for $0.25 million in state “green community” funding for energy-saving improvements. Most projects eligible are for town-owned buildings. Solar photovoltaic facilities and new vehicles are not eligible. Grant planning sounded murky at best. No description of Brookline’s projects had been released, yet the application deadline was only three days away.

In response to a question from board member Nancy Daly, Ms. Steinfeld said that Brookline’s ongoing program of installing LED street lighting could be an eligible activity. Board members Neil Wishinsky and Betsy DeWitt did not seem to gave read information distributed in advance and asked about solar photovoltaics and new vehicles.

Licenses and permits: Frank Shear of Framingham, former operator of Benny’s Crepes in Boston and Cambridge, applied for restaurant and entertainment licenses to operate Brick Wall Kitchen at 224 Cypress St., formerly Rita’s Cafe. Mr. Shear had operated the crepe cafe from a food truck. He said there were no plans to resume such a business and said that Brick Wall Kitchen will provide take-out service but not delivery. The board granted the licenses.

Owners of Holiday Inn at 1200 Beacon St. got board approval for a change in manager under their alcoholic beverage license. Stephen Bowman, operator of Fairsted Kitchen at 1704 Beacon St., spoke on behalf of an application for longer operating hours, closing at 2 am instead of 1 am Mondays through Thursdays. Board member Nancy Daly asked about outdoor service. Mr. Bowman said there would be no late-night service outdoors. The board allowed the extensions of hours.

Lisa and Daniel Wisel of Brookline, operators of Vine Ripe Grill at the Putterham Meadows public golf course, had applied for a seasonal license to serve alcoholic beverages, but neither was present at the meeting to support the application. Nevertheless, after waiting about 20 minutes, followed by cursory discussion, the board approved a license for the 2015 season.

Warrant articles: The board voted to approve and publish a warrant with 20 articles for the annual town meeting to start Tuesday, May 26. About half are routine each year. Others have been submitted by boards or through petitions, which require signatures of ten or more registered voters. The board also began reviewing the warrant articles and the budget appropriations for fiscal 2016, under Article 8.

Submitters usually include explanations for articles, published separately. At least two weeks before a town meeting, the Board of Selectmen and the Advisory Committee will distribute a combined report with the text and explanations of articles plus their recommendations to the town meeting. Warrant article reviews, including budget reviews, are docketed as public hearings; members of the public are invited to comment.

Budget reviews: The board began reviewing so-called “base budgets” for fiscal 2016, starting in July. Prepared by Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, and his staff, those budgets apply if voters do not approve a tax override proposed at the May 5 town election. They include cuts to be restored if the override passes.

The board reviewed a budget for the Fire Department as described by Paul Ford, the fire chief. Mr. Kleckner has proposed to defund one firefighter position, currently vacant. Ms. Daly asked how the department would cope. Mr. Ford said minimum manning requirements would lead to increased overtime, probably costing around a quarter of what would be spent on a full-time firefighter position.

In his few years as fire chief, Mr. Ford has led an initiative in training, increasing the number of fire personnel certifications from around ten to nearly a hundred. In addition to the familiar emergency medical technician certificates, those include firefighting specialties such as rescue and chemical fires. Ten members of the department have also qualified as instructors, allowing them to train others without outside expenses.

Sara Slymon, the library director, and Michael Burstein, who chairs the Board of Library Trustees, described a budget for town libraries. In that budget, Mr. Kleckner proposed to defund a part-time librarian. Ms. Slymon said there were no vacant positions, so that someone would have to be dismissed. She described library services as “dangerously understaffed,” down from 50 positions several years ago to 40 now, spread among the main library and the branch libraries at Coolidge Corner and Putterham Circle.

Planning and Community Development: Ms. Steinfeld described a budget for the Department of Planning and Community Development. It now serves many standing boards, including the Planning Board, Preservation Commission, Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Conservation Commission, Zoning Bylaw Committee, Economic Development Advisory Board, Housing Advisory Board, Community Development Block Grant Committee and Climate Action Committee. Fifty years ago, it served only the Planning Board, established in 1922.

Mr. Kleckner had not proposed any reduction in the Planning budget. Board member Betsy DeWitt spoke up for an increase, saying responsibilities for preservation planning have escalated in recent years, overloading current staff. She proposed to raise funding from 1.8 to 2.0 positions. James Batchelor, who chaired the Preservation Commission for six years, spoke in support, saying, “People in Brookline care about preservation…We have to stand up and give it more support.”

