ZBA Kicks Condo Parking Issue to City's Lawyer

Opponents of the proposed 41 Greenwood condos on the old Middle School site wait for three hours to speak to the ZBA and are told to come back next month.


It is hard to compare a Zoning Board of Appeals hearing to the fun and excitement of a Bruce Springsteen concert. But there is a similarity between the Boss' multiple-hour concert in London's Hyde Park last weekend and the ZBA meeting Wednesday night.

The standing-room-only audience, which gathered at 7 p.m. at the Senior Center to oppose plans for 41 condos on the site of the old Middle School, had the plug pulled before they were ready to go home.

Just as the British authorities turned off the power at the concert in the middle of the Boss and Sir Paul McCartney singing "Twist and Shout," ZBA Chairman Marc Kornitsky shut down the hearing when it was time for the opponents to speak. The hearing was already 30 minutes passed the town-imposed 10 p.m. curfew on meetings at the .

The crowd of about 40 people, many of them standing for more than three hours, left disappointed. They had come to tell the board that the plans by Groom Construction for the three-story condos do not fit in their neighborhood of all single-family homes.

They waited for two hours while the ZBA dealt with the residential construction issues on other properties. Then the ZBA, after taking a break (which the Boss never does), asked the Groom team to describe the project. But before the attorney, architect, engineer and landscape architect could talk about the project, the ZBA had to wrestle with what issues it has the authority to rule on.

That became a continuing theme for the ZBA on this project.

Town Counsel Patricia Cantor with Kopelman & Paige had ruled prior to the meeting that unlike other properties, the Planning Board, not the ZBA, had most of the town's approval authority.

Groom attorney, Bill DiMento, narrowed the issues for the ZBA to approve two issues: allowing four or five buildings proposed for the site and the location of two three-car garages on the surface. All other issues were within the jurisdiction of the Planning Board, he said.

Half of the proposed 87 parking spaces will be on the surface. The other half will be underground.

At 10 p.m., when the meeting was supposed to be over, Kornitski allowed one opponent to speak. Ken Shutzer, who represents 10 of the neighbors along Greenwood Avenue and adjacent streets, was invited to speak for 10 or 15 minutes. 

Board member Peter Spellios promised a restless crowd, "This is just the beginning."

Twenty five minutes later, Kornitski stopped Shutzer who was on a roll. He argued that the Town Meeting had approved a Planned Development District for the old Middle School site that allowed only one building of 41 multi-family units. The district, he said, does not allow for any surface parking or three-car covered garages, as proposed by Groom.

He said the reason Groom wants the ZBA to approve the surface parking is that it would be cheaper to build parking spaces on the surface, rather than having to double the number of parking spaces below ground.

Shutzer also argued that the Town Meeting did not give the ZBA the authority to change the rules governing any project built in the district.

DiMento disagreed with that interpretation.

The ZBA decided to turn the issue over to Town Counsel Cantor to decide if it had any jurisdiction over the Greenwood parking issue.

Kornitski promised that more of the opponents -- about 30 people Shutzer said -- would be allowed to speak at the next meeting on August 29. But he said, to the groans from the board and audience, that the time allowed for opposition comments at the next hearing might have to be limited since there are about eight other issues scheduled that night ahead of the Greenwood hearing.  

