Olmsted Hill

On Saturday, October 20, 2012, town officials, developers, new owners, neighbors, and community activists celebrated the completion of the Olmsted Hill project. This new subdivision, built on a formerly town-owned reservoir site and located along Fisher Avenue near the crest of Fisher Hill, includes 10 single family lots / homes and 24 affordable condominium homes.

While the process that produced this project was a long one (approximately 7 years in planning and 3 years in execution) the project is a strong example of neighbors and community working together to develop a neighborhood and site-sensitive design and program that would serve the affordable housing goals of the larger community.
The planning for the site began in 2001 when the town of Brookline was invited by the Commonwealth to propose a re-use for its surplus 10-acre reservoir on the west side of Fisher Avenue. The town seized the opportunity to develop a master plan that would address both that and the town’s own 4.8-acre reservoir on the east side of Fisher Avenue. Significant work was undertaken by a combined and then site-specific working committees comprised of representatives of townwide interests.

Consensus soon emerged for using the state site for a new public park. As the town site committee considered the site’s use for mixed-income housing, the concept of a financial linkage between the 2 sites evolved: the projected $3.25 million cost for construction of the park would be paid for by the town’s sale of its site. Neighborhood representatives became actively engaged in the town site planning process; and through the engagement of architects, including an all-day charrette attended by nearly 100 neighbors and other interested citizens, and the distribution of a request for interest from potential developers, the committee focused on development goals addressing site design, building scale, tenure, and income mix.

A request for proposals incorporating those goals was released in 2008, simultaneous with the economic downturn and new credit challenges. A proposal by New Atlantic Development Corporation (NADC), a high quality affordable housing developer, creatively responded to the economic challenges while providing an attractive, contextual design. Following a negotiation of terms, the developer and project were unanimously approved by a developer selection committee, Board of Selectmen and the November 2009 special town meeting, which voted on the disposition of the land as well as revisions to the Zoning Bylaw allowing the implementation of the plan on a site originally zoned for single family homes.

The project was organized in 2 components. The land development component included the dismantling and filling of 2 underground reservoirs and creation of a new subdivision and road. The affordable housing component included the construction of a three-building complex resembling a turn-of-the-century estate, with a gate house, main house, and guest house, the latter 2 constructed over an underground garage. Half of the new condominium homes contain 2 bedrooms; and half contain 3 bedrooms; half were to be sold to first-time homebuyers of low and moderate income (up to 80% of Boston area median income); and half were targeted to upper moderate income buyers (incomes up to 110% of median income).

In order to control costs and preclude the need for mezzanine financing, the town agreed to allow the developer to construct on the town-owned site under a license. The town transferred the land to the developer one lot at a time, in advance of the developer’s sale of the lot to the home owner / builder; and delayed collection of the acquisition price until the land component was fully funded through lot sales. NADC began work on the land component following the sale of the first four ANR lots in March of 2011, the revenue from which was held in escrow to cover the dismantling of the reservoirs and construction of the subdivision. The subdivision was significantly advanced by July, when work on the condominium complex began. The last single family lot was sold in April of 2012, and the last affordable condominium unit sold in early October.

While the original budget for the affordable housing component estimated a subsidy of $1.6 million from the Commonwealth and $2.7 million from the town of Brookline, the ultimate absence of state funding was more than balanced by the higher than estimated revenues from the sale of the single family home building lots. As a result, more than $2.3 million in excess revenue from the land component was dedicated to the affordable housing component. The town’s final subsidy allocation is likely to be an estimated $2.2 million to $1.3 million in federal HOME funds secured through town membership in the WestMetro HOME Consortium, and the balance from the town’s Housing Trust.

The history of the development of this site, originally belonging to the Fisher family, long predates the 2001 master planning process. It began with the construction in 1872 of an open reservoir, with water pumped from the Charles River. A smaller, covered reservoir was added in 1893, and the larger reservoir was covered in 1903 with cast-in-place concrete vaults and brick columns, making Brookline one of the first towns to enclose a reservoir in order to improve water quality.

These reservoirs served the town until the 1950s, at which time they were taken off line. This history is commemorated on-site by a bronze plaque mounted on a column remnant, paving stones that evoke the underground column grid, and photos taken within the reservoirs and hanging in the condominium lobby. The subdivision, now the home of a mixed-income community, is named for the landscape architect who originally laid out the street patterns of Fisher Hill. The new owners will soon enjoy, almost in their front yard, Brookline’s newest public park, developed on the site of the former state-owned Boston Waterworks Reservoir.

In addition to NADC, led by Peter Roth, the development team included architects CBT Childs Bertman Tseckares, led by Richard Bertman; CBA Landscape Architects, led by Clara Batchelor; Samiotes Consultants for survey and civil engineering; McPhail Associates for geotechnical and environmental engineering; Nauset Construction; Hammond Residential for marketing the single family lots; and Klein Hornig LLP as project attorney. The marketing of the affordable condominiums, including determination of eligibility, organization of lottery, and buyer assistance was provided by the town’s Housing Division.