Bruce Genest of the Department of Planning and Community Development, who is president of AFSCME Local 1358, spoke about what he called a “staffing issue,” saying that in 2011 the department “eliminated a financial position.” Mr. Kleckner said the issue was “being litigated.” Mr. Genest said the town “took union work [and] distributed [it] to management people.” Otherwise, the background of the dispute was not clear.

The board did not vote recommendations on any of the budgets. Included on its agenda was an application from Christopher Hussey, an architect, for reappointment to the Zoning Board of Appeals, but the board did not act on it. The Board of Selectmen is suing the Zoning Board of Appeals, seeking to overturn a comprehensive permit the latter recently granted for a partially subsidized, Chapter 40B development at Hancock Village.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 20, 2015


Warrant for 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Explanations of Articles, 2015 Annual Town Meeting, Town of Brookline, MA, March 17, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews, Brookline Beacon, March 4, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

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

Advisory Committee: in a generous mood

Years ago, long-time Advisory Committee member Harry Marks would tour the tables at the opening session of budget reviews. He would present men chairing subcommittees with tie clips and women with pins, in the shapes of scissors, reminding each one, “The purpose of the Advisory Committee…is to cut.” Mr. Marks imported scissors.

Starting off this year, Advisory looks engaged in a role reversal. Increases have been proposed over budgets received from the town administrator and Board of Selectmen. On traditional St. Patrick’s Day, Tuesday, March 17, the full committee voted to add a firefighter position in the Fire budget. The next evening, its planning and regulation subcommittee voted to add 1.2 professional positions in the Planning budget.

Submitting budgets: Budgets remain a committee responsibility that is not simply “advisory.” By law, the Advisory Committee submits a town budget to an annual town meeting. Oddly, Town Administrator Mel Kleckner appears to treat the committee as a functionary, sending Melissa Goff, the new deputy administrator, while he attends mainly meetings of the Board of Selectmen. This year, that might prove shortsighted.

In a free-form discussion at the end of its Tuesday session, members of the committee considered how to “pay for the increases” through other budget maneuvers. Several members, sophisticated in municipal finance, offered a variety of options. Sean Lynn-Jones, the new committee chair elected that evening, and Carla Benka, the vice chair, said the committee would tackle the topic at its “omnibus” wrap-up session, once the individual budgets of agencies, departments and offices have been addressed.

Preservation planning: The most volatile budget issue to emerge so far concerns preservation planning. Over more than 40 years, Brookline has grown and expanded several functions in this area, starting in nineteenth century with a voluntary, still vital Brookline Historical Society. It developed a Preservation Commission, regulating local historic districts and also serving as a state historical commission, a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission, and related functions of a Conservation Commission, a Zoning Bylaw Committee and the Planning Board.

A table of numbers, distributed at the Wednesday subcommittee session, measured preservation planning workload against professional staff:

Preservation planning workload

Year LHD Dem. NCD Staff
2001 50 28 0 1.33
2002 46 35 0 1.33
2003 46 10 0 1.53
2004 47 25 0 1.53
2005 53 34 0 1.53
2006 86 28 0 1.53
2007 88 25 0 1.53
2008 82 38 0 1.53
2009 109 31 0 1.53
2010 98 30 0 1.53
2011 103 45 0 1.53
2012 100 42 0 1.59
2013 102 40 0 1.80
2014 123 43 1 1.80

Source: Advisory planning and regulation subcommittee

In the table, “LHD” counts the number of property improvement cases in local historic districts, “Dem.” counts the number of demolition-delay cases and “NCD” counts neighborhood conservation district cases, which began last year. Since 2001, the workload appears to have more than doubled, while staff positions grew 35 percent.

Advocacy: When the Board of Selectmen held a public hearing for the Planning budget on Tuesday, board member Betsy DeWitt and former Preservation chair Jim Batchelor, an architect, made an appeal for more preservation staff. Advocates appeared in force at the subcommittee hearing the next evening, with over 20 people from several parts of town.

On Wednesday at the subcommittee, David King, current Preservation chair, argued that preservation cases have tended to become more complex over the years, needing more staff time per case. More of the demolition-delay cases involve historically significant structures. “The staff is overworked and exhausted,” he said. Many were aware that Dr. Hardwicke has been out recently with an illness and that Ms. Innamorati has resigned, coming in on special assignment about half-time.

