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School sues to stop housing development at Shawmut Red Line station in Dorchester

The lawsuit is challenging the BPDA, finding that an auto shop site is “substandard and decadent”

A rendering of Trinity's project for a housing unit on 150 Centre St. in Dorchester.Icon Architecture, Copley Wolff

A hotly debated affordable-housing project in Dorchester is facing another hurdle.

Dorchester’s Epiphany School has sued the Boston Planning and Development Agency and developer Trinity Financial over what the small, independent middle school alleges was a “problematic approval process” in allowing an all-affordable four-story apartment building to be constructed nearby at the MBTA Shawmut Red Line station.

The BPDA board in November approved the 72-unit development at 150 Centre St., a site that’s currently home to the Fitzpatrick Bros. auto-body shop and an adjacent parking lot. Trinity has long had an option to purchase the site, and in November, received approval from the BPDA board to develop an apartment building there after years of wrangling with neighbors who said their proposals were too large. All of the units will be restricted to incomes ranging from 30 percent to 120 percent of the area median income — from $44,520 to $178,080 for a family of four.

Epiphany, however, contends in a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Friday that the basis with which the BPDA approved the project is erroneous. The BPDA approved the project based on evidence that the project site was “substandard and decadent,” a definition with which the Epiphany School takes issue.

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The school is located immediately between the Shawmut station and the proposed project, nestled in a tree-lined neighborhood full of single-family homes. Variations of proposed developments of the Fitzpatrick Bros. auto-body shop have faced intense community debate in the past few years.

“The BPDA granted zoning deviations to Trinity without making the necessary findings to justify such relief, and as such, abdicated its role in the permit granting authority,” states the lawsuit, filed on Friday by attorney Damon M. Seligson of law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green. “The proposed project will diminish the value of Epiphany’s property and will overburden an easement that runs adjacent to the site of the proposed project which Epiphany uses and intends to develop.”

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The auto-body shop next to the Shawmut station for years has been a site of interest to housing developers. Indeed, the four-story project aligns with similar proposed zoning changes in the BPDA’s newly unveiled “Squares and Streets” rezoning effort, which in part aims to make housing projects adjacent to transportation hubs allowable “by right” without a zoning variance.

The BPDA and Trinity both declined to comment. A representative from the Fitzpatrick Bros. did not respond to a request for comment on Friday. While lawsuits contesting variances granted by Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeal are relatively common, legal challenges to decisions by the BPDA board are far more rare.

The Epiphany School, which serves children from economically disadvantaged households, has long been a stalwart neighbor and community member, said founding head Rev. John H Finley IV.

“By trying to jam this down the throats of the neighborhood ... it seems so contrary to how Mayor Wu talked of not building buildings, but building community,” Finley said.

The school supports another development plan for the site, Finley said. The lawsuit asks for a judge to annul the BPDA’s decision.


Catherine Carlock can be reached at catherine.carlock@globe.com. Follow her @bycathcarlock.