River Street condo proposal met with resistance at public meeting

This proposed 18-unit condo building would rise from a privately-held parcel at 73 River St.

The majority of those who spoke on a proposed 18-unit condominium on River Street in Mattapan objected to the project’s density and neighborhood fit at a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA)-hosted meeting Thursday night.

George Tsolirides, the project proponent, owns the land at 73 River St. currently housing a dry cleaners and a restaurant, the River Street Grille. He is pitching an 18-unit, 23,063-square foot building to contain two-bedroom homeowner condominiums and ground floor retail space. Behind the structure would be 30 parking spaces.

The restaurant would remain a tenant, said architect Lucio Trabucco, with potentially a community meeting room, cafe, or office filling the other small ground floor space. Thirty parking spaces, without accounting for the public transit access, is also above the required per-unit ratio required by the city.

Community members and abutters opposed the project in its earlier iteration, which had three more apartments, only 20 parking spaces, and access into the residential neighborhood from the back of the development. Those who spoke at Thursday's meeting for the most part made it clear that the changes were not sufficient.

William Willis, who owns a property a few houses down from the site, said developments of this density seemed to be dropped on neighborhoods like theirs without consideration for the abutters. “We want our own little piece of heaven, our little piece of happiness, right there on Sturbridge Street,” he said, adding that he hoped to leave his home to his children, but a development nearby would only raise his property taxes in the short term.

Attendees expressed a sharp frustration with the the city’s handling of developments in the neighborhoods. Several attendees demanded the project be changed to the commercial buildings with one- or two-family houses on the parcel, or else be shut down entirely.

“We’ve told you time and time again, because this is like the fourth meeting I’ve come to: I don’t want it. We don’t want it, who live on that street,” Willis said. “And I don’t know why you guys aren’t hearing that. And if you are, tell us, ‘Hey, you don’t have a choice,’ so we can stop coming to these meetings wasting our time.”

The project is going through the BRA’s Article 80 small project review process, including the community meeting and a comment period open through Oct. 13.

The development is requesting eleven variances, including some to account for the development being almost four times as dense as the zoning permits. Terry Dolan with the Lower Mills Civic Association, noted that the civic group had unanimously opposed a Sturbridge Street proposal requesting 13 variances that they deemed too dense for the immediate neighborhood.

The Lower Mills/Mattapan area is becoming increasingly popular for developers, she said, in part due to its proximity to the high speed trolley line. “Knowing there’s going to be something on this property, whether it be something bigger or something smaller is what we’re trying to decide,” Dolan said.

In response to neighborhood concerns about cars using the lot as a cut through into the strictly residential areas, developers changed the plans to allow for one-way access from Sturbridge Street, with the only exit route putting cars back onto River Street. Alterations to the traffic flow plans were met with outright skepticism by some, who said the area would remain gridlocked during peak hours.

Violence is already a problem in the area, they said, referencing a shooting the previous night near the intersection of Cedar and Sanford streets, just two blocks from the development. “He has the opportunity to do something good for the residents,” Willis said.

If the condominiums were not to sell as hoped, attendees asserted Tsolirides would switch to rental units. They worried that a large project and parking lot would encourage additional troubling behavior by bringing in transient renters.

Uter noted that a change in housing designation would necessitate a separate approval process.

Karenlyn Bunch with McElligot Real Estate Development Group, is partnering with Tsolirides on the River Street project. She assured attendees that hiring of women, people of color, and neighborhood residents would meet the city standard.

As far as neighborhood benefits, Bunch and Trabucco said the developers had cleaned up the project site —which one resident dismissed as a necessary component of the construction process, not a community-geared act — and would be focusing on aiding organizations for “seniors” and “children.”

Though there were calls, including by Mattapan lawyer Jovan Lacet, to simply “shut it down,” the neighborhood's most effective means of managing the scope of development is consistent feedback throughout the process. Opportunities for public testimony are offered during zoning board hearings, and city representatives asked that residents submit comments until Oct. 13 at the BRA website for the 73 River Street project.