State OKs 40B Project Adjacent To Beatrice Circle; 12 Total Units, 3 Affordable

Photo: The title page of the 91 Beatrice Cir. project

Despite misgivings with aspects of the design and massing, the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development nevertheless approved a controversial 40B project to allow 12 rental units to be constructed on a half-acre lot adjacent to Beatrice Circle on Belmont Hill.

In an eight-page letter released Nov. 3, DHCD Undersecretary Jennifer Maddox said the application by 91 Beatrice Circle LLC “is sufficient to show compliance” with the state’s criteria for the construction of much needed affordable housing.

The developer has two years to seek a comprehensive permit from the Belmont Zoning Board of Appeals.

The state’s action brings an end to a year-long process that began when the developer – made up of members of the Tamposi¬†family – purchased a 2,700 sq.-ft. single-family home located off of Frontage Road between Park Avenue and Pleasant Street for $1.4 million.

The state’s action came as a disappointment to the Select Board, and abutting neighbors who contend the housing project was an intrusion.

“While there were some parts of the decision that I found helpful, I was disappointed, honestly, with the bulk of it,” said Select Board Chair Roy Epstein, who led the town’s efforts to halt and amend the project by authoring two letters pointing out a myriad of problems generated by the developer’s first set of designs

Epstein said the state continues to ignore the two major concerns of town and neighbors: overall density of the two-building project and allowing the development to be 10 feet from the rear property line.

After reviewing the initial 16-unit plan for the site released in June, Epstein penned a list of concerns the town held about the design and sent it to MassHousing. In the view of the town, the proposal was:

  • Too dense and imposing for the surrounding neighborhood.
  • The project requires a retaining wall to a similar height as Fenway Park’s Green Monster.
  • It does not provide the necessary space to accommodate fire and police vehicles.
  • It lacks open space and adequate parking spaces. (“A large number of children who will have a parking lot to play on,” said Epstein.
  • The site would increase traffic congestion.
  • The plans did not address drainage and stormwater issues.

After Epstein’s initial letter, the development team, in response to discussions with MassHousing, in late August reduced the number of units by four to the current dozen with three-set aside as affordable for those earning 80 percent of the median income in greater Boston. That would be an income of $96,250 for a family of four.

The state said the changes reduced the project’s massing, improved circulation within the development and helped with the transition from a single-family neighborhood.

Epstein’s second letter pointing to continued flaws in the project did not appear to move those at MassHousing who signed off on the project to move forward.

“It is now up to the Zoning Board of Appeals … the role of the Select Board, I’m afraid, has ended,” he said.

In its approval letter, MassHousing did set down seven concerns that it expects the development team will deal with during the ZBA process:

  • Be in compliance with the town’s stormwater and drainage issues that could affect abutting properties.
  • Respond to offsite traffic and parking concerns.
  • Fully comply with public safety standards for emergency vehicles.
  • Be ready to discuss ways of softening the project’s massing and design, reduce light pollution and support pedestrian access.
  • Work to increase open space on the site.

The Select Board’s Adam Dash said the state’s extensive list of concerns is not the ringing approval for a project, which points to a possible opening from MassHousing to the residents.

“It did provide a roadmap for the Zoning Board of Appeals to focus on certain areas which I thought is helpful,” said Dash.

While some residents have indicated that there could be a legal challenge echoing many of the same themes as the town, history shows that unless the project is significantly flawed, it’s unlikely an individual suit will be successful.

Epstein said after this experience, Town Meeting needs to give more thought to the future of affordable housing developments because 91 Beatrice will not be likely the final multiple unit development in Belmont.

“We need to create more affordable housing on our terms so that people don’t come and put it in on their terms,” he said.

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