Townhouses rejected on narrow Dorchester street

The Zoning Board of Appeals today rejected a developer's plan for seven townhouse units on a lot on Plain Street between Oakton Avenue and Chickatawbut Street, after both neighbors and city officials said the project was too dense in a neighborhood of single-family homes.

The board rejected David Higgins's proposal without prejudice, which means he can come back with a smaller proposal.

Higgins sought permission for seven, two-bedroom units - down from his originally proposed eight - with ten parking spaces. He needed board approval because the land is zoned for two single-family homes, not several connected townhouses.

Several neighbors of the parcel, though, said that would mean too much traffic on the street. One resident, Michael McLoud, who has lived on Plain Street for 30 years, said it would ruin his fast approaching retirement, which he was hoping to enjoy without having to deal with all that traffic and density. William Follett said it would set a "dire precedent" to allow more multi-family development in the neighborhood.

The mayor's office and the offices of city councilors Frank Baker (Dorchester) and Michael Flaherty (at large) sided with the residents who opposed the proposal.

One neighbor, Beth Collins, however, supported Higgins, saying she loved the 9,000 square feet of open space as well as the off-street parking that Higgins proposed.

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Comments

I'm not at all familiar with that part of Dorchester, but

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I'm familiar enough with some parts of Dorchester to know that that area is not a place that's meant for having townhouses built in. The construction of townhouses would be completely and totally wrong for that whole area.

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Voting is closed. 18

Not meant for WHAT?

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By that "logic" nothing should have been built anywhere, at all, ever.

Save the density lectures for that 40B project in your home town.

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This is also the logic that

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This is also the logic that the VAST majority of Boston's suburbs (nearly all of which are dominated by single family homes) have used to build exactly zero new apartments over the last several years.

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Nowhere is sacred

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All parts of the city require greater density of buildings. It doesn't matter if the area is all single family homes now. It can't stay that way.

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It's a decent looking street.

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It's a decent looking street. It would be a shame to pull it down and build new things on it.

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How dare they consider having

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How dare they consider having denser housing there?? Mildly inconvenient traffic just to allow more people to live in the city?? It's not like we are in a housing crisis of any kind.

These developers need to respect our NIMBYism!

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Oh, for fuck's actual sake

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This is why real, actual progressive cities like Mpls are eliminating single-family zoning. So that a couple of residents can't claim that a townhome will ruin their retirement. Really, guy? Five additional residences are going to ruin your retirement? Even if each two-bedroom unit has two cars, and they each come and go four times during the day, that's 20 trips per day, or one additional car every hour! Sacré bleu! Most of the residential streets in Dot have three-deckers (3 units/lot) on them and aren't traffic choked, but 3.5 units/lot would somehow ruin a retirement. I call shenanigans. If you don't want to live near other people, move to Billerica, or Cow Hampshire.

And also

I'm familiar enough with some parts of Dorchester to know that that area is not a place that's meant for having townhouses built in. The construction of townhouses would be completely and totally wrong for that whole area.

There are literally actually townhouses (side-by-side two-family, which is basically a townhouse) a stone's throw from this lot, at the end of Plain Street on Chickatawbut. And a block away on Glide Street there are … townhouses. A couple blocks south … more townhouses! I'm not that familiar with that neighborhood, but I am familiar with Google Maps, at least enough to play "find the townhouses."

This is all specious bullshit from people who were demographically lucky enough to buy a house 30 years ago and don't care about anyone but themselves.

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Plain St is very narrow and

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Plain St is very narrow and only one car can get by at a time if cars are parked on the side of the road. All the streets in this neighborhood that have 3-deckers are wide enough for cars to be parked on both sides of the street. While your other arguments make sense, the congestion would be very real on this street with 7 new townhouses. You probably don't live in this neighborhood even if you know that there are other townhouses there. Or maybe you're a friend of David Higgins

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Ten Parking Spaces

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I think you missed that part. Ten parking spaces. Not on street. Ten parking spaces.

There you go.

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The streets in question are

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The streets in question are still wider than many other streets in Boston with a much higher density of housing where people still manage to enjoy their retirements, all of them with land values much higher than here! And then of course there are countless European cities where this kind of density on narrow streets is very much the norm.

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Narrow Streets are Not a Townhouse Killer

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I live on a two-way 6-ft-wide street (no parking) which intersects with a two-way 20-ft-wide street (parking on both side). Guess what both streets are lined with? Townhouses and apartment buildings. Congestion has never been an issue and we don't even have off-street parking. I don't find "congestion" to be a convincing argument when you're only talking about a net gain of 5 houses and plenty of new off-street parking.

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Readville is a neighborhood

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Readville is a neighborhood of single family homes yet it is about to get much larger apartments complexes plopped down on it. Perhaps Dorchester cares more about how dense it's housing projects are?

