2005: Brookline Comprehensive Plan. Amongst key recommendations:
- “Neighborhoods and districts: The unique and attractive qualities of Brookline’s neighborhoods and districts will be maintained. Town actions and policies should improve the livability of the Town for residents.”
- “Affordable housing: To provide for the needs of residents and to help preserve and enhance the diversity of the Brookline community, an appropriate variety of housing... will be made available.”
- Open space: “To the extent possible, efforts will be made to preserve and protect private open spaces.”
- “Land use and housing: Any new developments... will demonstrate that they complement existing uses and the character of the Town as a primarily residential community...”
The committee that generated the comprehensive plan was co-chaired by then Selectmen Joe Geller, now heading the proposed development effort, and Robert Allen, who has expressed a pro-development bias and who now co-chairs the Hancock Village Planning Committee (see below). The plan specifically mentions Hancock Village: create “...Planned Development Districts (PDD) as special permit zoning overlays for institutional properties and large multifamily properties such as Hancock Village.” (my emphasis).
Jan 13, 2009: Ed Zucker of Chestnut Hill Realty and his architect Joe Geller present their idea to develop Hancock Village to the Board of Selectmen. They reference the Brookline Comprehensive Plan as the basis for their proposal.
Jan 27, 2009: Board of Selectmen agree to assemble a Hancock Village Planning Committee charged with “implementing the recommendations of the Comprehensive Plan by working with the community, the property owner, and other interested stakeholders to develop:
- Planning goals for the future of Hancock Village, related to affordable housing, historic preservation, open space, other issues of Comprehensive Plan.
- Realistic scenarios for future development of Hancock Village following these planning goals.
- Any proposed zoning language for a Planned Development District or other appropriate zoning changes that may follow from that work.
CHR presents their proposal to the HV Planning Committee. Among the highlights: 460 new units, S-7 road/parking lots, new 3 story buildings near the S-7 border. 7 story building (200 units) near Boston line on West side and 4 story building (125 units) on East site. Over several meetings, CHR did not substantially reduce the scope of its plans despite calls from the neighborhood to do so.
Dec 2009-Jan 2010: CHR (John Connery Associates) and the Town (Judy Barrett) worked to prepare financial impact studies. Currently the Town estimates that it loses about $2,000,000 per year on Hancock Village because the costs of infrastructure support and public schooling outweigh its tax revenue. Part of the financial impact statement will be an estimate of the impact on the schools.
February 2010: CHR did not release its financial analysis, but acknowledged that its proposal would have a negative impact on the town's finances. It is now revising its proposal. This is discussed in correspondence from Joe Geller (development planner) and Jeff Levine (Brookline Director of Planning and Economic Development), which indicates that CHR recognizes the financial loss that their development plan will cause the Town.
September 2010: Financial impact statements released. Both concluded that the proposed expansion would lead to a net loss for the Town of between $500,000 - $1,000,000 per year, on top of an already estimated $2,000,000 per year net loss. The largest cost to the Town was a projected additional 80-120 students in public schools. Given than the current Hancock Village generates over 230 students per year, this projection appears low. Therefore the cost to the Town would likely be much higher than estimated in the financial impact statements.
October 2010: CHR submits new plans to the Town calling for 480 new units (and demolition of 12 units, for a net increase of 468 units) developed across the site, including on the buffer zone. This scenario includes 260 units of senior housing in one building (156 2-bedroom units and 104 1-bedroom units), and an additional 48 2-bedroom units and 172 1-bedroom units. The revised scenario would require a zoning change on the site, or variances. This is remarkably similar to the plan last year that was found to cost the Town 0.5-1M per year at least. However, now many of the units have been rebranded as "senior" housing. A zoning change is proposed to limit occupancy to 2 persons per bedroom. The enforceability and legality of these restrictions are a pivotal question. CHR's analysis of the financial impact assumes these key restrictions, but changes in these assumptions easily show that this plan will likely cause the Town to lose money. Interestingly, this is not the first time that CHR has tried the "Senior Housing" spin; they tried and failed using the same tact 21 years ago with plans to develop a high rise on the Boston side of Hancock Village.
December 2010: The Town released a legal analysis of restrictions based on age (senior housing) and occupancy (2 occupants per BR). In brief, it appears that senior housing is consistent with current housing law, but it is important to note that 55+ housing developments can permit up to 20% occupancy by non-seniors. Restrictions on the number of occupants per bedroom are also legal, but need to be fairly applied. Thus, application to just Hancock Village may be overturned if challenged in court. Durability of these restrictions is another important issue.
The Town also released its fiscal impact analysis of the revised CHR plan. The Town estimated that the new plan would generate 33 students but noted that this number may very well be higher. A small increase in this number would lead to an overall net loss for the Town. This analysis also noted the difficult enforcement issues with the occupancy restriction. It also points out the likely need to build increase school capacity even for 33 additional students, which would add to the Town's cost and lead to a loss for the Town. Selectmen Goldstein and Daly later acknowledged that the fiscal impact studies were flawed and that the proposal would lead the Town to lose money.
The HV Planning Committee met to review the revised CHR proposal. CHR presented its revised plans, and a room overfilling with upset Brookline residents expressed their skepticism about the proposal and the fiscal impact analysis done by both CHR and the Town.
June 2011: The HV Planning Committee met to consider a final report about the Committee's findings. The report noted the community's strong concerns about CHR's proposals, and CHR's lack of responsiveness to those concerns. Among the major issues with the proposed development were the negative fiscal impacts, school crowding, and loss of open space. The draft report was unanimously approved. Chairwoman Daly put the committee on "hiatus".