Geneva housing proposal reveals difference in vision

For a handful of abutters, a proposed affordable housing development at Geneva Avenue and Bloomfield Street is too tall, too dense, and too short on parking.

For six nearby civic associations and Main Streets organizations, other abutters and several civic activists, it's much-needed rental housing and retail that would fill in a vacant lot less than 100 feet from the Fields Corner MBTA Station.

The rift exposes a rampant MBTA commuter parking problem in the corner area that is becoming every developer's headache. T-riders roll in during the morning hours and clog Fields Corner streets until they return from work around 5 or 6 p.m. By 8 p.m., parking is easier to find.

It also exposes fears of affordable housing that lurk in every neighborhood from richest to poorest.

"Have you ever seen the movie New Jack City?" asked abutter Laurie MacLean at a special meeting for abutters marshaled by Senator Jack Hart last week. "This building actually scares me."

New Jack City is a Mario Van Peebles flick from the height of the crack epidemic in 1991 wherein Wesley Snipes heads a business-savvy and violent gang that takes over a huge apartment complex. Ice-T co-stars.

Bloomfield Gardens, as the developer Viet-AID is calling the proposal, is more down to earth at four stories and 29-units, including 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom units and one retail unit on the ground floor.

Though it would be the only building in the immediate area with a fourth floor, architect Clifford Boehmer said it wouldn't be significantly taller than adjacent three-story apartment buildings. While existing nearby buildings on Geneva Avenue range from around 35 to just over 40 feet in height, Bloomfield Gardens could measure at around 44 feet, said Boehmer. This is because the new building would put floor one at street-level, whereas the first floors of most buildings nearby are raised roughly six feet off the ground, allowing the classic stoops that make the summer months a community experience. The peaked roofs of the multi-family houses behind the complex top out at around 45-feet, he said.

But for abutters who live on Charles Street, filling that vacant lot at the end of their street is closing one end of the canyon already created by their three-story brick apartment houses.

"It's going to block out the sun, it's too tall," said one Charles Street woman this week.

The same group of abutters also took up issues of parking, density and cited a problem with the public funding of the site's purchase.

Of particular interest was the fact that the BRA had earlier convinced Viet-AID to bring the number of parking spaces down to 13 from 19 in order to create some green space behind the building. The open space preference is consistent with ideas straight from the mayor's office, said the BRA's project manager for Bloomfield Gardens, Jay Rourke. A few abutters seemed to disagree with the idea.

"I agree with affordable housing. The issue going forward here is the density based on the acquisition price," said resident Tom Gannon, who spoke independently but heads up the Fields Corner Civic Association, which is supporting the development. He went on to say that Community Economic Development Assistance Corporation (CEDAC), a state-created public-private agency that funded the site purchase, overpaid for it due to an improper appraisal. According to guidelines, appraisals are supposed to be 'as-is,' and fit the existing zoning code. Gannon contends that the $840,000 appraisal was made for the potential of a 29-unit building, which would current violate city zoning and therefore is not "as-is."

"It's been vacant for 30 years, lots of neighborhood groups listed it as a priority. It was owned by a guy who I have heard was extremely difficult to deal with," said Viet-AID's consultant for development Jim Hexter. "I think the feeling in the neighborhood was that if we had to overpay a little bit it was justified."

"If people haven't noticed, there's a development boom in Dorchester and part of it is in Fields Corner," said Lee Adelson, president of the Trinity Square Neighborhood Association and an abutter, at the project's BRA Article 80e small project meeting Tuesday. "This is an excellent development project that takes advantage of a new station that we should be happy to have. The scale of this building is not inconsistent with other developments in the neighborhood… In terms of parking, how many people want to see more cars on Geneva Avenue? Traffic control and parking enforcement is a bigger issue than this developer can address."

The parking issue took over that meeting at one point, with Fields Corner Main Street director Evelyn Darling vowing to work with the neighborhood on pushing the city to deal with pesky day-time parkers along with her organization's support for the project at hand and other residents responding that sticker parking should be reserved for "exclusive" neighborhoods like the South End.

In response to abutters concerns, Senator Jack Hart's office asked for a two-week extension, but because the Department of Neighborhood Development's funding deadline is Aug. 11 and won't come up again for another six months, Viet-AID is hoping to limit it to a one-week extension instead. The matter wasn't decided by press time.

To comment or inquire about the project contact project manager Jay Rourke at 617-918-4317 or Jay.Rourke.BRA@CityofBoston.gov.