Judith Selwyn, a long-time Preservation Commission member, described lack of coordination between zoning and preservation planning. It has become a particularly acute problem, she said, with new neighborhood conservation districts, contributing to delays in a recent case on Perry St.

Kate Poverman of Adams St. cited the pressures of Chapter 40B projects, threatening to override zoning, as a “catalyst for local historic districts.” Her neighborhood has organized to form a local historic district and performed volunteer efforts toward surveys and document preparation. Peggy Hogan of Toxteth St. recounted how her neighborhood worked to prepare a definition for a neighborhood conservation district. A new district, she said, involves town staff in “more communication, more meetings.”

Barbara Scotto, a School Committee member and neighbor of Ms. Poverman, argued for three full-time preservation planners instead of the 1.8 positions proposed by the town administrator. She was joined by Dennis DeWitt, an architectural historian and member of the Preservation Commission, who recounted the types of work performed by the planners, and by Mr. King, Mr. Batchelor, Ms. Selwyn, Ms. Hogan and several others. On motions from Lee Selwyn and Angela Hyatt, the subcommittee agreed and is making that recommendation to the full committee.

– Craig Bolon, Brookline, MA, March 19, 2015


Town elections: contests town-wide and in precincts, Brookline Beacon, March 17, 2015

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits, Brookline Beacon, February 27, 2015

Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, February 22, 2015

Board of Selectmen: Hancock Village, budget reviews

A regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, March 3, started at 6:35 pm in the sixth-floor meeting room at Town Hall. Prior to the public session, the board held a closed session about “litigation.”

Hancock Village lawsuit: As reported in the Brookline Beacon, the Board of Selectmen have an aggressive lawsuit in progress opposing a large, partly subsidized housing project proposed for Hancock Village in south Brookline. As part of this effort, they have been working with a group of south Brookline neighbors. The property owner and manager, Chestnut Hill Realty, has been trying to use powers under Chapter 40B of Massachusetts general laws to override Brookline zoning and has been trying to bypass a 1946 zoning agreement with Brookline.

About two weeks ago, after more than a year of reviews and hearings, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted a comprehensive permit for the Hancock Village project, with several conditions. During their closed session on March 3, confirmed through south Brookline participants, the Board of Selectmen voted to file a new lawsuit, contesting the decision of Zoning Board of Appeals members Jesse Geller, Jonathan Book and Christopher Hussey, whom the Board of Selectmen appointed. The proposed project, they claim, “is poorly designed [and] will destroy the historical integrity of Hancock Village….”

Brookline, like most other Massachusetts towns, does not maintain legal expertise in the specialized area of Chapter 40B projects. The Board of Selectmen is considering “hiring outside counsel to pursue the appeal.” According to south Brookline participants, Jason Talerman of Blatman, Bobrowski & Mead has made contributions to the current lawsuit opposing the project, known as Brookline v. Mass. Development, which is pending in the Massachusetts Court of Appeals.

Contracts, personnel and finances: Joslin Murphy, the town counsel, got approval to transfer $0.08 million from salaries to contractual services. Her office has an unfilled position and has been employing “outside counsel” on several cases since July. During a budget review, Ms. Murphy said she was confident about being able to hire a “talented attorney” into a T-15 slot, but she has already gone eight months without hiring anyone.

Melissa Goff, who recently advanced to the job of deputy town administrator, reviewed the budget for the offices of town administrator and board of selectmen. There is little change from the current year. Mel Kleckner, the town administrator, would like to spend an extra $0.01 million to join an association of Massachusetts mayors, even though he is not a mayor. He won’t spend it unless Brookline voters pass a tax override this May.

The board approved a policy change for spending allocated from the “Boston Marathon fund,” contributed by the Boston Athletic Association in compensation for Brookline’s expenses on Marathon Day. The new policy is less restrictive, allowing spending for “community purposes…including youth and recreation.”

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, March 4, 2015


Craig Bolon, Hancock Village: development pressures, Brookline Beacon, 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

Zoning Board of Appeals: quests for parking and permits

The Zoning Board of Appeals held hearings on Thursday, February 26, for two complex property improvement cases involving off-street parking. Assigned to the hearings were board members Mark Zuroff, a lawyer serving as chair, Christopher Hussey, an architect, and Avi Liss, a lawyer.

Alley conflict: A proposed 4-car garage behind 1471 Beacon St. had wound through two Planning Board hearings and a previous Appeals hearing. The apartment building suffered a major fire a few years ago and has now been largely rebuilt. Previously it had only informal parking on an alley in the back. The developer, who is selling units as condominiums, wanted to create deeded parking in a small garage, adjacent to the alley.

