More Allston in-fill development - who benefits?

For years, a large undeveloped lot has sat at the corner of Franklin and Weitz Streets in North Allston. Adjacent to the Peoples Federal Savings Bank and just steps from Barry's Corner, this lot (which is technically 3 adjacent parcels) was owned by the owners of the three family house next door at 21 Weitz St.

One inconsistency that came to light when looking at these properties is that the City's assessing database reports that the owners of 21 Weitz St have a residential exemption to reduce their real estate taxes. But the deed from their sale of the adjacent property lists them as living 30 miles away in Bellingham.

In June of 2007 the owners of this lot sold it to a Watertown real estate broker for $600,000.

The City of Boston assessed these three lots for a total of $107,100. At the residential tax rate of $10.97 per $1,000, means the owner paid $1,175 in real estate taxes. So one very obvious lesson here is that the City of Boston under-assessed this land by a factor of 6! The $5,000 a year of real estate taxes the City was losing is, by itself, just a drop in the bucket of the City's $2.3 billion budget, but I can't help but wonder if this is a systematic problem with many similar parcels around our neighborhood and across Boston being under-assessed and the City forfeiting some real money.

Now what seems to be two two-family houses are being built on this 10,835 square foot (1/4 acre) lot. Maybe this is the best use of the property. But at this point we will never know what else might have happened there that could have done more to contribute to the future of the neighborhood.

Building more housing is fine, and experts seems to agree that there is much more demand than supply in the region. But is this type of multi-unit construction with a minimal yard and no room for off-street parking what our neighborhood needs more of? Certainly this seems better than the new dormitory-style row houses on Adamson and Raymond Streets, but it also doesn't strike me as housing designed to attract new families to settle here.

One possibility would have been to create a small public park on this site. 1/4 acre certainly is big enough for some nice plantings, paths, benches, a small community garden, or something else green, quiet, and beautiful. Acquiring land to create new public open space is happening locally and around the country and is at least worth thinking about in Allston & Brighton as new development continues at a dizzying rate.

Or the property could have had a retail use compatible with the nearby homes on Franklin and Weitz Streets. Nothing loud or disruptive, but a small row of shops could have fit in with the future redevelopment of Barry's Corner. The layout of the bank next door, with its large parking lot and generally uninspired design, could be improved. If this set of contiguous properties had been considered collectively maybe something better could have resulted.

But there is no plan for our neighborhood and no vision for how development of different properties over time might be fit together to create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

None of this is meant to condemn the people involved in this specific transaction and development. What they are doing is perfectly reasonable - looking out for their individual best interests in the existing paradigm. But what is best for any one individual may not be what is best for the community and the idea of a "commonwealth" is that consideration is given to the greater good of many in balance with the narrow good of the few. In my opinion, the current planning vacuum in our community is one way that the common good is placed at risk while a development "gold rush" continues to be very profitable for some.

4 comments:

  1. Watch out recent real estate boom in US has done the same and we are the ones paying for it now. Lenders are finally tighening how they sell loans and homes are so over inflated that a median price home can not be purchased by a professional.

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  2. Anonymous2:14 PM

    I was DELIGHTED to see construction on this lot and welcome the owners or renters who will come. A few more people living on what was otherwise a barren lot might help to promote some interest in the retail space down on Franklin Street.

    I appreciate a concern for some public planning, but the best planning is done by individuals who invest in a community, then help it grow by sprucing up properties and patronizing local businesses.

    I applaud the owners of this property for building nicely-designed new homes at a time when the housing market is a risky investment. They are betting on Allston's success, and we should celebrate their initiative and confidence.

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  3. I'm comfortable with a couple new multi-family homes going up in this neighborhood, although I understand why some feel as if this space should have been considered for park space as well.

    The fact that the city under-assessed this property so dramatically, however, is troubling. As noted, the $5000 is a drop in the bucket compared to the whole city's budget. How many other properties are under-assessed in this way, though? This is a problem for a number of reasons. One is obviously the missing revenue, but others include the incentive on the part of owners to keep their properties in reasonable shape. If a property is this much cheaper to pay taxes on than it should be, there is less incentive for a landlord who may live in Florida or California to make sure their property is kept up well (and thus earns enough in rent to cover taxes); in many cases, they are simply holding the property in order to flip it when the market comes back up. In other words, although we all like the idea of lower taxes, they encourage the kind of absentee landlords that contribute most to the unfortunate deterioration we continue to see in our neighborhood.

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  4. Anonymous5:31 PM

    The assessed value of a lot or parcel does not have much to do with what it sells for. As you can tell from what these 3 parcels went for, if a parcel is buildable as is or needs very few variances it will sell for much much more than the assessed value would indicate.

    Sarah Correia

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