Apartment building on Morton Street wins ZBA approval

Architect rendering shows what 775 Morton St. would look like when completed. Phase 0 Design

The Zoning Board of Appeal on June 25 approved a 27-unit apartment building at 775 Morton St. on the corner of Wildwood Street. The vote followed some confusion caused by a shortage of board members due to holdups by city councillors on questions for proposed new panel members involving marijuana-related zoning.

Mayor Walsh's appointment of several new members to the zoning board has been held up by City Councillors Lydia Edwards and Michelle Wu, in part because of questions on how the new members will interpret a city ban on marijuana establishments less than a half mile apart - an issue that surfaced in East Boston when the mayor's office supported applications for two bidders located a few blocks away from each other.

The holdup meant that six, rather than seven, zoning-board members heard developer Anthony Ruscitto's proposal, which left him with little room for a winning margin; the board requires a two-thirds favorable vote for a project to be approved.

The board initially voted 5-1 in favor of the project, with member Bruce Bickerstaff casting the lone vote against, but board chairwoman Christine Araujo then declared that the vote was not sufficient and that the project was denied.

At the request of Ruscitto's attorney, John Pulgini, the board then agreed to withdraw the motion on the project and let Pulgini ask for a deferral on the vote - in the hope that by the time the board re-heard the proposal, it would have seven members. After a recess - and after residents who had opposed the proposal had left - Araujo announced that due to confusion over the quorum issue, she had incorrectly ruled the project denied.

Member Craig Galvin then moved to approve the project, and the vote was once again 5-1. This time Araujo ruled the project had been approved. She asked the mayor's neighborhood liaison to tell the opponents who had left about the approval.

Ruscitto's proposal calls for a four-story building on what has long been a vacant lot, with ground-floor retail space and a 29-space garage accessed via Wildwood Street. Four of the units will be sold as affordable.

The mayor's office supported the proposal, but some residents said the building was too tall and too dense and would cause traffic problems because of the way the way the busy Morton Street curves near the site.

The BPDA board had approved the project in January.