He had originally proposed five spaces, but tight spacing and access led to criticism at Planning and Appeals, and he returned with a proposal for four spaces. Neighbors along Beacon St. seemed satisfied with the changes. Neighbors behind on Griggs Terrace–a private way–were definitely not happy, and they spoke in opposition.

The legal alley access is from the narrow, sloping Intervale Crosscut, connecting Beacon St. with Griggs Rd. about a tenth of a mile toward the west. Neighbors claimed the alley will often be blocked, and vehicles will trespass on drives connecting to Griggs Terrace.

Land adjacent to the row of apartments near 1471 Beacon forms a steep slope in back, descending around ten feet to about the elevation of Griggs Park. The terrain was created in late-nineteenth century as a part of historic Beacon St. apartment development. Dense vegetation, including large trees, has helped to control storm run-off and restrain the slope from erosion.

The developer proposed to excavate a wedge-shaped segment of the steep slope and install a concrete garage structure with thick supporting and retaining walls and a buried drywell to manage storm water. On top, he proposed to create a landscaped terrace, to compensate for removing trees. The floor of the garage was to be level with the alley.

The developer needed special permits for smaller setbacks than standard zoning and for design review of a structure along Beacon St. With four rather than five cars, the dimensions did not need a variance–usually much harder to justify. That such a complex and costly plan appeared practical indicates the high prices being paid for parking in urban areas of Brookline.

Neighbors said they had been alienated by the developer’s conduct during about three years of construction. The alley is a composite of small parcels, with mutual rights-of-way deeded to and used by many of the owners of adjacent property. During construction, they said, equipment and materials had been stationed in the alley, trespassing on their property and that of others and interfering with access.

Neighbors asked for an enforceable permit condition specifying that the alley would not be blocked again. After about an hour and a half of testimony and wrangling among board members, the Appeals panel voted to grant the permits needed for the garage, attaching several conditions, including provisions intended to help neighbors stop potential obstruction of the alley in the future.

Neighborhood conservation: Renovation and expansion of a house at 66 Perry St. has involved a wide range of issues, including parking. This has been the first Brookline property improvement proposed in a neighborhood conservation district, and the Appeals board is not the last stop on the line. By the time the case is finished, reviews will probably total almost a year.

After a six-year study, Brookline created its first neighborhood conservation district in the fall of 2011, for Hancock Village in south Brookline. So far, that has not generated any cases. In spring, 2014, another district was approved at town meeting, involving parts of Toxteth St., Perry St. and Aspinwall Ave. These districts are intended to extend property regulation beyond traditional zoning to help maintain neighborhood characteristics more complex than property uses and dimensions.

Boston enacted an “architectural conservation district” in 1975. Cambridge created its first “neighborhood conservation district” in 1984 and now has five districts. Other Massachusetts communities with similar regulation include North Andover, Amesbury, Lexington, Lincoln and Wellesley. There is no Massachusetts enabling law for this type of regulation. Each community using it has created its own ordinances or bylaws, justified under the general “police power” of cities and towns. Brookline’s approach creates a separate bylaw for each district.

Without an enabling law and an accumulation of case law, communities have to develop their own standards and procedures. One reason reviews of the proposed property improvements at 66 Perry St. have taken so long is that the boards involved have been working out the process–more or less on-the-fly. It looks likely to be a typical case in that both zoning and neighborhood conservation regulations apply.

The Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, established in the 1920s, review the zoning issues, while a new Neighborhood Conservation District Commission reviews issues for which it is named. There is considerable potential for overlap; that occurred with 66 Perry St. So far, the commission held two hearings, the Planning Board two and Zoning Board of Appeals one.

First commission case: After the property owner had settled on a design, following commission review, the Planning Board urged changes. The owner made those changes in plans and went to the Appeals board, seeking special permits for setbacks smaller than standard zoning. The need for the permits had been driven partly by trying to keep expansions from intruding into the front yard, in order to satisfy Neighborhood Conservation.

The Appeals board voted to approve the special permits, but now the owner must return to the Neighborhood Conservation District Commission. The plans approved by Planning and Appeals differ from those previously approved by the commission. With luck, that will be the last stop. Thanks to a cooperative owner, this project looks likely to reach a successful outcome.

– Beacon staff, Brookline, MA, February 27, 2015


Neighborhood conservation district study, Brookline Department of Planning and Community Development, September, 2005

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