^ opposing the 238 Webster Street proposal : Casey Silvia speaks; Margaret Farmer waits. Behind them : Scot Krueger
—- —- —-
Last night at the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association meeting, a large gathering of residents saw and listened — as at every such meeting — to several proposals for property development. Most fit well within the parameters of what property redesign should look like. One such however, stood out for its utter disregard of every recognized standard : that for 238 Webster Street. This is currently a typical three family, three story wooden dwelling. The developer proposes fourteen units, on four floors.
Let that sink in. 14 units — 28 bedrooms — on a lot that now hosts nine bedrooms in three apartments.
The developer could probably win approval for five units, maybe even six. Parking would be scarce, but the lot includes a large back portion currently vacant. Five or six tenants could park there without jamming up the lot’s open space back yard. That’s the sort of renovation that dominates Webster Street : buildings — mostly Beacon Hill brick style or classic wooden three-deckers; a few freestanding Victorian or Greek Revival “singles” — with one, two, or three to six apartments or condos, some with parking, some not.
It was thus no surprise to see almost unanimous opposition at the meeting to the 238 Webster proposal.
Most of the region’s residents are not lifelong East Bostonians; they’ve come to Jeffries for a reason, and almost all live in buildings renovated or redeveloped. They’re not opposed to development, nor does it discomfort them. I’ve attended maybe 20 Jeffries Point meetings; almost never does a project proposal arouse such absolute disapproval as was shown and spoken last night.
In part that’s because most residential renovators who build in Jeffries Point understand the neighborhood’s well defined character and the expectations that residents have of it. Developers generally do not want to spend time and effort on a proposal that will be voted down at meeting. Indeed, there were three other projects presented, by Richard Lynds, an East Boston attorney who has deep family roots in the area; who represents many developers; and whose grasp of neighborhood expectations is masterful. All of Lynds’s presentations honored those expectations.
The developer of 238 Webster was not represented by Lynds. I can’t speculate as to why, but the result was clear. 238’s presenting attorney is someone I haven’t seen at these meetings before (I am informed that he is the “backup” for the office he works at, one that represents some East Boston developments) nor did everyone in the room appear familiar with him. This is not to disparage a man who had a job to do and did it as best he could; but he was given a tough hand to play.
Not only is the 238 proposal far out of scale to the neighborhood, it also looked ugly. The artist rendering that we were shown had almost no design to it, just a boxy flat front with a coldly geometrical sloping roof — a very poor excuse for the ornate, subtle, 1880s-ish Mansard roofs common in the Jeffries area, and utterly embarrassed by the fully retained Mnasard design of 228 Webster Street — almost next door — whose renovation was presented — by Lynds — immediately after the 238 Webster show ended.
That “show” was commandeered, with fatal effect, by a trio of Jeffries Points’s most respected activists : Casey Silvia, an attorney who lives on the next street over; Scot Krueger, Webster Street resident whose wife Mary Cole sits on the Jeffries Point board; and Margaret Farmer, who lives on Webster directly across the street from 238 and who, in addition to being a past president of the Jeffries association, ran, in 2017, an impressive first-time campaign for District One’s City Council seat. All three spoke in opposition.
There were very few in the room who did not applaud each’s speech.
The developer would be wise to reduce his aspirations substantially.
I’m not going to guess at the developer’s motives for trying to build 14 units on a three-unit property, nor am I going to assess the wisdom of his thinking he can get any kind of approval for it from the Jeffries Point neighborhood. All I want to say is that Jeffries Point deserves better than this. “The Point” has a clear character that motivates people to move in, to live there, to love the neighborhood and to be pro- active in keeping it a true neighborhood where most people socialize as well as reside. It is an affront to tamper with such neighborhood success, and it is a bad example for development elsewhere in East Boston, a growing ward in which cheap materials, scrawny design, comfortless shapes, cheek-by-jowl density, and starved contours give so many big-numbers buildings a tenement air : sardines packed in throw-away cans. East Boston cannot thrive on throwaway residences. Jeffries Point manages to harmonize density with graciousness. It deserves to have its esthetics respected and regenerated.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere