64 HAYNES STREET : BATTLES OVER EVERY ISSUE

64 haynes

A proposal has been offered, to abutters and the Jeffries Point Neighborhood Association, to construct, on an empty lot, the building pictured above.

Crystal Mills, the proponent, makes the following statement and asks people to sign it, as a letter to the Zoning Board of Appeal, endorsing the project :

I support the project at 64 Haynes Street for the following reasons:

1. The building will be the primary residence of the sponsor, who has been a long-term resident of Jeffries Point, and not an investment project.

2. The building will be 100% compliant with Group 1 accessibility requirements for the physically impaired.

3. Is a three-family dwelling, which is conforming use per the zoning code, and matches the great majority of abutting buildings.

4. It proposes three off street parking, one for each unit, helping with the neighborhood existing street parking shortage. All this while reducing the size of the existing curb cut already present on the property.

5. The building is designed with climate resiliency in mind, avoiding any living space on the ground level. This is in line with the BPDA Coastal Flood Resilience Design Guidelines – http://realestate.boston.com/…/boston-zoning-climate…/ / http://www.bostonplans.org/…/d1114318-1b95-487c-bc36…

6. The project would bring three additional dwellings to the city of Boston. Idle land in a densely populated urban setting further deepens the affordability crisis by reducing supply...”

Sounds simple, right ? Just one of over 100 such proposals being made all over East Boston these days, and this by far not the most outlandish. The building would be four stories high ? Some East Boston proposals request SIX stories.

It will be three units ? Many East Boston projects want nine units. (Propose more than nine, and you are subject to the City’s unworkable “affordability covenant,” under which a builder must offer an ‘affordable” unit, at least one such per every ten units he wants to build.). Several neighborhood proposals seek 20, 40, 60, even 100, 200 nd 300 units. Entire cities crammed into a neighborhood already dense with traffic and cheek-by-jowl housing.

So, no ; the 64 Haynes Street request is far from the most frightful imposition seeking to impact East Boston at this time.

Nonetheless, this proposal has put into play all the issues that housing development has agitated on the north shore side of Boston harbor. Follow me :

Crystal Mills does not tell us that she is, in fact, the proponent. it is to be HER building. Into one of the units her Dad will move; into another, guests from Italy. Great : but as several commenters on the Jeffries Point facebook page note, there is no guarantee that her Dad will stay living in one unit, or that he will even move in; while the unit given over to “guests from Italy’ almost certainly will end up an air bnb.

And what if those two units get put up for sale, at huge prices current these days in East Boston ? Prices which further roll away the immigrant, working class character that East Boston has had since the 1850s ?

One commenter, an abutter, objects to the proposal as follows :

Crystal, could you also please post the square footage per dwelling? At the latest meeting I attended, there were two units of about 500 Square feet taking up one floor between them – one for your father and then one for guests visiting from Italy and then an additional unit spread over two floors upwards of 2000 sqf with a roof deck for your private residence. Is that still correct? Because that, in fact, is not matching the great majority of abutting buildings, where you usually see one unit per floor -equaling 3 dwellings of approximately equal size and it explains why you require a 4-floor building which is out of scale with the neighboring buildings. I want people to have full information when you talk about 3 dwellings. More importantly, this building will stand a story higher than the neighboring buildings setting a new precedent for the entire street.

Here’s all of the basic arguments being made by people who have lived in East Boston for many years and do not cotton to seeing it become something entirely else.

I could post dozens of comments, about other not-so-outrageous proposals, that mirror every part of this person’s objection to one particular project.

Another commenter, who happens to be a real estate broker active in East Boston and owns their own single family home in it, offers the following :

The design would be great with one less floor. While I appreciate the family story, and your small businesses, I also don’t trust that these won’t be sold after permitting, used for market rate versus family etc. which is your right but again asking for variances should be for hardship, and this isn’t hardship.. we’ve had the community sacrifice tear downs and variances with owner “stories” only for it to change. Maybe a convenant could be used ensuring you won’t rent or sell once approved for a certain period of time?

This very argument gets made by residents all over East Boston, people who do not object to all development but want to restrain its impact by persuading builders — hopefully — to conform their buildings to what East Boston houses already are.

Does such a request work ? Sometimes it does. But it is, as Otto von Bismarck once said, generally not wise to rely upon gratitude.

Another commenter notes :

“Also a question to all who know more- as someone who lives in this neighborhood with a family, do families promising to live in the house get preference? Should they? Does it matter in the variance process? If so, how is this regulated? I know another neighborhood where a developer rezones/ renovates, lives as a primary residence for 2 years for tax reasons, and then moves on. Where does that fit in the scheme of things?

