Members from the 2400 E. Huntingdon St. project’s development team presented the latest version of their proposal, located at the site of a former hosiery mill in Olde Richmond, to the city’s Civic Design Review board Tuesday afternoon. Changes to the design include street trees, five new bicycle U racks, a recessed first floor along the Huntingdon side of the building, a recessed seventh floor along the entire top of the building and a new dark red and burgundy facade. The building’s seven story height, however – which is the chief reason for opposition from residents, the CDR board and the City Planning Commission – remained.
“Overall the changes to the proposal have been minor revisions to the building,” said PCPC representative Kacie Liss. “The building scale remains massive and out of context with its neighbors.”
In other words, the building remains more than triple the height of most of the lots surrounding buildings, which are two-story rowhomes.
Greenpointe Construction is the developer pursuing the project.
Liss called the setbacks to the first and seventh floors “small and not meaningful improvements to reduce the scale.”
“The changes … were so insignificant,” said Carrie Compton, who is one of a group of neighbors that started a coalition called Build Like You Live Here that aims to stop the project – and other projects like it – from being built. “I couldn’t even tell you what they were.”
“They don’t care what the building looks like so they’re willing to make superficial changes,” said another member of the coalition, Adrian Bondy. “The substantive changes, they’re not willing to negotiate on.”
The group raised enough money to hire a lawyer, Roger Perry, on retainer, who argued at the meeting that the proposal was “completely inappropriate to the RSA-5 sites which surround the building entirely.”
RSA-5 zoning consists largely of two- and threestory, single family rowhomes.
“This is not the type of development that is necessary to bring into an RSA-5 district, and if we look at the impact on air and light, it’s terrifically horrible in terms of darkening at least two of the streets for many, many months of the year,” added Perry, referring to the shadows the building will cast upon residents’ homes.
Because the proposal is by-right, residents will almost certainly see some similar version of the altitudinous structure built in the near future. Because the CDR process is merely an advisory one, the CDR board cannot prevent any structure from being built, even if a development team largely ignores the suggestions of the board.
“Aside from the materials and a 3-foot setback on the top floor, it just seems like the comments not only from the community but from CDR have been completely ignored,” said the Olde Richmond Civic Association’s zoning chair, Michael Manfroni. “We approached the process trying to be a partner with the developer and trying to work together but it seems they have no interest in working with the neighborhood.”
At the first CDR meeting, the board heavily criticized the height of the building.
“It just looks ridiculous,” said CDR board member Ashley DiCaro at the meeting. “It is so tall for this site … I feel like the developer should almost be ashamed, and I do feel for the residents that live nearby.”
Nancy Rogo Trainer, who has since left the board, called the project “gargantuan.”
Many, including Manfroni and all the residents involved with Build Like You Live Here, think that the CDR process for 2400 E. Huntingdon is a prime example of the CDR process needing to hold more weight. At the CDR meeting, the board’s chair, Michael Johns, expressed his alignment with this view.
“There are times when I wish that CDR had more teeth,” said Johns, disappointed with the proposal. “This is a project that is a by-right project, which is, in my opinion, unfortunate for this particular location.”
Another Build Like You Live Here member, Carrie Compton, called the development team’s conduct “just as disrespectful to the CDR board as it is to us.”
“I expect them to not listen to us,” Compton said, “but you would hope that a city-sanctioned board would carry some weight with their recommendations.”
Like the previous CDR meeting, numerous members of the board expressed severe displeasure with the project.
“I think ‘disgusting,’ ‘ridiculous’ – all of those adjectives still stand,” said DiCaro.
“I can’t even bring myself to make comments about the design because I’m pretty disgusted by the whole thing,” said board member Leo Addimando. “This is exactly the reason why City Council is effectively revoking the fresh food bonus. Because it has been completely adulterated by irresponsible developers. And here you have a prime example of it.”
The fresh food bonus Addimando referred to was used by Greenpointe to allow the proposal 15 extra feet in height in exchange for a fresh food market on the bottom floor of the project.
Councilmember Mark Squilla called Greenpointe’s use of the fresh food bonus an “abuse” of the zoning code in an interview with the Star last month. He has since introduced legislation in Council to curb developers’ use of the bonus.
“Planning said if we came up with a bonus for areas without food distribution locations, maybe that would encourage more [developers] to put a grocery store into areas that are food deserts,” said Squilla. “But to have it citywide doesn’t make sense. Seeing how developers take advantage of the situation and allow for an overbuild in some areas was not the intent of what Planning had in mind to add grocery stores to food deserts.”
Addimando said that “nine times out of ten,” the fresh food bonus is “taken advantage of by developers.”
“It’s a shame because the legislation itself and the zoning relief that it provides can be very useful when properly used,” he said.
When asked how neighbors were planning to prevent the by-right project from going forward, residents acknowledged the uphill battle they faced.
“Our lawyer is getting more into the Byzantine rules and intricacies of the code but from what we can tell we’re out of options,” said Compton.
Manfroni said that at this point, he was merely hoping some issues would get “flagged” in the remaining part of the development process.
“They still have to go through street department reviews and get permits,” he said. “They don’t seem to have a great grasp on what they’re doing. It’s really sloppy work. At some part, I’m hoping departmental reviews will catch them slipping up somewhere.”
At the second CDR meeting, Squilla noted that he’s made attempts to connect Greenpointe with other developers who might be more willing to build something more amenable to the community, but with no luck as of yet.
Emma Erwin, another resident affiliated with Build Like You Live Here, called the sale of the property to another developer the “best result” possible.
“We were really excited to hear Councilman Squilla say he was talking to other developers about trying to get the property sold,” said Erwin. “It’s a longshot, but crazier things have happened.”
At the conclusion of the CDR hearing, Johns encouraged the community to “stay on this developer and do what you can to address this issue.”