In a surprising decision, the Boston Zoning Board of Appeal this week rejected a controversial development in West Roxbury that had the support of Mayor Martin J. Walsh.
Walsh’s support of building 40 condominiums at 425 La Grange St. put him at odds with organized labor, which objected because the project planned to rely partly on prefabricated construction made by nonunion workers. Two city councilors voiced opposition, in addition to a contingent of local residents.
The development had been proposed for the site of the former Armstrong Pharmaceuticals factory, which has been shuttered and damaged by fire. The board of the Boston Redevelopment Authority voted twice to approve development plans, but the project was rejected Tuesday by the Zoning Board of Appeal.
“I was very surprised by the outcome because the mayor’s office had come in and said they were in favor of the project. I thought that was the kiss of death,” said one neighbor, Robert Stowe, who opposed the project because of its size. “I’ve sat in on a few ZBA hearings, and it always seems to be the kiss of death when the mayor’s office walks in and says the mayor is in favor of it.”
The developer, Michael Argiros, did not return a phone message seeking comment. One of Argiros’s consultants on the project was Matthew O’Neil, a longtime Walsh friend who was the architect of his 2013 mayoral campaign. In an e-mail, O’Neil acknowledged he had worked on the project but was no longer involved by the time the zoning board voted Tuesday.
A statement issued by Walsh’s spokeswoman, Laura Oggeri, did not address a question about whether O’Neil’s role in the project influenced the mayor’s support.
“The mayor was encouraged that the development changed from rentals to condos after listening to feedback from the community,” Oggeri said. “He supported the project because it provided positive opportunities for homeownership in West Roxbury.”
City Councilor Matt O’Malley said he opposed the project because it was “too large and too dense for the location.”
“I shared many of the concerns of the direct abutters and don’t feel they were taken as seriously as they should have been by the developers,” O’Malley said.
At Tuesday’s hearing, the development team came under fire for a proposal that included modular construction. Zoning board member Mark Erlich, a leader of the carpenters union, expressed concern about prefabricated materials built out of state.
“It removes a lot of [work] hours that could be done by people who live and work in the city versus people who live in Maine,” Erlich said during the hearing.
In testimony to the board, Tim Sullivan of the West Roxbury Civic & Improvement Association offered a similarly blunt assessment of the prefabricated construction.
“It would be put together out of state,” Sullivan said. “I’m not even sure if it would be union workers that would be used. I feel like it takes away a lot of job opportunities here locally.”
A representative from Walsh’s office was the only person to testify in favor of the project. Given the opposition from organized labor, it was an interesting stand for Walsh, a longtime labor leader who was a paid advocate for the building trades before being elected mayor.