—- —-

If all the above issues draw you farther into the matter of one proposed building than you’d like to go, hey– I am with you and so is everybody else. We don’t want these disputes. Don’t want them at all. Yet what are we of East Boston to do ? Almost every development proposal for this side of Boston Harbor, no matter how gross or disruptive, gets approval by the BPDA no matter the degree of opposition voted by the neighborhood associations whose vote the BPDA approval process requires.

Evidently the neighborhood vote is advisory only — has no legal force and not much political clout either.

Equally dismissive is the Zoning Board of Appeal’s hearings upon variance requests.

For those who don’t know, a variance is an exception to the zoning law classification governing a certain area. These classifications are set by the City according to State zoning law. Variances — exceptions — are allowed in case of “hardship” — as zoning is of general force, particular buildings, especially ones that existed before zoning laws came into being, may violate the general class as they are; or a property owner may want to extend a bedroom, or erect a deck, and such like; the addition may well violate the zoning, but it would be a hardship to deny the owner such addition or extension. The owner appeals the building department’s denial of a building permit, and the Zoning Appeal Board (“ZBA”) grants the exception.

Every variance thus granted is supposed to enhance the zoning regulation’s purposes, not undermine it. Yet these days the ZBA grants almost every variance request. Many people well before me have objected — loudly and often — to what amounts to ditching the zoning law altogether. The objections are disregarded.

64 Haynes Street asks for six separate variances. this isn’t unusual. Almost every developer proposal seeks as many variances as the developer needs to build what he likes. Developers do sometimes agree to scale back their proposals, hoping for a positive vote by the neighborhood association. Maybe that will happen here. Maybe it won’t.

What is battling at 64 Haynes Street is the same sort of fight occurring all over East Boston and in many other parts of Boston. Nor is 64 Haynes the worst offender — as I have written above. It is, however, emblematic of the direction that Boston is going in pursuant to vast sums of money insisting on treating Boston real estate solely as a huge profit opportunity.

Every housing move made by Boston City Hall these past thirty years has aggravated the situation. Worst, probably, was Mayor Walsh’s declaration, back in the 2013 Mayor campaign, that he wanted 53,000 new housing units built. Overnight the acquisition cost of land doubled. it has since doubled again, even tripled, as the building rush Walsh’ s declaration generated has fed upon itself.

Almost as aggravating was Walsh’s “affordability covenant” rule, as pronounced by his BPODA, whereby a developer who builds ten units or more must offer one per every ten at an “affordable” price. At first the “
affordability” ratio is to be 13 percent of units built. Lately, the huge Suffolk Downs project, offering 10,000 units, was forced to agree to sell 20 percent at an “affordable” price., What this “:affordability: rule does, as simple math shows, is to jack up the price of the market rate units: because if a developer has to take a loss on 13 or even 20 percent of his units, he has to raise the price of the other units accordingly so that he can make the level of profit his investors have contracted for.

This is what politicians do. (and by the way, it has been “progressive” politicians chiefly, who have revved up the trend.) Unhappily, the math doesn’t care about your progressivism or your politics…..

At this point, the politics and the profit wave have mutually assured the destruction, within Boston, of low-price, immigrant and working class housing.

The fate of East Boston, 160 years an immigrant destination, seems irreversible. Into it are moving an entirely newcomer class of high-earning participants in the money economy our City is hub for : finance, insurance, medicine, hi-tech, biotech, higher education (this last one of the most grossly overpaid groups anywhere) — and who as often as not live in vast crap-itecture structures, porch-less and with no back or front yards, where no one knows anybody else or cares to.

They are of course fully entitled to live their lives as they see fit. Far be it for me to criticize anyone thereby. Yet as the lives of many East Boston newcomers are lived, community is not a part thereof. And even for those who do find time to make friends and be activist neighbors, the matters that draw their activism rarely have anything to do with the activities that immigrant East Boston organized ; kids’ sports, park-league sports, school charity events, celebration days and parades.

Lastly, the very status of immigrant hasn’t the patriotic devotion that it had 40, 60, 100, 150 years ago. Our nation restricts immigration generally, even denigrates it. Those few immigrants who are allowed come are rarely penniless, as were our forbears, and do not settle in immigrant havens. Thus the people flows that once fed East Boston have been cut off even as South beach prices and jet-set lifestyles become the norm for a generation that parties on instagram and aspires to million-dollar condos.

64 Haynes Street might as well have a Miami Beach zipcode. Because that’s where we are now. Private islands, celebrity mansions and all. Or if not exactly that — yet — at least houses that say “I am an influencer.”

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere