Controversial WCRP project still up in the air

The Wo­men’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject hopes to build low-in­come hous­ing on Front Street. But will it hap­pen?

On Wed­nes­day, Aug. 8, the meet­ing of the city’s Zon­ing Board of Ap­peals was packed with loc­al res­id­ents as well as sup­port­ers of the Wo­man’s Com­munity Re­vital­iz­a­tion Pro­ject.

Every­one, it seemed, wanted to com­ment on the WCRP’s pro­posed pro­ject at 1942 N. Front St.

It was easy to tell how many people in the room sup­por­ted the plan for Front Street — they wore bright yel­low day-glo stick­ers that read, “Yes to Hous­ing at Front and Nor­ris!”

The pro­ject, which hopes to see the con­struc­tion of eight three-story build­ings as low-in­come fam­ily hous­ing, has had a rocky his­tory; heated dis­cus­sions at com­munity meet­ings have taken place throughout the sum­mer.

Dur­ing a com­munity meet­ing May 9 — one that in­cluded mem­bers of the Fishtown Neigh­bors As­so­ci­ation, the East Kens­ing­ton Neigh­bor­hood As­so­ci­ation and the Nor­ris Square Civic As­so­ci­ation — the pro­ject was denied in a vote of 60 to 21.

Any­one wait­ing for the fi­nal de­cision on the pro­ject, however, might have to wait a bit longer. By the end of Wed­nes­day’s meet­ing, the ZBA had not rendered a ver­dict, but is ex­pec­ted to reach one with­in two weeks.

At the meet­ing, sup­port­ers of the pro­ject touted the need for low-in­come hous­ing.

The hous­ing would dis­place the va­cant build­ing that now sits at the site — a dilap­id­ated former bank build­ing many at the meet­ing touted as his­tor­ic. The build­ing isn’t lis­ted on any of­fi­cial his­tor­ic re­gister.

Loc­al rep­res­ent­at­ives for FNA and EKNA ar­gued that the de­struc­tion of the bank build­ing would al­ter the char­ac­ter of the com­munity.

Also, rep­res­ent­at­ives for loc­al groups said that the pro­ject would in­clude res­id­en­tial use on the first floor, when many hoped to see com­mer­cial use there in or­der to sup­port the area’s grow­ing com­mer­cial cor­ridor.

What the plan would mean for the neigh­bor­hood is simple. As pro­posed, it would be a hous­ing com­plex that would in­clude 25 apart­ments with­in three build­ings, along with a com­munity room on the first floor and a park­ing lot with 10 spaces on Hope Street.

The pro­ject needed per­mis­sions from the ZBA for three is­sues: build­ing mul­tiple struc­tures on one site; not hav­ing one-to-one park­ing for the units, and not hav­ing com­mer­cial activ­ity in­cluded in the build­ing.

Dar­win R. Beauvais, at­tor­ney for the WCRP, ad­dressed these is­sues one by one, first cit­ing a study of the com­mer­cial cor­ridor that found the cor­ridor had shrunk by 30,000 feet in the past few years.

In fact, he told the board that the ad­di­tion of res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties on that block would im­prove the com­mer­cial cor­ridor, be­cause it would bring in rev­en­ue.

Beauvais called the old bank build­ing “an eye­sore,” and said that it has “been de­teri­or­at­ing for sev­er­al years. It’s struc­tur­ally un­sound.”

He claimed to have state­ments from over 280 res­id­ents who live in the com­munity closest to the site who sup­port the de­moli­tion of the former bank.

One loc­al res­id­ent who stood in sup­port of the pro­ject was Tara Colon, who lives in Kens­ing­ton.

“There are a lot of aban­doned build­ings in that area,” she said. “And to be quite hon­est, I’d rather there be oc­cu­pied build­ings there. I’d love to see more hu­man be­ings on that block.”

Thomas Earle, CEO of Liberty Re­sources, a non­profit that works to provide re­sources to people with dis­ab­il­it­ies, test­i­fied that he sup­por­ted the pro­ject be­cause the pro­posed hous­ing in­cluded four units spe­cific­ally de­signed for people with dis­ab­il­it­ies.

Andy Bar­rera, chair of EKNA’s zon­ing com­mit­tee, countered that im­prove­ment and growth of the com­mer­cial cor­ridor in that area was hampered by res­id­en­tial use on the first floor of the pro­posed struc­ture.

“We’ve been try­ing to re­vital­ize the com­mer­cial cor­ridor here,” he told the board. “We are a hard­work­ing neigh­bor­hood and we’ve been work­ing hard to make it bet­ter.”

Jordan Rush­die, a loc­al at­tor­ney rep­res­ent­ing the FNA, said that the con­struc­tion of the pro­ject would des­troy a his­tor­ic build­ing, when throughout the area there are va­cant lots that could use de­vel­op­ment in­stead.

Car­men Bolden, who lives on Hope Street near the pro­ject’s pro­posed site, said she wor­ries most about park­ing.

“Ten spots for 25 units in an apart­ment build­ing is not enough,” she said. “Also, there is no green space. There’s no play­ground. That means these kids will play in the streets or in oth­er un­safe areas.”

As many stepped for­ward to testi­fy, frus­trated ZBA chair Lynette Brown-Sow even­tu­ally told no one else to speak un­less they would bring up “something new and in­ter­est­ing,” say­ing the bet­ter part of an hour had been spent dis­cuss­ing the pro­ject.

At the end of the day, the board did not render a ver­dict, leav­ing those who at­ten­ded the meet­ing with little left to do but wait for a de­cision.

“I don’t know what’s go­ing to hap­pen, but I feel like this will be really good. I think it will really im­prove the block,” said Nora Lichtash, ex­ec­ut­ive dir­ect­or of the WCRP, not­ing that she hoped the board would ap­prove the pro­ject.

“I think it could go either way,” ad­mit­ted EKNA’s Bar­rera. “It will go the way the ZBA wants it to go.”

Staff Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at hmit­

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