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Or perhaps ...

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You'd have a better case if they were proposing those large complexes for, oh, Chesterfield or Colchester instead of for a large industrial piece of land on the other side of the train station and an abandoned industrial site next to the train tracks. Dorchester has far more single-family homes than Readville, and yet it gets large projects approved all over the place.

I'm not arguing you can't make a good case against the two large Readville projects (traffic alone would be an excellent case for anybody who's ever actually driven through the area), but this Dorchester example isn't one of them (again, imagine a 7-townhouse thing, never mind 400 apartments, on Chesterfield or Colchester - both of which are existing residential neighborhoods - it would be a completely different situation).

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Search for townhouses on

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Search for townhouses on Zillow, you'll find next to nothing in the entire Boston area. Go anywhere else in the country, even New Hampshire, and they're all over the place. Townhouses are a great way for a young professional to purchase their first affordable home.. but the continued stubbornness of people who bought their run-down houses for next to nothing 20 years ago to not allow any new (real) affordable housing to be built in any of their neighborhoods is continuing to make the Boston area unaffordable for any new residents

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And how many triple deckers do you find in NH?

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Long before anybody actually wanted to live in New Hampshire who wasn't a farmer or a logger, eastern Massachusetts had triple deckers, designed for pretty much the reason you suggest. Nowadays, they're split into condos rather than rental units, but the idea is the same. The fact that they are also becoming too expensive for people starting out is sad, but that speaks to the overall dynamics of the Boston housing market - you really think townhouses would be priced any more affordably?

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Well actually

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Go to Manchvegas. Or many of the other mill towns in NH. A good number of three deckers. My favorite might be in Berlin. If you go to the East Side Mall and look down the street, it looks kinda like Dorchester. Just don't gaze up, because Dot doesn't have mountains in the background (the Blue Hills don't quite count).

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My takeaway from your comment

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Zillow is a horrible place to do research. There are townhouses a 5 minute walk from my house. You can find townhouses all over the Boston area. No, it’s not a common housing type (singles, two families, and the iconic triple decker are the bulk) but considering that the Back Bay and South End housing was built as townhouses, we’ve built them.

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Certainly not!

"you really think townhouses would be priced any more affordably?"

Certainly not!

Although they would've been seven more homes for individuals or families who had the means to afford them. Unless and until we take steps like Minneapolis and (maybe even the entire state of Oregon) to legalize multi-family housing, we will do nothing to stem the spiraling costs of housing.

Boston is certainly not the worst actor in the metro region, but even Boston makes it difficult and expensive to build a multi-family home by right.

See: [1] Oregon Speaker of the House plans to introduce legislation to legalize fourplexes statewide in all communities with more than 10,000 people: https://www.wweek.com/news/state/2018/12/14/could-oregon-become-the-firs...

[2] Minneapolis legalizes triplexes citywide: https://slate.com/business/2018/12/minneapolis-single-family-zoning-hous...

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Michael McLoud's name is apt.

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Michael McLoud's name is apt. What a whiny baby. What a selfish turd. Who is he to tell someone else what to do with their property? Who is he to deny housing to a city starved for it? Retire to Florida, punk.

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He's not the one who should retire to Fla.

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You ever hear of zoning? There are plenty of places in Dorchester to put large projects. Higgins knew what the zoning was, he bet he could get a variance and he lost. Next.

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Adam - I was under the

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Adam - I was under the impression name calling and hostility were not welcome on your blog. Kinopio's vitriol is not consistent with the values I've seen espoused by you in the past.

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"There are plenty of places

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"There are plenty of places in Dorchester to put large projects."

The problem is that this is built in to the price of the land, and every density limit we have is just slightly lower than what the market actually demands. If you're building in a place where 7 units is legal, then you need 14 to break even. Building in a place where 14 is legal? You need 21 to break even. There's a reason that variances are part of nearly every single multifamily proposal these days. Yes, the developer took a gamble with the zoning, but it is ultimately us who will pay for the loss.

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Plain Street has some unique

Plain Street has some unique older homes. One lot has an adorable barn. But there a couple huge lots with just a single family home on it. There is huge complex of town houses nearby.

I hope both sides find a compromise. We need more density. I believe that if neighborhood groups keep blocking the zoning laws will change to take away their input.

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I believe that if

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I believe that if neighborhood groups keep blocking the zoning laws will change to take away their input.

God willing.

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Zoning

You ever hear of zoning? There are plenty of places in Dorchester to put large projects. Higgins knew what the zoning was, he bet he could get a variance and he lost. Next.

Dorchester resident here.

Why do people place zoning laws on a golden pedestal as if they were handed down from God like the ten commandments. Do they really imbue such infallibility? Zoning laws should be living codes that can be revised as cities grow and change.