Connie July 19, 2012 at 12:33 PM
I attended the meeting last night. There are two things I take offense to that Mr. Shutzer said at the meeting. To start, Mr. Shutzer said he represents "the neighbors of this project". He DOES NOT represent all of the neighbors. He only represents a few neighbors that decided that a lawsuit would only cost $1,000 per family and would cost the town approximately $70,000-$80,000 to defend. The families should be prepared to spend a lot more, if they choose to pursue this lawsuit. Thankfully, I'm not one who invested in this costly lawsuit. Swampscott residents, be aware of this when your taxes go up because the town has to fight these needless lawsuits. Secondly, he said this neighborhood is made up of "single family"residences. I know of at least 7 houses that are on Greenwood (very close to the school), that are multiple family houses. (Ellie's house is included. It is a two family home.) To make these statements without giving anyone else the chance to speak is a misrepresentation of the facts. I realize the time constraints of the ZBA and I will wait my turn to speak, but the town needs to know that Mr. Shutzer was given an opportunity to speak because he's an attorney, but NOT representing everyone involved. As stated in a previous comment to the Patch, I am a DIRECT abutter, and probably the one MOST affected by this project. I look forward to the opportunity to speak before the board on August 29th to express my approval of the Groom proposal.
Whisky July 19, 2012 at 12:39 PM
Connie, not only are you DIRECT, I presume you've been there longer than anybody who is fighting. I could just imagine someone who's moved in in the last 5 years going ballistic because the property would be used (again) as a school!
Connie July 19, 2012 at 01:04 PM
Whisky, We have owned the house for 33 years, and I assume Ellie (the Millers) have been here longer than that, but they are not abutters. If someone moved to Greenwood Avenue in the last five years, where did your real estate agent tell you to park? If your home did not come with appropriate parking, you were probably told to park in the middle school parking lot. Did they tell you that would be there forever? If so, that was a misrepresentation on the part of the real estate agent.
Bridget Russo July 19, 2012 at 01:58 PM
Off topic but Connie - I think you live in my old house! We moved when I was 12. I miss that house so much - especially the view of the ocean.
Sandie Bock July 19, 2012 at 02:01 PM
you all are calling this the 'middle school", I know it as the high school. It is a monstrosity and if I lived in that neighborhood would want it gone for sure. However, the digging that will be required to build enough parking for 41 condos will unleash god knows how many rats, moles, snakes, and whatever else lives in tunnels below ground level. In addition, the water retention problems that will be caused by the digging of the garage (no longer have the earth to hold the rain water etc.) will be something to consider especially for abutters but all down stream homes and business. Now above ground, 41 Condos brings approx 90 or more people coming and going all day and evening in cars since there are no buses going up the hill. the school had traffic at beginning and end of school, this will be throughout the day. It was said that there will not be kids in the condos, how is Groom proposing to stop people from having children or having people have their grandchildren living with them? This project has serious problems for the neighborhood and Mr. Demento, who was a teacher in the Shaw Middle School for sure but not sure if he taught up on the hill, should realize he is going to have stiff opposition to this misconceived project. IT is the wrong project for that small area, some of the homes now do not have parking so they park on the street, putting more traffic on Greenwood with cars parked in the street is just going to cause more congestion.
Connie July 19, 2012 at 02:04 PM
Bridget, It was the Ostaki's (sp?) house. He was a dentist and built the house, my husband bought it from him before we were married. Sorry you miss it! It's a great house with a great view!
Bridget Russo July 19, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Yes Dr. Ostaski is my dad. He's 82 now and retired. He was a periodontist and he and my mom designed and built the house. Many good memories there =)
Uncle Leo July 19, 2012 at 05:59 PM
Sandie, It was Bill DiMento's brother who was the teacher. He taught math at the high school and was a great guy. As for the rest of your ramblings (and I apologize if this sounds rude but I really don't know how to describe your posts otherwise): -most people with kids do not buy condo's. The primary market for these condo's will be Swampscott empty-nesters. Very similar to the people who have bought condo's down on Humphrey Street. If some kids do end up living there, the numbers will be inconsequential (and who cares really...its not an important issue). -Paradise has done similar digging for underground parking at his new condo project on Humphrey Street and that did not release a swarm of creatures from below. Fear not. -There is a 28 unit condo complex at the site of the old Surf Theater. Its not 41, but it's in the same ballpark for size. I NEVER see people coming or going into that complex. Unless all 41 of these condo's are sold to absent minded whirling dervishes, I can't imagine the traffic flow is going to be that much different.
Uncle Leo July 19, 2012 at 06:01 PM
And Connie, your husband is a great guitarist and BOSTON was not the same without him!
Uncle Leo July 19, 2012 at 06:05 PM
Sandie, you also forgot to mention the outside chance that Groom's garage digging awakens the dormant volcano that lies beneath. A modern day Pompei...Swompei if you will.
Red Bull July 20, 2012 at 12:48 AM
Whisky - Put the bottle away !!! There is no way this property will be used as a school again - hello ??? There are many folks in the neighborhood who have been here for significantly more than 5 years. We too are DIRECT - and very impacted by this development. By the way, where do you live and how does this impact your daily life or property value ??? Red Bull
Whisky July 20, 2012 at 01:53 AM
Hi Red, 1) School use - I'm KIDDING - but comparing someone moving into East Boston and complaining about airplanes. 2) I will have some traffic impact - I am along the route between Greenwood and Vinnin Square. Narrow street with parking on both sides. I imagine up to 20 more trips a day may pass in front of my house. 3) I'm close enough that having a few 7 figure value properties near me would raise my value (and probably my taxes, ugh!). It just seems to me that everything about this is an improvement to the 'hood and the town overall.
Citizen Swamp July 20, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Same old list of misinformation, false dire predictions and "poor me". We keep hearing how it will affect property values in the neighborhoods where these projects are cited, but never hear how the community as a whole is impacted by interest carrying costs, building maintenance, insurance costs and the vacant building blight. We need to get these properties off the books and get needed tax receipts in the till. The threat of a lawsuit says it all about what our community is turning into. CS
Alex July 20, 2012 at 05:27 PM
List of the evil creatures hiding under the building is missing, by the reasons unknown, the dragons, vampires and zombies. BTW, it is not quite clear from your list of the underground dwellers why do they restrain themselves now from infesting your houses: after all, they have something to eat. As for the kids, as experience of, say, Summit Estates shows, the problem is not in keeping kids who live in condo out of the streets but in keeping those who do not belong out of the condo.
They won't talk about the condos until fewer people show up.
Connie August 01, 2012 at 02:15 PM
George, that makes no sense. We, as concerned abutters only show up to be informed. I, personally, am not there to fight the project. Just there to be informed. It's a public meeting, why would they not talk about it because neighbors are there?


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