Push for new housing next to Shawmut T station gets public airing

The latest plan to re-develop the site of a longtime automotive business next to Shawmut MBTA station was the subject of a public meeting last Thursday (Nov. 18) as the Melville-Park Association convened in-person inside the nearby Epiphany School to hear from representatives of the Dorchester-rooted firm Trinity Financial.

At issue is the re-use of Fitzpatrick Brothers Corporation, an auto body business on Centre Street, which has been operating on the site since 1894, when earlier generations of the family repaired horse-drawn buggies. Trinity, a development company owned by Dorchester resident Jim Keefe, hopes to replace the business with housing. Trinity’s still-emerging plan this fall would mark the third attempt to secure community support for a project after two previous plans— one advanced by Trinity and another by a different developer, Travis Lee— were met with stiff opposition from neighbors.

Last Thursday, Jim Keefe appeared with two members of his team – Chris Stanley, AVP of Design and Construction, and Mike Lozano, VP of Development. They told the audience they were there to listen and hear before making concrete plans for a third attempt.

The recent history of discussions around the 28,000 sq. ft. property has been contentious at times. In 2016, Trinity’s first proposal to build a 91-unit building was rejected by civic leaders. In the fall of 2018, they came back with an 88-unit plan, which was also shot down. In between then and now, Travis Lee of TLee Development jumped in and tried to make his own project work there, ending up with an agreement for 26 units in multiple buildings. However, neighbors said the purchase price was too high and the deal was scuttled.

Since the spring, Trinity has been shopping the idea of an 81-unit building that is four stories tall. But, last Thursday night, Trinity reps said they were open to the community’s ideas.

“It won’t be 81 units this time,” said Stanley. “What is it? We don’t know. We want to hear from you what this neighborhood can take.”

Stanley and the Trinity team told a packed house in the Epiphany School library that they are not planning a retail element in any new building. There would be parking, but they would right-size it to the site. The units would be 50 percent affordable to a variety of income levels, with another 50 percent market rate. They would be apartments, not condos, and would feature smaller units and family units. They would be demolishing the existing buildings and would not seek to include the adjacent Epiphany School lot as of yet.

“This will feature something for everyone,” said Lozano.

Right off the bat, Stanley and Lozano pitched the idea that car ownership would be low at the development based on their experiences with the Carruth and Treadmark developments at Ashmont Station, which Trinity built and own.

“Our experience at Treadmark and Carruth is there is a fraction of residents that park their cars in the building and an even smaller number that park on the surrounding streets,” said Stanley, who added that a new transit-oriented apartment building would actually mean fewer car trips than the existing auto shop.

Neighbors weren’t too interested in Dorchester Avenue experiences though, and the contentious nature of the project’s history soon took over any brainstorming session that was planned.

“Your buildings are pretty and they’re nice, but I don’t know if they would fit into this neighborhood,” said neighbor Sherry Predone. “Our houses are older and I don’t think you can make this look like that.”

Adam Gibbons said his concern remains the numbers of units planned, which is still unknown right now, and how it would fit with the neighborhood. Many others in the room were not happy with the idea of parking and more cars, which would eqate to more traffic on Allston and Centre Streets.

“I think more people are good, but I also feel like cars are bad,” said Bill Card.

When abutters like Andrew Saxe, Tony Brown and Eva Clarke began to express their displeasure, that’s when things began to get more intense – as those abutters indicated they tired of the years-long process with Trinity.

“With this, the new standard is 10 times zoning,” said Saxe. “Why not? All developers will say this is the precedent and it’s 10 times zoning. That’s what Trinity got, they’ll say. You either have zoning rules and abide by them and keep the character of the neighborhood or you open the flood gates.”

Saxe went on to say he believes that zoning laws only apply to residents and not big developers like Trinity. That prompted Keefe, from the audience, to respond in kind to the comment.

“Hey, that’s not true. Come on. That’s not fair,” added Keefe from his seat.

Tony Brown, also an abutter, said this project helps no one but the developer.

“What transformation is going to help us in this neighborhood?” he asked. “You’re going to change it completely. We love the history. Four stories is going to be higher than my house and my neighbor’s house. You’re not helping us.”
Another resident, Nick Buehrens, appealed to his neighbors to open their minds.

“I think we need to break out of the mold of what the neighborhood was 100 years ago or even 20 years ago,” he said. “I’m ready for a vision for the 21st Century…”

But Brown and others said some neighbors a few streets over might feel that way, but those living right next to any new building there have a greater stake in the matter. He affirmed his opposition to the project.

Saxe, in turn, asked the Trinity team to commit to the 26-unit agreement that TLee Development had a few years ago, but Trinity would not, saying it was too early.

“You have to give us a chance to sharpen our pencils and see what we’re doing,” said Lozano.

Added Stanley, “We are not trying to push through something to this group. It might take 18 months, but we’ll be here with you. The Carruth was an eight-year process…These are long processes. We’re not going to try to pull the wool over your eyes and we’re not going to try to pull a fast one. We won’t go to City Hall and get a permit without you knowing.”

Leonard Lee, who chairs the neighborhood association, said he wasn’t taking sides, but said neighbors need to be ready to fight development pressures on Melville Park.

“If you’re not down to fight, then move because people are coming after this community,” he said. “It’s every developer because we have an apple here and everyone wants a bite of it.”

But it was the group’streasurer Domenic Accenta who had the last word on Thursday night.

“I’ll say this: No more than 30 units, no more than three stories, and built in a vernacular style,” he said. “If you try to plop a building here that belongs on Dorchester Avenue, then you’re going to get a fight.”

Trinity has asked to appear on the agenda of the December meeting for the Melville Park Association to continue the conversation.

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