The two North End / Waterfront neighborhood groups disagreed on whether to support or oppose a zoning variance request for a residential expansion project at 32 Charter Street. In both meetings, residents questioned whether the unit is being setup for short-term rental use, such as AirBnb.
Chris Olson and his attorney, William Ferullo, made their case at the Neighborhood Council (NEWNC) meeting on July 10, 2017 about Olson’s property of Unit #1 at 32 Charter Street. The Council subsequently voted to unanimously support Olson’s renovation effort. Later that week, a similar presentation was made on July 13th where Residents’ Association (NEWRA) members voted to oppose the project (14-22).
32 Charter street contains four units, three of which have couples/families currently living in them. Olson, the owner of Unit #1, wants to renovate the unit to have two floors containing three bedrooms and three and a half bathrooms. Each bedroom would have its own private bathroom with a shower, and the half bathroom would be on its own in the basement. As the unit is now, there are three bedrooms, but only one bathroom. The apartment is currently 957 square feet, and the proposed renovations to the basement would add 510 square feet. After the renovations, the total space in the apartment will be approximately 1400 square feet. Attorney Ferullo said, “The intention is to create this unit for sale.” He continued, “He wants to make it larger, make it nicer, make it attractive for potentially a family who wants a larger space.”
Attorney Ferullo stated the violation that the renovations will incur pertain to the building’s Floor to Area Ratio. Because Olson wants to add 510 square feet to the unit in the basement, it is also adding that much space to the building which brings the violation. Olson appealed his refusal letter issued by the Boston Inspectional Services Department for his application to renovate the first floor unit at 32 Charter Street. However, the ISD is not the only roadblock for Olson.
Abutting residents are concerned that after Olson sells the condominium, the next owner could use the renovated apartment as a short-term rental, given the popularity of AirBnb. Jodi Piazza and another resident of 32 Charter Street came to the council meeting to voice that they are against the proposed addition of 510 square feet in the basement.
Piazza stated, “That building was owned by a lifelong North End family who built an illegal apartment downstairs for a family member.” She said that people did not complain about the illegal apartment because they were helping a family member in need and there were not any issues.
Residents were skeptical that the renovated apartment will be used for anything other than a rooming house, like AirBnb. “At 1400 square feet and three and a half bathrooms, this to me screams a rooming house,” said the resident. Go to (05:32) in the video for Piazza’s entire rebuttal.
Defending his client, Attorney Ferullo said, “Someone says you shouldn’t have as many bathrooms, I’m not exactly sure what that achieves. In other words, if Chris were to take a bathroom out of the plan, I don’t know how that is more acceptable than what he’s providing.” Ferullo believes the unit currently lends itself to rental, but with the renovations it would would be geared towards ownership.
After his attorney spoke, Olson said, “I directly marketed this towards families.” He said that he understands the concerns of the other residents and that he has received calls from families asking about the property. The Council asked if he would put it in writing that he would only sell to families, but Olson’s attorney replied that they can not discriminate who they sell to.
At the Residents’ Association meeting, an owner in the building said they support Olsen’s renovation, but they are working to change the condo documents to prohibit short-term rental use. NEWRA members questioned how effective condo rules can be in dictating the use of an owned unit property.
Watch the videos above for the full discussion at both meetings.