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City puts stop work order on River St. project

Construction comes to halt after Mattapan residents sought answers

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
City puts stop work order on River St. project
City officials posted a stop work order on the River Street construction site Friday. BANNER PHOTO

For months, a group of River Street neighbors in Mattapan have sought answers as to how a team of developers was able to build a seven-unit condominium complex on a parcel of land behind their homes with no frontage on a public road, no shadow or traffic studies and no public review.

Last week, as the developers poured the foundation for a second condo building, this one with 11 units, city officials posted a stop-work order on the fence surrounding the site, shutting down the project until the city’s legal department reviews an assortment of complaints the neighbors raised during a meeting on the projects at the Zoning Board of Appeal.

Nashira Baril, whose rear deck would nearly touch the wall of the 11-unit condo building, expressed relief at what she said was a partial victory.

“If feels like the city is potentially listening to us for the first time,” she said. “All we’ve asked for is a process for this project that’s literally been bulldozing through our community.”

The parcels, 52R and 54 River St., abut the back yards of Baril and her neighbors along Taylor Terrace and River Street. While 54 has an easement — a narrow strip of land leading out to River Street — 52R appears to abut no public roads, which Baril and her neighbors say ought to have barred developers from building on the parcel.

Developer Tim Longden acquired both parcels in 2016, then sold them to limited liability corporations owned by a group of developers including Longden and developer Edward “Teddy” Ahern, who is serving as contractor for both projects.

The city’s Inspectional Services Division (ISD) approved both projects as-of-right, meaning the developers could build what they proposed under existing zoning laws. The area was re-zoned a neighborhood shopping district when the Star Market supermarket was constructed at the end of River Street. But the neighbors argue that the zoning designation allows for only commercial buildings to be constructed as-of-right and residential units as conditional uses.

“They’re not putting in retail use,” neighbor Gary Tondorf-Dick told the Banner. “The intent of the zoning code was to have homes over retail.”

Ahern, the contractor, has refused repeated requests for comment from the Banner and other news media following this story.

The neighbors made repeated calls to officials at ISD, called city councilors and held demonstrations at the development site in the weeks and months leading up to the Jan. 28 Zoning Board of Appeal meeting, during which the board referred the matter to the city’s legal department.

By that point, a construction crew had excavated and began pouring a foundation for the 11-unit condominium building, claiming space currently occupied by Baril’s rear deck and her neighbor’s garden.

During the meeting, the neighbors raised concerns about the foundation wall, which they said was partially constructed on their lots.

“The developers are claiming land that belongs to two direct abutters,” argued neighbor Susan Lombardi-Verticelli during the Jan 28 meeting.

The neighbors have picketed the construction site, at one time joined by District 4 City Councilor Andrea Campbell and at-large Councilor Michelle Wu. They also demonstrated during an open house for the condo units at 52R River Street.

Last Friday, the neighbors met with Mayor Martin Walsh. Hours later, the mayor’s office called Baril to let her know the city is issuing a stop-work order pending the Law Department’s review of the project.

Baril said the stop-work order will, at least temporarily, relieve some of the stress she and her neighbors felt in weeks past, as the developers dug and poured a foundation for 54 River Street.

“They’ve been given countless Saturday permits,” Baril said. “It felt like the city was facilitating this. We’ve had a feeling we were going against the clock.”

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