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40 Warren Developer Will Continue Efforts Despite Denial

Zoning Board denies two floor redevelopment plan.

The public clash over for the parking garage at 40 Warren Street is not over; it has just entered a new phase.

Boston’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance Tuesday that would have allowed the owner of the building to add two floors of residential space on top of the three-story building, but allowed the owner to immediately restart the appeals process—which he plans to do.

“We’re committed to go forward,” said owner Vahid Nickpour. “We want to develop this property.”

But, as Nickpour begins the appeals and hearing process anew, old challenges remain. Nickpour said that the ZBA’s message at Tuesday’s meeting was that he and the property’s neighbors need to work together, but their views on the property vastly differ.

Nickpour said at a that he had already scaled down the project as much as possible while keeping it financially feasible, but Brian Graves, a neighbor and unofficial spokesman for the opposition said a two-floor addition was .

“It’s never been like the variance requests are small,” Graves said. “In my opinion, it’s not a variance. It [would be] essentially rewriting the zoning by granting that request.”

He suggested that Nickpour might be able to achieve a feasible redevelopment project that remains within current zoning guidelines by converting some of the building’s two floors of parking space to residential space, or even converting the building’s one floor of commercial space.

Despite their differences, both men said they plan to continue a dialogue with each other as the process moves forward, and Graves said he plans to continue to stay on top of public meetings for the project.

