In Roslindale Square battle between parking and affordable housing, parking wins

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The Zoning Board of Appeal today rejected a proposed 31-unit apartment building at Washington and Basile streets that would have offered far more affordable apartments than required and below-market rates to two locally owned businesses now on the site because the building would have no parking for residents.

The action came even as the city looks to eliminate parking requirements for new buildings that offer large numbers of subsidized units as a way of encouraging such apartments.

Zoning-board members said the lack of parking in a building in which at least 42% of the units – and possibly all of them – would be offered at below-market rates, would actually lead to gentrification of Roslindale Square and choke off parking for other long-standing, often minority-owned, businesses in an area they said was already experiencing parking problems.

Technically, the board voted 4-3 to approve a motion by member Hansy Better Barraza to approve the project – on condition the BPDA and BTD work with developer Arx Urban to figure out how to put some parking in the building’s basement. Under state law, zoning proposals need at least five votes.

Even though the two businesses that would get to stay on the site are minority owned, Better said she could not vote for a project without parking after reading letters and e-mails from other minority business owners in the area worried about parking – and she said that a building with several two- and three-bedroom units would inevitably be rented to families who would need cars even in a neighborhood that is served by numerous bus lines and a commuter-rail stop.

“It’s absurd to imagine that a parent doesn’t need a car to take their kid to daycare or out of daycare,” she said, calling the issue an “issue of equity” for the rest of Roslindale Square and a precedent for the rest of Roslindale Square.

Board Chairwoman Christine Araujo, who lives in Roslindale, helped doom even that proposal, by voting no, saying Better wasn’t going far enough.

“I do think parking should be maximized as much as possible” in Roslindale Square, she said, citing both parents with kids and prospective tenants who might work night shifts and so need a car. In July, the board rejected a proposal for a smaller building with no parking on the site of the current Morena garage down Washington Street. She said Arx failed to provide a “really compelling reason why the project should come in with absolutely zero parking.”

Arx’s proposal, which the BPDA approved in June, called for replacing the current one-story commercial block between the Municipal Building and Basile Street with a five-story building with custom-built space for the theater and the yogurt shop on the first floor.

At a minimum, 42% of the units would be rented as affordable and the two businesses would get subsidized rents as well to help them stay in the square. Arx’s Benjamin Moll said the concern is seeking additional state subsidies to increase the number of affordable rentals, possibly as high as all of them. The city currently requires only 13% of units be rented as affordable.

Arx’s attorney, Johanna Schneider, said the lack of parking was “a trade off” for bringing a large number of affordable units to Roslindale and for keeping two local businesses. She said that adding parking would make it difficult for Arx to offer as many affordable units as it had proposed because of the costs of building them.

Schneider said that she doubted many prospective tenants would have cars. But she said Arx would help pay for CharlieCards for residents and would provide bicycle storage. And she said that Arx had secured leases for off-street parking for up to 20 cars within a half mile of the site just in case some tenants do come with cars.

Better said that wasn’t good enough, that the board had to think of the long term, when those leases might end and tenants might try to park closer to their building.

Better actually praised the building and its goals, but said it simply wasn’t fair to the Blacks and Latinos who own businesses in the area who are concerned about where their customers would park, something she said could lead to them being driven out of the square altogether.

Some nearby residents spoke to oppose the project as well, nothing that Basile and nearby streets are already chocked with traffic because of buses and parents dropping off students at the Sumner School. One said the building was too tall and “looks like a cheap building.”

One resident, Robert Orthman, did praise the proposal and the way it would keep “two very well like and beloved businesses.”

When Schneider asked whether the vote was with or without prejudice, Araujo told her the vote means “you come back with a different proposal.”

4198 Washington St. BPDA filings.

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