By SCOTT JACKSON
With the city’s zoning board poised to reject it, the developer seeking to construct a three-story, 18-unit condominium building on Sea Street withdrew the proposal following a contentious public hearing on Tuesday evening.
JVC Sea Street LLC had been seeking permission to build the new residential building at 105 Sea St., a 27,597-square-foot parcel in a Residence B zoning district that was formerly home to Imperial Terrace. The managers of the LLC are James Timmins, Quincy’s city solicitor, and his son, Christopher.
An overflow crowd was on hand for Tuesday’s Zoning Board of Appeals hearing in the meeting room on the first floor of the McIntyre Government Center. Twenty people spoke against the project at the hearing, and all three of Quincy’s at-large city councillors expressed opposition to the proposal. A dozen letters in opposition to the development were also read into the record; additional letters that did not include the author’s address were not incorporated into the record.
The proposal for 105 Sea St. first went before the Zoning Board of Appeals last fall and included 24 condominium units at that time. At Tuesday’s hearing, Christopher Carroll, the applicant’s attorney, said the number of units been reduced to 18. Four of those units would have one bedroom, eleven would have two bedrooms, and three would have three bedrooms, for a total of 35 bedrooms.
Other changes to the proposal included increasing the front setback to 25 feet, reducing the height of the building by one story, and removing the roof deck and replacing it with a deck on the rear portion of the third floor of the building, project architect Tim Johnson said.
A total of 46 parking spaces would be provided on site. Thirty-five spaces, including five compact spaces, would be located within a garage on the lower level of the building. There would be an additional eleven outdoor spaces, including five for visitors.
Access for the parking garage would be provided by a driveway along the right-hand side of the property; that driveway would also lead to a smaller circular driveway for pick-up and drop-off in the front of the building. Johnson said drivers leaving the circular driveway would only be allowed to take a right-hand turn onto Sea Street at all times, while those exiting the main driveway would be limited to making a right-hand turn during certain hours on weekdays.
The residents who spoke against proposal said it was too large for the site and said the developer should instead build the six or seven units allowed by right. They also expressed concerns that the building would add to traffic in the area, that visitors to the building would park on neighborhood streets, and that the project could set a precedent for future development in the corridor, in particular at 211 Sea St., the former home of Grumpy White’s.
“I think the profits that could be made on six or seven units is more than enough for the investment they made to buy the land,” said Christopher Fox of Samoset Avenue. “Having all of us live with that mistake after the fact and then selling these units to people living with those mistakes is not fair to anyone in the city, except the developer gets to leave with their pockets full.”
Other speakers commented on the permitting process that unfolded for 105 Sea St. The process began last fall and included hearings before the Zoning Board of Appeals and the Planning Board, the latter of which approved the project earlier this month.
“They’re just trying to wear us down,” said Molly McDonald Long of Wampatuck Road. “Maybe because we’re working class, maybe because they know people have to go work and can’t always make a 6 o’clock meeting, and they are just going to wear us down, because at the end of the day, it’s about one thing for them…money.”
One resident, John Rodophele of Grenwold Road, spoke in favor of the application. He said the city needs new growth to help keep property taxes in check. Rodophele also questioned why some larger projects have easily moved through the approval process while others have faced a “witch hunt.”
The city’s three at-large councillors – Noel DiBona, Nina Liang and Anne Mahoney – all voiced their opposition to the project. DiBona and Mahoney spoke during the public hearing while Liang provided written comments.
DiBona expressed concerns about the impact the development would have on traffic, both on Sea Street and side streets, adding that Merrymount is already a “cut-through neighborhood” for traffic.”
“The folks have reached out to me and that’s why I’m here tonight,” DiBona said. “A lot of folks have reached out to me via email, phone calls and in-person. I’m here in opposition. I know the developers worked from 32 to 24 to 21 to 20 to 18 [units], but the folks and the residents still don’t want it. I just hope you make the right decision.”
Mahoney said she had not heard at all from the developer “as to what the hardship is that they need to build” 18 units on site. She said the board should follow the city’s zoning code and not approve a project, “just because a developer wants to develop something or because we’re gung-ho to have Quincy have as many units as we can possibly have.”
“Smart growth is good but just letting things happen is not,” Mahoney said. “This is too big, it’s too dangerous.”
In her letter to the board, Liang said she was concerned about negative impacts the project could have on the area.
“I have heard from numerous area residents who have expressed concerns on the size of the project being proposed, the potential impact on flooding, traffic and parking concerns in an already congested area,” Liang said. “I raise these issues in hopes that the board will consider them during your deliberation. Any negative impact would be most unwelcome in the area.”
Ward 1 Councillor David McCarthy said a commercial use on site, like another restaurant, could generate more traffic than an 18-unit residential building.
“If it’s a commercial entity that ends up there, talk about traffic,” he said. “The China Star and Imperial Terrace were there for years, no one worried about traffic coming in and out of there, and there was some scary traffic in and out of the China Star, and it was always packed.”
McCarthy added that a smaller residential development might not be “robust enough to make that site look like it should,” but also said he would “like it to be a little smaller” than the most recent iteration of the plan.
Several people within the audience jeered McCarthy during his remarks, with one person asking McCarthy to state directly whether or not he was opposing the project. The comments from the audience prompted board chairman Martin Aikens to recess the meeting temporarily; McCarthy was given the chance to speak again following the recess but declined to do so.
After the public hearing ended, several members of the five-person board said they could not support the project in light of the public opposition.
“We have been put on this board to accommodate building…and stretching of rules when it doesn’t make a situation worse than it currently is,” said John Himmel. “In all good conscience, I just could not support a unit of this size negatively affecting a neighborhood that is obviously well-versed and well-concerned about the place they live.”
“Given the fact that there is so much opposition, I in good conscience cannot vote in favor of the petition,” added Russell Chin. “If you guys get together and you have another meeting, consider what could go in there and consider what they’re presenting to you and how much traffic and how much safety issues it is truly going to be in comparison to what could go in there by right.”
Board vice chairman Brian Radell said he would “have a very difficult time supporting this based on the neighborhood’s response,” but stated that “it’s almost a be-careful-for-what-you-wish-for” situation.
“If somebody put a restaurant in there tomorrow that actually has some traction, 150 [vehicle] trips a day is going to be nothing. They’re going to do that in an hour,” Radell said. “You talk about safety concerns, we’re not going to have any control over that because it’s an allowed use today.”
Following the comments from the board members, Aikens offered Carroll the option to withdraw the request without prejudice rather than have the board vote down the application. Carroll agreed to withdraw the request at that point.