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City, neighborhood group at odds over Roxbury housing competition

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
City, neighborhood group at odds over Roxbury housing competition
The development firm Urbanica submitted this rendering as part of its response to an RFP for a vacant parcel on Westminster Avenue as part of the Housing Innovation Competition. (Photo: Photo: Courtesy Urbanica)

The six proposed buildings in the Department of Neighborhood Development’s Garrison Trotter Housing Innovation Competition vary in size, from 33 units to 9. They’re modern, hip, sustainable and innovative.

But they have not been approved by the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association.

“We agreed to participate in a process looking at different types of housing models,” said GTNA President Louis Elisa. “We did not agree that there would be any housing built. We’re not in favor of clusters and crowding. We’ve have not agreed to transit-oriented housing.”

But GTNA Housing Committee member Dan Richardson says that city officials shared plans for the Housing Innovation Competition with the general body of the umbrella group comprising several Roxbury neighborhood groups in the blocks between Seaver and Townsend streets.

“All of this was brought before the body, before the entire Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association,” says Richardson, a former GTNA president who now sits on the Housing Committee. “This is a process that has been going on for the last two years.”

But the housing competition, was never given a green light, according to Elisa and other GTNA members. The dispute has pitted the neighborhood group against members of its own housing committee and city officials.

Previous projects

GTNA members have been working with the city to develop parcels of vacant land on Harold, Crawford, Waumbeck, Holworthy, Holborne and Westminster streets over the last two years. In August 2016, the neighborhood group voted to approve a request for proposals for Phase 1 of the so-called Garrison Trotter housing — 19 units in large, one- and two-family homes with off-street parking and setbacks from the curb, consistent with the design of Victorian-era homes in the area. That process is moving forward, with the Humboldt Avenue-based development firm Crosswinds Enterprises currently pouring foundations for the new homes.

The design requirements for the Phase 1 housing are nearly identical to those laid out in a previous RFP process the Department of Neighborhood Development negotiated with GTNA. The general contractor selected for Phase 1 — Crosswinds Construction — also built the earlier units. Those designs present a stark contrast with the Housing Innovation Competition submissions, which feature modern-looking structures, some with micro-units and other strategies to build with more density.

“We never would agree to micro-units,” Elisa emphasizes.

DND spokeswoman Lisa Pollack sent the Banner a list of meetings city officials have held with GTNA members, including a brief description of the May 15, 2016 meeting in which the organization allegedly agreed to the competition:

“5/15/16- GTNA Monthly Meeting- Support reached on the RFP. DND, HIL [Housing Innovation Lab] and BSA [Boston Society of Architects] presentation.”

But GTNA Secretary Connie Forbes said there was no approval given for an RFP during that May 15 meeting. As evidence, she forwarded the Banner a copy of the minutes taken for it:

“Members voiced concerns that if Harold Street is reopened area may once again become a grand prix; would like a small play area on Hollander site; how will Radius project impact the area; impact on Townsend St; addressing area density; area for dogs; green space; rodents; parking and perhaps more than housing. Harold St used to have cleaners, shoe shops, a bakery, and stores. Perhaps there is an opportunity for dual use/ commercial area.”

Had the GTNA membership approved the plan, a vote would have been recorded in the minutes, Forbes said. By comparison, the minutes from the September 2015 meeting in which the first phase of the Garrison Trotter housing clearly records a vote:

“DND Plans contain 5 sites, 12 buildings, 19 new homes, 10 owner units, 3 rental units. …Vote to confirm the plan is acceptable and can move forward with plan and modifications. Motion Proceed with RFP and housing, seconded and passed.”

Forbes, Elisa and GTNA member Joseph Eubanks all said the organization agreed to discuss the housing innovation idea, but never gave consent for the request for proposals to move forward.

Richardson said the Housing Committee kept the GTNA apprised, via monthly meetings, of the developments in the Housing Competition. But at the Jan. 21 meeting, held in the Crispus Attucks meeting room where developers presented their plans for the three housing competition lots, few GTNA members were present.

Richardson, who does not use email, said the Housing Committee used flyers to advertise the meeting.

“The flyers were supposed to go to everybody on the list of [GTNA] members,” he said. “It certainly was the intent to get all the members notification. You do the best you can to get them out to everyone.”

Elisa, Forbes, Eubanks and others on the GTNA email list who were contacted by the Banner said they never received the flyers.

What’s next

Six developers submitted proposals for the three lots: four for 24 Westminster Avenue, and one each for 71 and 73 Holworthy Street and 29 and 31 Hollander Street. The submissions will be judged by a jury that includes architects, officials from DND and the Boston Planning and Development Agency, along with two GTNA Housing Committee members. Neighborhood residents can view the proposals on the city’s website: https://www.boston.gov/housing/housing-innovation-competition.

The period for public comment ended Feb. 5.