Can you say with a straight face that single family zoning does anything more than protect an entrenched property-owner class at the expense of everyone else who are not as financially advantaged?

Clinging to the cliche of "neighborhood character" is about as futile as trying in vain forestall one's eventual death. Impermanence is the only constant in this universe. If people like Mr. McCloud could accept this they would be much happier and would have a much more fulfilling retirement, I'm sure.

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You’re missing something

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The Boston Zoning Code is revised from time to time. Roslindale went through this about a decade ago.

The problem (as I would assume you would see it) is that you need buy in from the residents. To make this whole section of Dorchester zoned so this development would be as of right, you’d have to convince the very people who oppose this project to give away any rights to contest future developments like this.

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Indeed that is exactly what

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Indeed that is exactly what zoning was designed to protect! Also the zoning was last updated at a time when people were moving OUT of the city and many houses were sitting abandoned.

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Naw

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He's fine.

You sound like you are an apologist for territorial stupidity and failed culture. Seek education.

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Not a "Large Project"

Seven townhomes is not a "large project"

By not allowing townhomes in Dorchester (and beyond), we channel all multi-family development into a few parcels. With rising demand for housing in Boston and the metro area, these few parcels give way to the mega projects by big name developers you loathe.

Wouldn't it be nicer to allow incremental increases in density instead?

Boston's zoning code is also woefully out-of-date. The last comprehensive overhaul was in 1994 and the last amendment dates to 2001.

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Not allowing townhouses in

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Not allowing townhouses in “Dorchester” isn’t happening. This is one project on a tiny street.

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Yeah, but there are many

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Yeah, but there are many similar streets all over the city, and if you can't build here, that means an awful lot of places are also off limits.

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Not necessarily, that is why

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Not necessarily, that is why we have variances. Anything that isn’t “as of right”, goes before ZBA and is looked at individually. This may not work for Plain St, but would work great on another street.

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Okay, but what makes Plain

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Okay, but what makes Plain Street so special that it doesn't have to allow housing while all of the other similar streets in Dorchester do?

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The Mayor's staunchest

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The Mayor's staunchest supporters live nearby.

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He'll have the money

bought his house for $45k and it's currently worth $410k per the assessor's office. Nice investment Mike.

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Wait one second

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WHEN did he buy the house? My mum paid $15,000 for the house she lives in now, 51 years ago.

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That's great for her

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That's the equivalent of $114,000 today.

I'm assuming it's worth more than that (if it's in Boston).

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Isn't real estate an

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Isn't real estate an investemnt? You buy a home, amintain it, raise a family, etc. If you choose to sell later in life, chances are the price of real estate has gone up. This will happen with you're piece of property as well. Why are you demonizing someone who's property value has increased?

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do it

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Height/mass is always more of a concern for me than density. The building on the site looks to be the same side-by-side two-family as linked to by Ari-O: https://goo.gl/maps/wyKaqd9LttK2

Make it 6 units, keep them of a similar height and proportion to the neighbors, (get better architects and lawyers), and you're done.

PS, I hate how the ZBA (and other city agencies for that matter) make it so hard to find out about their meetings and the content.

PPS, I am familiar with the neighborhood as a Kenny School parent...and when they add a 6th grade there will be more traffic coming down Plain St than brought by this tiny development.

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Plain st is Wide enough or it wouldn't be a street

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This was a good project 7 Town homes on 19,000sf on land is unheard of in Dot, something's not right here???? 10 Parking spaces as well!!! NOW WHAT HAPPENS to the property??? We have to look at some dump for next 20 yrs

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YIMBYs need to chill

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A lot of people, our mayor included, support development. He's rammed a lot of stuff through over the objections of civic associations. But changing an entrenched mindset is slow, hard organizing work. You don't do it just by being Right on Twitter and cursing people out.

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Chill??

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Record numbers of people are now living in shelters because we're still not building enough houses. Maybe we should tell those people to chill?

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OH, now I get it. The

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OH, now I get it. The homeless were going to buy these town houses. Damn neighbors keeping the homeless homeless. Boo on them!

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That's not how housing

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That's not how housing markets work. When you don't build the housing for someone at one part of the market, they're forced to move down-market (that is, they buy a lower quality unit at a very high price), which forces slightly poorer people that WOULD have bought THAT house to also move down market, and so on and so on until what we're talking about is the very cheapest house you can possibly imagine, which is now more expensive and less available because a wealthier person (that should have been living in a nicer house) had to settle for that instead. In Boston this has carried on to such an absurd degree that people making well above the poverty line are not able to buy any houses in the city at all.

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All taxpayers pay for

All taxpayers pay for services to the homeless. Only a few benefit from difficult zoning. The factors that prevent affordable housing benefit even less people.

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Interesting that he doesn't

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Interesting that he doesn't "ram things through" when it's in his neck of the woods and affects his strongest base of support.

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