Melville Park abutters argue against Trinity development at Shawmut stop

Allston Street resident Andrew Saxe lays out a case against the apartment development brought by Trinity Financial on the Fitzpatrick Brothers property on Centre Street. Seth Daniel photo

Abutters to the Fitzpatrick Brothers auto body property on Centre Street last week laid out their case against an 81-unit apartment building proposed for the site by Trinity Financial.

Last November, the development company presented preliminary plans at a Melville Park Association (MPA) meeting and said that it expected to make a comprehensive case for the project at the group’s March meeting.

This is the third attempt by Trinity to develop that property over a period of years, with TLee Development — an unrelated firm— unsuccessfully trying to get an okay in between Trinity’s attempts a few years ago.

Speaking for at least eight fellow abutters last Thursday at the MPA monthly meeting, Andrew Saxe and Rachel Kemper gave a 30-minute presentation on why they felt the development, which is next to the Shawmut MBTA station, was inappropriate for their neighborhood. They claimed Shawmut is the only station that empties out into a residential-only neighborhood.

“We do not support the use or giving them 10 times above what is allowed by zoning,” Saxe said of the developers. “We think there are better things that [the property] could be used for.”

Saxe and Kemper started by explaining the history of the neighborhood, identifying it as part of an overlay district designed to keep the “historic character, existing scale, and quality of life” intact. 

Both said the Trinity’s plan is not fitting on that scale and is part of a larger trend of taking down historic homes and building larger and larger structures.

Saxe called the Trinity proposal a “cube,” or a “Marty Box,” referring to a term he has coined in relation to many of the apartment developments that occurred under former Mayor Martin Walsh.

“We are not just residents, but stewards of one of Boston’s most beautiful neighborhoods,” he said. “In the last eight years, it has been an assault and land-banking and letting houses get run down. The oldest houses have the biggest lots. Now they come in and rip down the houses for the lots. I call it the ‘extractive model’ and it isn’t sustainable.”

Added abutter Tony Brown, who said he would lose the best qualities of his backyard by having to look at a four-story wall: “That square box doesn’t belong in this neighborhood. I’ve been here 30 years and I’m not moving and won’t give permission to anyone that wants to hinder my green space and that of my grandchildren. I want development, but something to complement the neighborhood and not benefit investors.”

Saxe said the property is made up of four lots, and in keeping with its zoning, only eight units would be allowed. So far, the neighbors only came close with the TLee Development, which was looking at 37 units; neighbors were only willing to allow 25.

The give-and-take over the units is happening because of the purchase price of the Fitzpatrick property, Saxe said. “Anything above a $1 million sales price is a business risk for anyone involved. If someone is paying over $1 million, it’s not on us to make that decision easier for them. It’s not for us to have to feel we have to approve a variance to make someone’s business risk good. That’s not our role as neighbors.”

The final argument against the development was the condition of Centre Street, a narrow, two-way street leading from Codman Square down to Dorchester Avenue that can be treacherous at busy times of the day. Abutters said it is common to see fistfights among frustrated drivers; they add that existing conditions without the apartment building do not work.

“It was never widened,” said Saxe. “We’re dealing with how it was laid out in 1720 or 1750. It’s a two-way street. You either have to take out a lane of parking or make it one way. It’s not working the way it is and to put 81 units on top of it would be a nightmare, particularly for the abutters.”

While a majority of those at the well-attended, in-person meeting inside the Epiphany School seemed to be against the current Trinity proposal, some said it was time to start accommodating more dense development.

Jacquie Bishop, who attends meetings of the MPA and the St. Mark’s Area Civic Association (SMACA), said residents can’t continue to get upset over density, while also being upset over the lack of housing affordability in a growing city like Boston.

“We don’t have any place to put people,” she said. “The vitriol around size and scope, I think, we all need to pivot our thinking on that…I’m hearing 24 units. I’d like to see a middle ground of 40 to 50 units. I want to propose to all of us to think outside of the narrow box that all of Dorchester has to look the way it did…It’s very, very frustrating to sit through these conversations all the time in meetings and then in our living rooms bemoan the fact that the city is no longer affordable.”

Trinity Financial is expected to present its argument for the project at March’s MPA meeting.

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