A developer hoping to expand the Hancock Village apartment complex in south Brookline has won a key determination that could enable the project to proceed despite considerable opposition from neighbors and town officials.
The Massachusetts Development Finance Agency determined this month that a proposal by Chestnut Hill Realty to build 192 new apartments at Hancock Village is eligible to be developed under the state’s Chapter 40B affordable-housing law. The complex, built in 1948, already has about 530 apartments off Independence Drive and VFW Parkway.
The determination clears the way for Chestnut Hill Realty to bypass some local zoning laws for the new development, as long as at least 20 to 25 percent of the units are set aside for income-eligible residents. The project’s comprehensive permit will still need the approval of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals.
Brookline officials had been fighting to keep the proposal from being deemed as meeting the criteria for Chapter 40B. The Board of Selectmen’s chairwoman, Betsy DeWitt, said last week that the town is exploring what options it has left.
“It’s not over yet,” she said.
The proposal is not the first by Chestnut Hill Realty to draw strong opposition from the town. After the developer proposed adding 466 apartments at Hancock Village in 2010, the next year Town Meeting approved tighter zoning rules for the site by setting up a conservation district. Last year, Chestnut Hill Realty submitted a proposal to MassDevelopment for a 271-unit project at Hancock Village to be developed under Chapter 40B, but the town objected and the proposal was withdrawn early this year.
Chestnut Hill Realty consultant Margaret Murphy said that after submitting the application for the 271-unit project, chief executive officer Edward Zuker changed his mind about what he wanted on the property, and the latest proposal fits with the neighborhood.
DeWitt said the town is concerned that the 192-unit expansion would destroy the “greenbelt’’ of community open space around the property, and the significant regrading being proposed would create drainage and storm-water runoff problems.
Local officials are also worried the project could compound what is already a dramatic increase in student enrollment that is forcing the town to consider seeking multiple property-tax increases to pay for school expansions. DeWitt said that by the town’s calculations, the number of students that would live in the new Hancock Village apartments would likely require the town to expand the Baker School, too.
Chestnut Hill Realty has not performed any studies on how many students the new apartments might bring to town, Murphy said.
The latest proposal calls for 66 one-bedroom apartments, 70 two-bedroom apartments, 28 three-bedroom apartments, and 28 four-bedroom apartments. Of those units, 39 would be set aside as affordable housing, according to Chestnut Hill Realty.
In its letter dated Oct. 8 , MassDevelopment said 8 percent of Brookline’s inventory qualifies as affordable housing, and noted that the town does not have a housing production plan approved by the state Department of Housing and Community Development. Communities with at least 10 percent of the housing stock considered affordable by the state do not have to allow Chapter 40B projects.
The agency said that after taking into account the town’s actions to meet affordable housing needs, it found the Hancock Village site is generally appropriate for residential development.
Murphy said housing in Brookline is extremely expensive, and while there is a need for market-rate housing, there is an even bigger need for affordable housing.
“The supply is tiny,” she said.
Murphy said Chestnut Hill Realty was delighted to get the green light from MassDevelopment, and plans to submit the proposal to the town’s zoning board within the next month to begin the review process.
Bill Pu, a member of the Preserve Brookline neighborhood group that has opposed Chestnut Hill Realty’s plans for Hancock Village, said nearby residents remain concerned about the impact of having more students in the area, and also want the developer to preserve the greenbelt around the existing apartments.
Pu said that in addition to serving as open space used heavily by Hancock Village residents, the greenbelt has also provided a nice boundary and landmark for the surrounding homes.
“That is basically going to be eaten up by more buildings,” he said.
Brock Parker can be reached at email@example.com.