Zoning Board hearing set for Neighborhood House Charter expansion

A view of the existing Neighborhood House Charter School campus on Queen Street. The school plans to expand its physical plant in a project set for review by the Zoning Board this month. Google image

Some neighbors are expressing irritation at the timing of a late July zoning board hearing for the proposed Neighborhood House Charter School expansion at 21 Queen St. The school filed plans in February with the Boston Planning and Development Agency to add 12 classrooms and a gym in a three-story extension. It is scheduled to be discussed at a Zoning Board of Appeal hearing on July 30 in City Hall that begins at 9:30 a.m.

Opponents to the plan have been vocal. The increase in scale would “necessarily create a greater nuisance to the neighborhood mainly as a result of the additional traffic and parking,” wrote Henry Wessmann in a public comment.

Wessmann sent out an email on behalf of the Pope’s Hill Neighborhood Association in early July, expressing displeasure with the Zoning Board hearing schedule.

“The timing of this hearing is indeed unfortunate as many neighborhood residents are on vacation, but the fact that the timing of this hearing precludes the normal pre Zoning Board hearing presentation to the neighborhood association from happening is disingenuous to the integrity of fairness and openness which the school claims to be committed to,” he wrote.

A public meeting took place on March 6 and a public comment period closed on March 11. Some comments and a petition at the time objected to the expansion process and the final designs.

Several complaints were directed at the school itself, claiming that NHCS officials were not being forthright about their plans.

“This increase would create many additional hazards and safety issues that the school is failing to address,” wrote Queen Street resident Brad Watkins. “Furthermore, affecting the neighbors quality of life while creating additional nuisances. The school was never upfront and honest with neighbors about their intention to petition the Dept. of Education for additional 400 seats and expanding to a high school as well.”

Other comments supported the proposal, like that of Pope’s Hill resident and NHCS parent Asia Poles.

“I can tell you that this project will be good for the neighborhood,” Poles wrote. “NHCS has been a strong, steady and positive force in the neighborhood and I am excited to see it expand in this way. Please approve the project.”

Poles was joined in support by other parents. Jay and Karen Richards wrote, “As a parent of three NHCS students I can tell you that this project would be a very welcoming addition to our neighborhood. Creating a much-needed gym and bringing the 8th grade back to Queen St would make a positive impact on the future of my children and the students of NHCS!”

Cases are sent before the Zoning Board of Appeal in the earliest available hearing slot after they receive approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board, which the charter school proposal received on March 16.

City Councillor Frank Baker and the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services spoke in favor of the project at the BPDA meeting.

“Through the neighborhood process I believe we have come up with a better design,” Baker told the board. “And also have identified multiple transportation issues that we will be dealing with as the time comes.”

The BPDA board decision includes a mitigation plan to deal with pick-up and drop-off areas within the new expansion, which is available on the agency’s website.