A developer's plan to raze a decrepit house and install a shiny new three-decker in its place has stirred up resentment from a few with long memories. The developer Vu Quong's properties have been the center of controversy before.
According to some who were present at the Codman Square Neighborhood Council meeting on Jan. 2, Vu's attorney Apolo Catala wasn't able to answer many questions about the project proposed for 53 Burt St. Then Richard Heath, who works for Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, recalled Vu's name. A Vu-owned property at 231 Talbot Ave. was the site of an October shooting, Heath told the meeting, and at least one of Vu's tenants was involved peripherally and also dealing drugs, according to what police told him.
"If this happened to [my property] I'd be reaching out to the community for some support and advice," said Heath, days after the meeting. "The B-3 meeting, neighborhood council, there's enough of us here to help."
Vu owns close to 30 different properties in Dorchester, many managed by his own Vu Management Co., and is as well known in the Bowdoin-Geneva area as well, though not for the same reasons.
"As far as I'm concerned, he can build what he wants if it's as-of-right. If it's anything that is going to require community support or a variance, no way," said Davida Andelman, chair of the Greater Bowdoin Geneva Neighborhood Association. She pointed to projects Vu had developed that did not jibe with what the neighborhood was actively asking for, such as a large development at Geneva Avenue and Olney Street that didn't please the Greater Four Corners Action Coalition and in her own neighborhood for a project at 115 to 123 Homes Ave. that Vu Cuong intended to build. In the end, after meetings spread out over several years, he backed out of the project, she said.
"On first blanche he's a quiet unassuming kind of guy, but then he does what he wants to do," said Andelman.
Apolo Catala, Vu's attorney, defended his client when reached by phone Tuesday.
"The gentleman who spoke at the Codman Square Neighborhood Council almost suggested that Mr. Vu was involved in the incident at 231 Talbot," said Catala. "I hope that it's clear that is just not the case. Mr. Vu's management company took action against one of the tenants who had allegedly been drug dealing. That unit is now vacant. Mr. Vu understands the frustration of the people in the neighborhood, but at the same time you do the best you can to get the best tenants you can. Many landlords are in the same situation.
"I think that overall Mr. Vu is a good guy," said Catala in answer to Andelman's concerns. "He provides opportunities for the people that live in them. Oftentimes he buys properties that are eyesores in the community and rebuilds them. He has indicated to me that he recognizes that there is a need to better communicate, especially around issues where there is an abandonment of commitment."
Whatever the history is, 53 Burt St. certainly fits the category of eyesore today. It is a small, boarded-up single family on one corner of a trash-strewn lot. The previous tenant, who sold to Vu in 2004 for a mere $50,000 according to SuffolkDeeds.com, was widely known to take in stray animals. The house is permeated with the smell of their stale urine, said Catala, to a degree that the odor would be next to impossible to get rid of.
Vu proposes a stack of three 1,400 square foot units, condo or rental, in the old house's place. He brought the size down from 2,000 square feet in response to community concerns over density. Another bone of contention with abutters is parking. The small lot leaves space for two off-street spots.
Stanley Herbert, who lives next door, said he isn't too concerned either way, but it would probably easier if it was someone from the community or a homeowner moving in.
"All the owners of these two-family houses down here live on one floor and rent the other," said Herbert. "If he's a developer that's going to put a house in and then he's gone, I think people are going to have more resistance to that."
The Zoning Board of Appeal hearing to approve the required zoning variances for 53 Burt St. is scheduled for Jan. 12 at noon in City Hall.