An Eye on Charlestown Development

December 30, 2010
By

-By Andrew Crocker

Parcel 3

The land once covered by the old Route 1 on ramp which the turnpike authority fenced off after its removal is now slated for development.  At one time the site was open to the public and a favorite spot for the dogs of Charlestown to roam unleashed.  Many were angered when the new Department of Transportation (DOT) locked the fence and prohibited its use.  If all goes as planned, in 20 months 17 townhouse condominium units will be built on Parcel #3, after a rigorous design and review process.

The Architect, Jack French of Neshamkin French Architects with associate architect Russell Sergeant, and developer Warren Green LLC have developed a design that will frame the entrance to Charlestown from Chelsea Street.  A row of stately brick town houses totaling nine units will line Warren Street opposite the Ironsides restaurant.  Turning the corner on to Park Street toward the training field, an additional building with two more town house units will be constructed.  Between these buildings, marking the corner, a pedestrian way will open up to the rear of the site.

At the back of the lot toward Putnam Street are proposed two additional wood structures with three units in each.  The remainder of the site will be utilized for off street parking, an access road and a public green.

The architecture eloquently fits in with the Charlestown vernacular.  The brick facade along Warren Street will be nicely appointed with large aluminum clad windows and precast concrete sills and lintels.  The facades steps down in elevation as the building moves down the gradual slope of Warren Street.  This serves to breaking up the 3 plus story mass with the help of a gambrel roof and dormers atop the structure.

Unfortunately the care taken in defining Warren is not carried through to the other three structures.  The relationship to the street that brings so much charm to Charlestown has been lost at the corner of Warren and Park, leaving a building that seems to reacts to the economy of the site while making an awkward attempt to organize an already poorly defined corner.  The brick is replaced at the back of the buildings with wood clapboard and a private deck mediates between the public green and the town houses.

With the success of the townhouses in forming the edge of Warren street little space is left to connect the green to the public realm.  It is hidden behind the building mass along Warren and Park Street, with only a single pedestrian entrance.  It serves as a cut through to nowhere, and is programmed to feel more like a private enclave than a public offering.  Perhaps a missed opportunity to soften the streetscape with greenery, as is seen in the garden blocks of the south end.  This is easier said than done, and it is important to note that many of these design decisions result from complying with zoning codes, building codes and the preferences of perspective homebuyers, not to mention community concerns.

As a whole, the design is a success, and has won support from the Charlestown Neighborhood Council as well as the Charlestown Preservation Society’s design review committee.  Because the site is on public land, this project must be granted approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) as well as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  The design team has addressed a slew of community concerns and French explains that “The design team looks forward to continued interaction with the CNC and the direct neighbors to create a family oriented development that will fit seamlessly with the community and provide a significant passive open space available to all” The final design is now in the hands of the BRA which will conduct its Article 80 Small Project Review and final fence and planting locations are being worked out with the abutters.

Many still feel the site should be left undeveloped and have made their opinions known around the blogosphere. The political might of the dogs of Charlestown and their owners are little match for the BRA and their efforts to develop the city in a consciences and responsible manner.  A random lot of undisturbed grass is a novelty in the city.  To put this space to use by the children and four legged friends of our neighborhood?  Now that is a grand idea.

As a consolation, the developer has come up with $40,000 of mitigation funds.  These funds are to be used at the discretion of the community in the betterment of the neighborhood.  Would this be enough to build a new dog run? Or renovate some of our existing public spaces?  The training field has been brought back to life with the renovation of its civil war statue and the addition of interpretive panels.  Mean while the Harvard Mall seems to suffer from an identity crisis and a list of backlogged repairs.  It will be up to us to decide how these funds are spent.

The Charlestown community should be proud of this proposed development and the interest we have taken in overseeing what happens in our community.  Any proposal will meet with a certain amount of criticism, as this one does, but the alternatives could have been much worse.  If anyone is interested in what some of the other proposals looked like, take a look at (http://www.archboston.org/community/showthread.php?t=2332) Yikes!

For those surfing the web take a minute to look at the Neshamkin French Architects web site for additional renderings and information at www.nfarchitects.com .

Andrew Crocker is Principal of Andrew Crocker Architecture and Design in Charlestown.  You can follow his blog at http://andrewcrockerarchitecture.com/blog/