Vacant lot on Blue Hill Ave. eyed for four-story condo

A rendering of what the condo complex at 1471 Blue Hill Ave. would look like. Courtesy Thedore Touloukian, Inc.

A development team led by four brothers who run a Mattapan car wash aired their proposal to construct a four-story, mixed-use building on a vacant lot at 1471 Blue Hill Ave. during a virtual meeting of the Woodhaven Culbert Regis Neighborhood Association on Monday.
 
The proposal includes 34 residential rental units, four of which would be income-restricted in compliance with the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP,) 28 off-street and 3 commercial parking spaces.

The half-acre project site is currently owned by members of the Fernandez family— Daniel, Jose, Caña, and Juan Carlos Fernandez— and a partner, Jim Brennan.

“The Fernandez family has been involved on Blue Hill Avenue and in the Mattapan community for quite some time,” said Sheila May, who spoke for the project team. “They are employers of about 75 people in the area and they are involved in the community as much as they are in their businesses.”

Said Jean Carlos Fernandez, manager of Fernandez Xpress Car Wash: “I’ve been working in the area since I was about 15 or 16 and I’ve seen the area change with a lot of new businesses.”

The team hosted a virtual abutters meeting last week, but has not yet filed plans with the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
Ted Touloukian, architect at Theodore Touloukian Inc., introduced the project and reviewed specifics.  

“The site is across the street from a very busy area of Blue Hill Avenue. There are a lot of apartments of different sizes, churches, and the new Blue Hill Avenue station. The topography of this lot is quite diverse; it goes from about 0 feet at the corner to about 25 to 30 feet. Another thing to note is that it’s a vacant lot heavily overgrown with trees and debris.” 

Touloukian said the team will look for community input in the eventual process of deciding what types of retail would be the most beneficial in the neighborhood for the ground floor retail space. 

“Some of the comments we’ve heard throughout our process has been around neighborhood safety and one of the best things you can do on a parcel that is neglected is to look to activate it and bring responsible housing and retail space,” he said. 

Neighbors voiced a variety of concerns with the proposal, including affordability, parking, traffic, and the overall height and density. Several neighbors said they felt the project was out of step with the surrounding area and would displace Mattapan residents. 

Ingrid Trench said she was frustrated that the owners of the lot haven’t kept up with maintenance over the last few years. 

“If they’ve owned the lot since 2017, why haven’t they at least kept up with the upkeep?” she asked the team.  “Because that area is quite dirty. It’s often littered with trash and the plants are overgrown. Where was the care of the neighborhood then?” 

Replied May: “As far as the cleanup goes, I think the thrust of the effort has been in trying to have the property assessed, but cleanup and maintenance is something we can look into.” 

Several residents were frustrated with what they thought was a lack of notification from the project team about their proposal and upcoming meetings, although May said that the team did knock on doors and post fliers. She added that the proposal process has been ongoing for more than a year, but was delayed by Covid-related shutdowns in 2020. 

“Clearly, the residents of Culver Street felt that they were not given adequate notice, and so I don’t think we need to go through all of that again,” said Barbara Fields, president of the Woodhaven Culbert Regis Neighborhood Association, adding that concerns over lack of notification had been thoroughly hashed out during the abutters meeting. 

David Venter, a nearby resident, said that the parking provided in the current proposal “is not enough. If you’re building housing, you’re talking 2-3 cars per unit. I can see the impact that would happen on the street I grew up on. I’ve seen the complete over-building of my neighborhood,” he said, adding:

“I want to ask you what you mean by affordability and some feedback on the safety component. This neighborhood is safe. Culver Street is a gateway to a park. I’m kind of offended when you’re selling you’re talking about safety.”

Touloukian said the team would “look at a traffic study if that is a request of the community” to assess parking and traffic impacts of the project. 
“The issue on safety was not a comment on the neighborhood, but just the lot itself. You have a half-acre site that is vacant, so it’s always a concern,” he added.

The conversation wrapped up after about an hour of discussion.  “Clearly we haven’t finished the dialogue, and so we look forward to having further discussions,” said Fields.