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Tiny Roxbury lot reaping big profits

Abutters question city approval for parcel

Trea Lavery
Tiny Roxbury lot reaping big profits

A building under development on Cedar Street in Roxbury’s Highland Park area has abutters concerned for their neighborhood.

A single-family home is planned on the 1 Cedar St. property, at the corner of Cedar and Washington Streets. Although the 1,862-square-foot lot is well under the 4,000-square-foot size required by the city for new construction, the neighbors are more worried about the design, which they say they were unable to give sufficient input on.

“When you build something, unless there’s a disaster and it burns down, it’s there for years and years,” said Jon Ellertson, a resident of the neighborhood, in an interview with the Banner. “If it’s a bad design, it’s essentially a blight in the neighborhood.”

The small corner lot is the previous site of half of a Victorian two-family home, the other half of which still stands on the property at 3 Cedar St.

Andrew Shelburne, another resident and a building designer, said that because the proposed building will be so close to the abutting home, the design should match the feel of the historic neighborhood, but it doesn’t.

“It really looks like an alien thing that just landed there,” Shelburne said. “You could put this building anywhere. It has no relationship with the site or the street or anything.”

Both Shelburne and Ellertson say they would like to see the second half of the original dwelling be rebuilt, to restore the historic area.

Trail of sales

According to Masslandrecords.com, the lot has changed hands multiple times since 2017. It was first sold by its original owners to Lawrence Reynolds for $45,000 in March 2017, who then sold it in July 2018 for $59,000 to Equity I Investment Group LLC, managed by attorney and former Inspectional Services Division (ISD) employee Derric Small and real estate agent Ashton Nicholas.

In July 2017, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services hosted an abutters meeting in which the future of the lot was discussed. Ellertson said that at that meeting, Small and Nicholas said that the proposed single-family home was being built for Nicholas and his brother to live in, and that neighbors would be given the opportunity to give input on the design.

Because the lot is smaller than 4,000 square feet, it required a zoning variance, which abutters said they would support if they were consulted on design elements.

“We’re particular about what gets built here because we love the neighborhood so much,” Shelburne said, stressing that he and other residents are not against developing the area. “I think developers who just swoop in for a year or two, they get the sense that we oppose everything, and that’s just not true.”

Despite the agreement from the July 2017 meeting, the abutters say they weren’t given sufficient notice before the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) hearing on Sept. 19, 2017 when the appeal was accepted.

In minutes from that hearing, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services stated support for the appeal, while Small, who formerly served as a liaison between ISD and the ZBA, said that he was unable to present the project to the “Hyde Park [sic] Neighborhood Council” because the group didn’t meet over the summer. The neighborhood group opposed the appeal and requested a deferral so that they could review the project, but the appeal was granted anyway, with the proviso of a design review by the Boston Planning and Development Agency.

In emails supplied to the Banner from March 2018 between Shelburne and Small, Shelburne asked for updates on the design and to know whether his suggestions would be taken into account. Small replied that the project was placed on hold due to a title issue.

In November 2018, Equity I Investment Group sold the property, this time for $277,000, more than four times what they paid for it, to 0 Walnut Lane LLC, the current owner.

Small, reached by phone Monday, said that he had no information about the current plans for the property, but confirmed that he and his client brought the appeal to the ZBA to acquire the variances needed to build a single-family home.

Fast cash

Ellertson said that this incident is one of many in which developers come into the neighborhood with plans to make fast money, without consideration of the people that live there.

“Those of us who live in Highland Park, we’ve seen things grow from decades ago when there was no interest in investing here,” he said. “Now, we have an abundance of interest in investment and making a profit here.”

The residents are mostly concerned that the project has largely bypassed all of their objections and ideas, without even letting them know that they were missing anything.

“As someone who has lived here a long time, I do respect that with a hot market, there’s going to be a lot of development being proposed,” Ellertson said. “But the process is clearly not followed in an effort to get something approved.”

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