Christine January 25, 2012 at 05:39 PM
Why is it, Mr. Houlihan, that you are so quick to criticize? Mr. Graves' views are not just his own, he is speaking on behalf of a large group of us. Not all of us are abutters, not all of us need parking in 40 Warren, not all of us will be directly affected in our day to day lives by the disruption such a project would create. But, not one of us sees the value of allowing one developer to trample over multiple zoning ordinances to maximize his profits. It would set a horrible precedent for a great neighborhood. And also, not one of us would respond to you so rudely. Your comments hardly make you come across as the poster child for someone willing to compromise. Mr. Graves never said to close off ALL the parkiing, he offered suggestions that are clearly compromises. You might want to read things twice before you jump in with ad hominem attacks on people.
Brian Graves January 25, 2012 at 08:30 PM
Good day Mr. Houlihan. I own my condo that is within 50 feet of 40 Warren. I have a vested interest in what happens at that site. How close are you to the proposed project? Neighbors' opposition to the development is simply not "no development in my back yard". And the conversations are not easy to put into sound bytes but I'll do my best to boil some of this down. Height and scale are the primary issues because they impact privacy, light and property value, as well as the character of the neighborhood. If you add 11 or more units, then you have the the additional issues of congestion and parking on top of the primary issues. In efforts to compromise, our proposal of adding residential space within the current zoning height, we knew we would increase issues with parking but were willing to consider dealing with that issue vs. the sheer height and all of its collateral impacts. We have tried to compromise. The builder has said it is two stories or nothing because everything else is "financially infeasible". So we have said then nothing will work because approving a 20' height variance would be akin to rewriting the zoning law in this neighborhood. I am and we are willing to continue the conversation knowing there are no perfect answers. As an aside, my plan for my property is to own it for 30 years.
eric carr January 25, 2012 at 09:27 PM
the law is on the abutters' side pure and simple. Despite the developers' double talk and political connections, the neighborhood prevailed with a unanimous denial by the ZBA. Mr. Nickpour and Mr. Morgan thought they could pull the wool over the neighborhood's eyes and sneak this thru the process using their cronies to do their dirty work. The neighborhood will stay vigilant on this matter. Thanks to the Mayor and Neighbohood Services for keeping em honest.
Christine January 26, 2012 at 10:21 AM
John, I did not say the group is not affected by this development. I said some are not "directly" affected. Directly affected would be the immediate abutters, such as Mr. Graves. Also directly affected would be people like me, whose home is directly across the street. But the common view is that we must be opposing it purely for self-serving reasons and this is not true. There are many in the neighborhood, adjacent to the project as well as blocks away, that have issue with the scale, scope and design of the project because of the effect it could and would have on the neighborhood as a whole, not just the streets surrounding it. As for the white picket fence dream of Wellesley that you think all "girls" have, not true. I could easily have chosen Wellesley for my home. But I wanted an urban neighborhood with character. And take a drive around some of the formerly quaint neighborhoods of Wellesely that had small, attractive post- war homes and see what variances in zoning laws has done to those neighborhoods. Horribly overbuilt and poorly designed homes for the scale of the lots on which they are placed. This is what we are trying to avoid at 40 Warren Street. As for Mr. Nikpour making profits, I am a huge fan of people working hard, making tons of money, and doing with it what they want. I am not a fan when those profits are gained by trampling over existing laws and ordinances. Big difference.
Brian Graves January 26, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Hi Mr. Houlihan. The group that I work with is comprised of 20 abutters and 13 Charlestown residents that live further up Warren, on Soley and up by the Monument. Members are both directly and significantly affected by what goes on at 40 Warren and are concerned about the character and scale of the building, as well as adding to congestion and parking concerns in the area. As I said before, we recognize that a project at 40 Warren will require some creativity. When the builder believes that the only "financially feasible" project at the site is a 2-story addition, that doesn't mean the community has to agree to that so that he can maximize his/her profit. The building is currently profitable. The developer reported that fact to us at his open house on December 17th. You seem to help me make my point that we have tried working with the developer to get creative. Yes, I understand that the suggestion of using the 2nd floor for condos will take away parking and add to the issue in the neighborhood. This was a proposed compromise we suggested that could allow the developer to move forward with some project at the site but not add to height to do it. Regarding, "not in my back yard", 14-16 units are proposed on Park and I have not opposed it because they are providing parking and the units are 3-story dwellings, like the vast majority of the neighborhood.
Joseph January 26, 2012 at 07:47 PM
Best of luck Mr. Nickpour! I hope you’re able to develop YOUR investment! Your property is located within a mix of residential and commercial space. I hope you win your appeal. Your only fault is that you aren’t a Charlestown resident. Brian, Eric, Christine and others that are opposed to this development, this one is for you. It seems your common ground is you’re trying to protect the value of your investment. Fair enough, I suppose. All this other talk about the degradation of the neighborhood as a whole is crock of doggie pooh and everyone reading this knows this. Be honest, you’re only concerned that your investment increases in value as much as possible by the time you’re ready to sell. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, but I present this scenario to you: If you owned a property that would allow for the addition of a roof deck, which we’ll agree would increase the value of your investment, knowing full well that by building it, you’ll be blocking your neighbors view, will block their sunlight, that you’ll be able to see onto their patio or into their windows, would you still go through with the construction? Be honest now. Remember, we’re talking about an investment (that is what you’re trying to protect, is it not?).
