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Development plans rile some in Brookline

A rendering of the Chapter 40B affordable housing complex proposed for Hancock Village in South Brookline. Other developments are being proposed in Chestnut Hill and Coolidge Corner.
A rendering of the Chapter 40B affordable housing complex proposed for Hancock Village in South Brookline. Other developments are being proposed in Chestnut Hill and Coolidge Corner. handout

BROOKLINE — Residents of South Brookline and Chestnut Hill have taken turns opposing Chapter 40B development proposals in their neighborhoods in recent weeks, with a third project in Coolidge Corner scheduled to be introduced before the Board of Selectmen early next month.

The proposals, which are still in the early stages, could add as many as 316 units of housing, including about 64 set aside as affordable, something planners say the Boston area needs.

But for many who spoke against the 226 units proposed at Hancock Village in South Brookline and 45 units proposed for the corner of Route 9 and Hammond Street in Chestnut Hill, the projects would simply be too big, not suited to the locations, and would add too much traffic to congested areas.

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“This is actually a high-rise, and very much out of the character of this neighborhood, and would completely change what the neighborhood is about,” selectwoman Nancy Heller told representatives of Chestnut Hill Development who are proposing to build at Hancock Village.

It is the second Chapter 40B development proposed at Hancock Village; the town is in the midst of a court fight, trying to overturn the Zoning Board of Appeals approval of 161 units there last year.

All three proposals — at Hancock Village, in Chestnut Hill, and a third at 40 Centre St. in Coolidge Corner — are still in the eligibility approval phase, awaiting the OKs needed from the state before Chapter 40B plans can be officially filed with the town.

Chapter 40B was enacted in 1969 to help remedy a shortage of affordable housing statewide by creating a streamlined approval process that requires local zoning appeals board to approve housing developments under flexible zoning rules if 20 to 25 percent of the units are set aside as affordable.

Essentially, the law rewards developers for building affordable housing by allowing bigger projects, which maintain profit margins.

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Developers can take advantage of the law until 1.5 percent of a municipality’s land is used for affordable housing, or 10 percent of its housing stock falls into the affordable housing category.

Brookline is near the 10 percent threshold, according to its planning and community development director, Alison Steinfeld. Currently, the town’s affordable housing inventory is at 9.2 percent, but that includes the 161 units at the first Hancock Village development, which is currently in court, she said. Not counting those units, the number is closer to 8.6 percent, she said.

Once the town hits 10 percent, it will become what is known as a “safe haven” and will no longer fall under Chapter 40B.

In the meantime, development of 40B projects is robust, with several factors driving the proposals, Steinfeld said.

“It’s a strong economy within this region, for rental units in particular, and Brookline is in an extraordinary geographic location,” she said. “We’re also aware that there’s a window of opportunity for developers to get their projects in before we reach the 10 percent.”

Brookline isn’t the only municipality seeing 40B proposals. In neighboring Newton, residents have been fighting plans in Newtonville, Auburndale, Waban, and on the Needham line in the Wells Avenue Office Park.

In Brookline, Steinfeld hopes to work with the developers to address some of the abutters’ concerns, she said, especially at Hammond Street and Route 9, which she said is a perfect location for the “smart growth” development proposed because of the proximity to transportation, supermarkets, and retail stores.

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“That could be a very good development, as long as we can work out some concerns,” she said.

Chief among the concerns is parking at the corner, where developer Raj Dhanda is proposing rental units for people 55 and older, with first-floor retail space.

The current parking plan calls for 24-hour valet service, with cars parked in stacked spaces on top of each other.

Steinfeld said that configuration needs further study because of concerns about fire safety, among other things.

At a hearing before selectmen this month at which Dhanda presented his plans, he indicated a willingness to work with the town, nodding on several occasions when residents talked about his making concessions.

Marc Levin of Chestnut Hill Realty, developer of the Hancock Village projects, faced harsher opposition when he and his team unveiled plans.

Their new proposal includes what they are calling a six-story building — six floors above a two-story parking garage built into a hill between Gerry and Sherman roads at the Boston line. Plans are for 198 units in this building,

In addition, 28 existing town houses would be renovated at the site, for a total of 226 units.

Residents expressed concern about traffic, crowded schools, emergency access to the property, and the size of the two combined projects.

“I can say there are many neighbors who are outraged and really burned out by this whole project,” one neighbor told selectmen.

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Plans for the 45-unit, six-story development at 40 Centre St. have not been publicly presented to the town yet, but developers are scheduled to go before the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 23. The public will have an opportunity to comment.


Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.