Neighbors, builder clash over density on Pleasant Street

A rendering shows the developer's preferred plan for a new condo complex at 54 Pleasant St.

Neighbors continue to push to reduce the scale of a new condominium building pitched for the site of the existing Scally & Trayers Funeral Home at 54 Pleasant St.

The development team offered two stark choices on the project at a public meeting on Tuesday night, saying the neighbors could get on board with a well-designed set of 17 condominium units or be left with a blocky set of nine rental units with above-ground parking.

At a well-attended meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), neighbors expressed their discontent with the scope of the development and potential impacts on traffic and safety in the area.

Giuseppe Arcari purchased the 14,688-square-foot parcel at the junction of Pleasant and Pearl streets for $1.6 million in July 2016. He is a stakeholder in the Tavern in the Square restaurant group and is also developing a lot for residential use on Auckland Street.

Concerns about density on the site were raised early by civic leaders and abutters. Arcari’s team decided to move ahead with the BPDA’s Article 80 Small Project Review Process and filed an application on June 15.

The three-story building would include 17 condominium units, two of which would be affordable, and 20 parking spaces located under ground with an exit onto Pleasant Street.

A traffic study commissioned by Arcari found little potential disruption with the addition of 20 cars to the area. But neighbors have quarreled with that finding. Bruce Shatswell, a nearby resident, said the garage exit’s proximity to the Stoughton Street intersection was problematic on its face.

The funeral home on the site remains in operation this summer with plans to close in mid-September, according to director James Leo Trayers, Jr. The home’s license — and pre-planned funerals— will transfer to Murphy’s Funeral Home on Dorchester Avenue, according to Trayers.

Citing the predominance of single-, two-, and three-family homes in the surrounding area, neighbors have asked that Arcari’s proposal be brought closer to the six units for which the parcel is zoned, with many suggesting nine as a more reasonable target.

“Really, we’re not opposed to development,” said Pearl Street resident Mel Parker. “I know it sounds like that, but we literally are not opposed to development. What we’re opposed to is density increases. At the heart of all our problems is density.”

At 22,530 square feet, the proposed building has a floor area ratio of 1.53, which Parker pointed out is more than three times the ratio allowed by zoning. Floor area ratio marks the relationship between the total amount of usable floor area that a building has, or that has been permitted for the building, and the total area of the lot on which the building stands. The higher the ratio, the more dense the development.

“We haven’t had any relief at all,” said Parker. “No one’s been willing to move on reducing the number of units.”

BPDA project manager John Campbell, who was moderating the meeting, quickly reacted to Parker’s statements. “Do you realize how outdated that is?” he asked. “You’re talking about a 50-year-old zoning code… the zoning code is being changed neighborhood by neighborhood, and that’s what the Zoning Board of Appeals is for.

“They understand that,” Campbell continued. “And the vast majority of property in the city has a whole laundry list of zoning relief being requested, and they’re granted. Because you can’t grow a city on zoning codes 50 years old.”

Several residents expressed shock at that sentiment. “But that’s the law, right now,” said Parker’s partner, Marla Gold.

“We’re not anti-development,” another abutter said. “This is a beautiful building. We think it’s quality; however, we would like to have our real concerns mitigated. We’d like to find some kind of compromise.”

In response, the project’s architect, Stephen Sousa, put up a rendering of a blocky nine-unit apartment with a parking lot alongside it. “The compromise is one or the other,” Arcari said. “We do the beautiful building with 17 units, all condos, all [parking] underground… or we go to nine units, which go to rentals from condos, and I’ll rent them out. It’ll just be a longer term play.”

Arcari estimated that the condominiums, which would be split between one- to three-bedroom units, would account for about 30 residents. The rental-unit option would be all three-bedrooms and account for 27 more transient residents, he said.

The development team has made accommodations based on earlier feedback, its lawyer, John Pulgini, said. Originally 21 units, the count has dropped to 17. The team moved the building closer to the street to allow for more open green space between abutters. The updated Victorian design and underground parking remain major selling points, he said.

Attendees asked for alternatives to the underground parking in trade for a smaller unit count. Eileen Boyle of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association proposed nine units, but over a floor of above-ground parking to maintain the building’s shape.

Some who identified themselves as realtors with listings in the area said the building met a demand not currently filled nearby, such as elevator access to all floors for those who may wish to live in the neighborhood but have accessibility issues.

Sonia Kaszuba, who lives on Pearl Street, started a neighborhood petition to get the units reduced. In conversations with abutters, some were vehemently opposed to anything above six units, with others okay with a dozen. They split the difference and have been asking for nine.

Campbell dismissed the idea of the petition, which had gathered 85 signatories by Aug. 1. “Petitions don’t count for anything at all,” he said, asking instead that people submit comments to him via website, email, or mail. A public comment period on the proposal is open until Aug. 11.

Kaszuba and other residents ended the meeting expressing frustration at what they described as a bullying approach to the development.

“We’re happy with a project moving forward there, but let’s come to some mutual agreement that we can get on board with,” she told the Reporter. “Let’s have some kind of negotiation. Let’s meet in the middle.”

Jennifer Smith can be reached at jennifer.smith@dotnews.com, or follow her on Twitter at @JennDotSmith