Brian Graves January 26, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Hi Joseph. No doubt that one of the things that concerns residents closest to the proposed development is the negative impact to property value because of a loss of privacy, views and light but it is not the only thing. People's primary residence is typically an individual's most significant investment in addition to being their home. I have a roof deck and I am among 3 other neighbors with roof decks. I can't speak for my neighbors on this point but if Mr. Nickpour simply proposed adding a large roof deck with a head house for access, I would not oppose it. His proposal though is not a roof deck but 20+ vertical feet of building depending on which proposal you consider. In general, are you not concerned about your own property's value? Would you be concerned about a neighbor's proposed development that would negatively impact your property value? Would you be in favor of a neighbor to add 2 stories on to their existing 3 story residence, right next door to you? If it blocked light that you have today, you would want that addition next door? Do you live in an area of Charlestown where parking issues exist? Once CNC member said at the January 5th meeting that parking permits for residents in Charlestown are issued at 130% of parking capacity today. The Charlestown Preservation Society evaluated this project as not fitting in with the neighborhood. We neighbors aren't the only ones that see this proposed development conflicts with the historic character of Charlestown.
Joseph January 26, 2012 at 09:42 PM
Brian - You are avoiding the question I asked. Please answer honestly. If your investment would increase in value by adding a roof deck, even though your neighbors privacy, view and sunlight would be negatively affected, would you continue with construction? My answer is yes, I would build a roof deck if it increased my property value. I’m not going to lie about it. I am very well aware of Mr. Nickpour's intentions, of which I support. How can the Charlestown Preservation Society put a negative spin on this project when you have the Bunker Hill Projects and the Co-ops @ 41 Warren Street? Are you telling me that the homes within Mishawum falls in line with the historic character of Charlestown? (Mishawum residents, I am in no way shape or form intending to be disrespectful. I am trying to prove a point). You live in a mixed zone area. That was a chance you took when you decided to buy a home in the gaslight district. If you lived on Green Street or Auburn Street, my opinion would be slightly different. Given the location you live, I am confident that your investment is going to increase in value, no matter what.
Joseph January 26, 2012 at 09:43 PM
(con't) Did having an active parking garage, or noisy bar scene stop you from purchasing your home? My guess is that the same people that are backing your cause are the same people that also tried to prevent the expansion of Tangierinos. Or not, you are relatively new to the area. The investment I made in my home is by far my most significant investment. And yes, of course I am concerned with the value of my property. Which is exactly why after living in Charlestown for almost 15 years, I knew where and where not to buy a home. I would have never purchased a home with mixed zoning. In my opinion, whether right or wrong, you and your followers are road blocks in the advancement and growth of Charlestown.
Brian Graves January 27, 2012 at 01:31 AM
Hi Joseph. I have a roof deck. If I didn't have one but could legally build one, I would. Your question and the proposed project at 40 Warren are like comparing apples and zebras. A roof deck and a 20' addition on top of an existing 3 story structure are not equal in their impact. They are not equal in their scope. I see alot of roof decks across Charlestown. Your argument seems to be "just let the developer decide, any height is just fine". The property address I think you mean to reference near 40 Warren is the Constitution Co-Op at 42 Park Street. It was grandfathered when they rezoned Charlestown 15 or 20 years ago. And when they rezoned, they zoned the area where the garage exists (NS, shopping) and where I live (3F-2000, residential) at the same 35'. Not 55 or 60 feet. If the group that rezoned then thought that it would be acceptable to build to that height, wouldn't zoning reflect that? Are you suggesting by saying "mixed zone" and "that was the chance I took" means that existing zoning doesn't matter? Or that just in some zones there are secret meanings about the districts and that zoning is more flexible in some areas (where I live) and not in other areas (where you live)? As you said, "If I lived on Green or Auburn, your opinion would be SLIGHTLY different"? Isn't zoning height 35' there as well? A roof deck vs 20' or more increase in height. Apples and zebras.
Joseph January 27, 2012 at 02:14 PM
Apples and zebras. That's actually pretty funny. However, I will continue to disagree with you with as much respect as possible. Whether it be a 20' or more increase in height, or a roof deck, opposition seems to be more about your loss of view, invasion of privacy, blocked sunlight, etc., and not about the surrounding development of the gaslight district. If a roof deck is built that blocks the previous mentioned points, what’s the difference? Your stance is difficult to accept. How about the people on the 1st & 2nd floors that don’t have roof deck access? Are you fighting for their rights too? This is not about the integrity of the neighborhood, but more about the loss of views. You have this perceived misconception that your property is going to decline in value should this project go forward. We all know that will not happen. Imagine if Mr. Nickpour decided to convert the entire building into condos? Imagine how that would impact the neighborhood. Section 8 housing. More cars. Less spots. I cannot accept your stance with the Zoning Board of 15-20years being the same as today. Boston’s Zoning Board is on a “as need be” request. 15-20 years ago, they made changes to reflect the needs at that time. That was 15-20 years ago. Times have changed. I’m sure there was a time that roof decks weren’t allowed. Now they are. Time = Change = Progress.
Brian Graves January 27, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Hi Joseph. I appreciate your approach and respect in this debate. I think you can see that despite our differences of opinion, we can have a spirited conversation so that we can provide our perspectives to each other and on the Patch, to the wider community. Zoning is not intended to change annually. Zoning is intended to answer "What can you build – and where?” These are the questions that zoning regulations answer. The Boston Zoning Code tells real estate developers what land uses, building types and sizes, heights and densities are appropriate on land throughout the city." (from the BRA's web site). The BRA site goes on "Lower heights and densities are applied to historic districts and established residential areas to protect these neighborhoods and discourage change." I didn't write the zoning. Maybe someone in Charlestown who participated in writing the zoning then could weigh in to explain why they limited the height of buidlings. Yes, there is intended to be some flexibility in the zoning process to provide exceptions where hardships exist for property owners. Where is the hardship? The builder can't make even more money? 40 Warren is currently in use and making money. If it is change you seek then let's sit down and rewrite the zoning. In the meantime, I am all for reasonable, small exceptions to allow property owners to modify their homes or builders to build. I maintain that 20' higher is not a small exception and for now, the ZBA agrees.

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