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Mattapan neighbors fight for sunlight

Single-family homes dwarfed by condo building

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Mattapan neighbors fight for sunlight
River Street residents demonstrate in front of a worksite on which a developer plans to build a 13-unit building. BANNER PHOTO

For two years, a group of Mattapan neighbors has been struggling with city officials and developers over a pair of projects that promise to place 21 units in their back yards. The neighbors have been gearing up for a planned Jan. 28 meeting with the city’s Inspectional Services Department, which allowed the developers to build their projects “as of right,” meaning without the input of neighbors or a vote from the Zoning Board of Appeal.

But Jan. 28 may come too late. Last Saturday, workers for developer Edward Ahern staked out the outline of the foundation for 54 River St., placing orange markers three feet from neighbor Nashira Baril’s back porch, indicating that the planned 11-unit, 40-foot building will have minimal setbacks from her and her neighbors’ properties.

City Councilor Andrea Campbell views the construction site of a proposed 13-unit condominium building at 54 River Street, with 52R River Street to the right. BANNER PHOTO

City Councilor Andrea Campbell views the construction site of a proposed 11-unit condominium building at 54 River Street, with 52R River Street to the right. BANNER PHOTO

Baril’s husband, Leon Samuel, said that when he asked about the expanded footprint of the planned 54 River St. building, Ahern’s project manager threatened to tear down his deck.

“He said, ‘It’s not your property, it’s ours,’” Samuel said. “We need to file an injunction to stop this.”

Ahern did not respond to a request for comment for this article by the Banner’s press deadline.

On Monday morning, Samuel, Baril and their neighbors were joined by city councilors Andrea Campbell and Michelle Wu as they staged a demonstration, blocking the entrance to the worksite of the planned condo building as construction trucks sought to enter.

“I understand the need to have some projects go through as-of-right, but when they’re this massive, there needs to be some oversight,” Campbell said.

The River Street neighbors’ struggle with the developers and the city are not unique. Throughout Boston’s neighborhoods, developers are putting up luxury condominium buildings that often seem designed to maximize profitability at the expense of setbacks from the street and from the homes of abutters.

“This is another example of the city catering to developers over the community,” said Wu, who advocates abolishing the Boston Planning and Development Agency. “This is happening all over the city.”

The developers last year completed work on 52R River Street, a seven-unit condo building that was built on a parcel of land that abutters say had no legal easement. For months, the building sat vacant, before Ahern bought out the owners of a duplex that stood on the adjoining parcel for 54 River Street, which does have an easement allowing utilities to run from River Street. Over the last two months, a construction crew brought water, sewer, electricity and gas lines to the buildings, paving the way for the seven units at 52R to go on the market.

While 52R abuts a gas station, a Boston Edison Plant and the 54 River Street lot, the developers of 54 are proposing a larger building that would abut the properties of three homes on adjacent Taylor Terrace and would tower over the homes, blocking sunlight for much of the day.

Although the current zoning on the land permits multi-unit dwellings, Mattapan Neighborhood Council President Fatima Ali-Salaam said allowing such projects to move forward without review allows for zoning code violations.

“The first section of every article in the zoning code talks about quality of life for residents, that you’re not doing anything to diminish the quality of life,” she said. “In no point does it say, ‘build the biggest building possible.’”

By building to the very edge of the property line, abutter Paul Clark said, Ahern is taking the sunlight he and his neighbors have enjoyed for years.

“What they’re doing is ridiculous,” he said. “Your quality of life decreases with no sunlight and overcrowding.”

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