Just days after settling a lawsuit against the Pine Street Inn that delayed a planned Jamaica Plain apartment building for a year, a prominent landlord in the neighborhood is suing to stop a second affordable housing development — this one for senior citizens.
Monty Gold, who owns the building that houses Turtle Swamp Brewing near the corner of Washington and Green streets in Jamaica Plain, filed suit Thursday in Suffolk County, seeking to block a 39-unit apartment project for seniors that Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corp. wants to build next door. Turtle Swamp, which says the project could potentially put their four-year-old brewery out of business, filed its own suit as well. (Turtle Swamp did not participate in the earlier legal action against Pine Street Inn.)
“Everyone should be allowed to develop their property, but you can’t build in a way that harms your neighbors,” wrote Turtle Swamp owner John Lincecum. “That is the problem with this project.”
The suits highlight the tension between neighbors in this fast-growing corridor in Jamaica Plain, where older auto shops and light industry are being replaced by larger-scale apartment buildings. But it also signals the challenge in building much-needed affordable housing, even in a neighborhood that generally welcomes it.
“This isn’t a new phenomenon,” said Teronda Ellis, chief executive of JPNDC. “But our housing crisis is beyond a tipping point. It’s at a boiling over point and it’s critical that we address it.”
JPNDC got involved in the project in response to concerns about Dominican restaurant El Embajador, which the previous owner was aiming to evict as part of a redevelopment plan. In a partnership with New Atlantic Development, JPNDC — which is a neighborhood-based nonprofit housing developer — paid $1.6 million for the site, at 3371 Washington St., and proposed the affordable apartment building with room for El Embajador on the ground floor.
While a few immediate neighbors were concerned about the scale of the building, the project won broad neighborhood support as it moved through the Boston Planning & Development Agency and Zoning Board of Appeals. Several elected officials weighed in on its behalf, as did many Jamaica Plain residents. It received zoning board approval in February, despite the objections of Turtle Swamp.
Now it and Gold are suing, arguing that zoning exemptions for the project — which include extra height and bypassing off-street parking requirements — are inappropriate and that placing the five-story building immediately alongside Turtle Swamp’s lot line “is very likely to force our brewery to close,” Lincecum wrote.
“It simply won’t be possible to safely operate our patio or even the brewery production space with a huge construction project only feet away from our employees and the public,” he said.
City Councilor Matt O’Malley, who supported the JPNDC project when it was up for city approval, blasted the lawsuits, which he said were just an attempt to hold up “desperately needed affordable housing,” for the neighbors’ financial gain.
“This is a frivolous suit that’s being used as a weapon to slow down the process and be able to exert more leverage,” he said. “It’s just wrong.”
Last year, after Gold sued to stop the Pine Street Inn and The Community Builders from putting 202 units of affordable and permanently supportive housing on a lot across the street, O’Malley and City Councilor Kenzie Bok pushed for a City Council bill that would loosen zoning rules for fully affordable developments, making them harder to sue. O’Malley said the measure had support last year and he’d like to revisit it now.
“I think we’ll get there,” he said.
Earlier this month, the Pine Street project said it would move forward at last, having reached a settlement with Gold that includes renting off-street parking for the building’s staff so they don’t have to park on the street near Turtle Swamp. But that lawsuit tied up the project for a year, during which time construction costs have soared.
Ellis said she’s hoping to avoid similar delays on JPNDC’s project, and said she was optimistic that the parties can reach an agreement.
“The conversations have been, from our perspective, open. We want to have creative opportunities to find solutions and I hope we’ll be able to do that,” she said. “This does not have to be adversarial.”