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Elm Gardens 11-19Elm

Anyone who doubts the impact of houses torn down and replaced or expanded into townhouses, and those of you who don’t get north of Washington Street that much, should take a walk around Elm, Oak, and Cherry and Webster Streets to see what’s happening in my part of West Newton.

Above is a photo of the five units of luxury condos at 11-19 Elm Street, under construction in April. One unit of what is being marketed as “Phase 1” of Elm Gardens is still available: 3,715 sq.ft. for $1,359,000.

Tonight, overshadowed by the second water meter debate, the Board of Aldermen is due to vote on petitions #273-14 for a change of zone for 114 River Street, and #273-14(2) for a Special Permit/Site Plan Approval to build four additional units on the combined lots of 114 River Street and 5-7 Elm Street, next door to 11-19 Elm.

What’s going on here? I can’t describe it any better than a near neighbor, Tricia Bombara, did in a November 6 letter to Land Use and the Board of Aldermen:

While the Planning Board now believes that the FAR for this project is within the context of the neighborhood, in 2007 they wrote: Although there is a range of Floor Area Ratios in the immediate neighborhood, the proposed units will be larger than most and much larger than the average floor area/unit… the Planning Department remains concerned about the project scale (bulk), which should show careful respect for neighborhood context.

The bottom line is that the “neighborhood development pattern” toward more bulk and more density was set in motion by the Board and is now self-perpetuating. In a neighborhood where many of the homes were built before 1900, there are certainly many modest houses on small lots quite close to the neighboring house, which contributes to density. But there are also many homes – some large, some quite small – on large lots with significant amounts of open green space; these have also contributed greatly to the neighborhood character and context. It would seem that these properties are now considered “underbuilt” by the City and are prime targets for further development, changing the character of the neighborhood from one of mixed-density with low, moderate, and high-end housing to one of primarily high-density, high-end housing.

Finally, I would like to note that the petitioners’ Special Permit application (#40-07) for the first phase of this development at 11 Elm was for 5 units, each with 3 bedrooms, 3 baths, and a single car garage, but the units as built are 4-bedroom, 4.5 baths, with 2-car garages. This second phase again proposes 3-bedroom, 3-bath units; do the proposed unit sizes have any meaning? If the developer had come forward initially with a proposal for a 9-unit development of $1.3M+ luxury single-family attached homes, with 4 bedrooms, 4.5 baths and 2-car garages, the developer would have been required to include an affordable unit. By separating it into two phases, the developer was able to make a smaller payment to avoid including the affordable unit in the first phase (under 6 units), and won’t be required to include one in the second phase (4 units).

Note the bit about two phases. The Report of the November 6 portion of the Public Hearing says:

Alderman Hess-Mahan noted that, although several neighbors had done so, it was incorrect to characterize this petition as part of a nine-unit project.

But the marketing website for Elms Gardens itself refers to Phase 1. And the Assessors Database lists the owner of 11-19 Elm St as Antonio Bonadio Tr, Bonadio Realty Trust, and the owner of 5-7 Elm St as Antonio Bonadio T//C, Nicore Construction Company. (The owners of 114 River St are listed as Salvatore Marrazzo Jr and Mark Rayhall.)



Despite reservations expressed by even the Planning Department and some members of the Board of Aldermen, about the size of the project, and size and lack of diversity in size of the units, many other seem to be onboard with yet another replacement of relatively affordable housing and open space, and here, the loss of a small commercial parcel, with still more mega-sized condos for the wealthy.

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