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Developers advancing market-rate housing development in Egleston Square

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Developers advancing market-rate housing development in Egleston Square
This preliminary rendering shows how a proposed six-to-seven-story residential building will fit into Washington Street in Egleston Square. The development would replace E&J Auto Tech and the former Economy Plumbing and Heating Supply Co. building. (Photo: Courtesy RODE Architects)

Jamaica Plain neighborhood and economic development groups are reviewing a proposed Egleston Square development that will bring 76 residential units and more than 5,000 feet of ground-floor retail space to the site of a former plumbing and heating supply company and a still-operating auto repair shop.

The project at 3200 Washington Street would be one of the largest private development projects to come to the neighborhood, which straddles the border of Jamaica Plain and Roxbury. Other parts of JP, including the Centre Street and Jackson Square areas, already have seen increased development and sharp rises in rent and purchase prices. Egleston Square, however, has so far received less development pressure and maintained a relatively large middle- and low-income population.

“Centre Street/South Street is fully developed, so developers are now looking this way,” said Luis Cotto, executive director of Egleston Square Main Street.

Is this a sign of inevitable gentrification rolling into the neighborhood? Short of rent control, there are no sure ways to combat rising prices once a neighborhood catches the eye of affluent newcomers, though neighborhood advocates believe intentional planning and increasing the housing supply may help stave off displacement of existing residents.

“The increasing demand among higher-income individuals is not changing — people with means want to live in JP,” said Tim Reardon, co-chair of Egleston Square Neighborhood Association’s housing committee. “I think this project helps provide the supply that’s needed to meet the demand. Otherwise, they’re bidding on existing rental units. We can’t deal with affordability by stopping the flow of supply.”

It’s still a work in progress, but so far the project at 3200 Washington, proposed by developers Dan Mangiacotti and a father-son team of Paul and Justin Iantosca, is to include 11 to 17 designated-affordable units. This amount represents at least the 15 percent required in large projects by the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy, and at most approximately 22 percent, slightly short of the 25 percent proportion strongly encouraged by the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. The higher number includes six affordable units that would be on an adjacent property on Montebello Street that the developers are hoping to acquire from the city.

(The plans were to be presented at a public meeting Feb. 10, but at press time that meeting had been postponed because of snow.)

The developers have been meeting since last spring with groups including Main Street and ESNA and have tweaked the plans along the way as a result of these discussions.

For instance, the proposal has evolved to include fewer studio apartments and more two-bedrooms, along with commercial space to enliven the streetscape, a goal very important to Main Street groups.

“Their first proposal had a club room for residents on the first floor,” said Cotto. “[Main Street’s] feedback to them was that it will be hard to get buy-in from us if it doesn’t have commercial space on the commercial strip.” In the current plan the entire first level will be retail.

Cotto said the proposal also includes some townhouse units for purchase by people with incomes below 65 percent of the area median income.

“It won’t be an $800,000 condo, he said. “People born and raised and still living in Eqleston Square could have the opportunity to live there.”

Bittersweet tradeoffs

On the other hand, the plans strike a bittersweet note, as the project forces an existing business, E & J Auto Tech, to leave. But Cotto and Reardon said the developers have been actively helping E & J locate a new site. Attorney Joseph Hanley, a spokesperson for the developers, confirmed that they are in the process of acquiring a site near Columbus and Centre Streets and will assist E & J in moving there.

Reardon believes that with its proximity to public transit, reduced onsite parking and proposed amenities such as T passes and bicycle storage, the project is a strong example of good transit-oriented development that encourages reduced car ownership and use. But he said he expects that as the project receives wider attention, some residents will have concerns about the building’s height — six to seven stories — and the small number of parking spaces, only 36 for 76 units.

No matter how this project turns out, it’s increasingly clear that the Egleston Square area lacks and needs a comprehensive plan, Reardon said. Many sites are still zoned for light industrial, so for each new proposal developers have to seek zoning variance approvals.

“People are tired of having to react to these projects one at a time,” he said. “It’s all industrial zoning and there’s no guidance for what developers should do. We’re all a little frustrated by the fact that we have to have conversations about height and parking every single time.”

Area groups have long advocated for an overall plan spelling out a vision and new zoning rules for development along Columbus and Washington Streets from Jackson Square to Forest Hills. The corridor vision will be one of the topics discussed at an upcoming JP-wide forum, “State of Our Neighborhood: Racial Equity through Housing Justice.”

Industrial to residential

Carolyn Royce, who serves on the housing committees of the Egleston Square Neighborhood Association and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council, said that residential projects have been approved on several sites along Washington Street toward Forest Hills that formerly held industrial or commercial facilities.

The shift from low-density industrial buildings to multi-story, higher-density residential uses clearly changes the look of a neighborhood. Some find this an improvement, but some longtime residents argue for retaining industrial uses, which provide local jobs, Royce said.

“I think it really is about mulling the future of the area,” she said. “If you look at Egleston Square now, it’s mostly one-story, or commercial with residential over it. What do we see in the Square? What would we like to see? How do you keep what’s there and make room for change?”

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