Graphic Arts Project Design Gets Positive Nod from CPS

Developers from Berkley Investments were on hand in a rare summer meeting of the Design Review Committee (DRC) of the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS) on Monday, July 20, to review early plans for a large development at the Graphic Arts Building on busy Sullivan Square.

The 90-minute detailed presentation got nearly all positive reviews from those on the local board, who felt it was an innovative design and a project that would “pick up” what is currently an ugly corner of the neighborhood. The design was called “refreshing” in that it rehabilitates the Graphic Arts Building on the Square in a nod to preserving the industrial past, but then builds a new four-story residential building fronting Rutherford Avenue at the Sawyer Printing Building – mainly using corrugated metal and glazed brick facade in a much more modern twist.

“To call it rough around the edges right now over there is kind,” said Heather Taylor, of the DRC. “To have something in there like this could be the impetus for something better in a part of the neighborhood that needs a lot of love right now…I like the departure towards something different.”

Annette Tecce of the DRC said she really was excited about the new look and new materials included in the early design.

“I tend to think that trying to repeat our past in a new genre might not be suitable,” she said. “I think we continue to respect our past, but not necessarily repeat it in every one of our new venues. Rehabilitating the Graphic Arts Building as you have is wonderful and bringing in a new dialog of materials. We are starting to set a new precedent for this corridor. We have a lot of brick at the Hood Plant already…I do like what you’ve done. I think it’s quite good…I do like that it is something new, exciting and different. I am concerned about the flow of traffic, but I am encouraged you have a parking area for 117 bikes.”

Added member John Benson, “It does look like it will be a good thing for Sullivan Square.”

Eric Ekman, vice president and project manager for Berkley, and his team explained their project in great detail, noting that they will put 52 loft units in the Graphic Arts Building at 32 Cambridge St. and 118 traditional apartment units in a new four-story building on Rutherford Avenue. There would also be 2,500 sq. ft. of retail space in the Graphic Arts Building to accommodate MBTA foot traffic.

“We are interested in this site because it is a transit oriented site and right next to the T,” he said. “The ride downtown is very short and makes it an attractive location for people working downtown. We clearly see this area as up and coming. It’s rough around the edges now, but we have the buildings and we hope to make it less brought around the edges in the future.”

The breakdown would be 23 of the 170 units would be affordable, with 30 percent Studios (less than 500 sq. ft.), 61 percent one-bedrooms (700 sq. ft.) and the remaining portions two-bedrooms (1,000-1,150 sq. ft.) The entire project would be for rental apartments and no ownership opportunities.

There are 114 parking spaces for the 170 units, but there is a heavy reliance upon bicycle riding as a mode of transport for residents – with underground storage for 117 bicycles. The parking ratio is 0.67 vehicle parking spaces per unit. The developers are pursuing a Zip Car location at the development also.

The two buildings, though separate, would be intimately connected via a large glass walkway that was praised by members of the DRC as being innovative and an opportunity for public artwork.

The surface parking lot for the retail and for short-term parking would be accessed from Cambridge Street and would accommodate the main entrance to the facility and office. It would not connect to the other side of the development or go through to D Street.

Trash pickup and maintenance/mechanical facilities would be accessed from D Street on an easement.

A parking garage underneath the new building would accommodate all of the cars coming to the development and would be accessed via D Street. Already, the potential new federal flood maps have impacted the development and caused them to re-think the parking situation.

“The previous flood zone we’re not in at all,” said Steve Heikin of ICON Architects. “However, the D Street edge, where our parking sits, is included in the new proposed flood zone. That’s why our parking is raised for the time being.”

The development also has a dog park and a fitness center.

A key element of the traffic design will be extending Mishawaum Street across to D Street with a new set of lights and a slightly new configuration, which the developers admitted is still a little fuzzy at this point.

“Mishawaum Extension will come across Rutherford Avenue and into the Hood Parcel on D Street and become a real street,” said Ekman.

There would also be a pocket park located on Rutherford Avenue that would be passive and, potentially, another place for public art. One abutter, however, said it would be wise to have the park closely monitored by security as there are a lot of homeless people there now who would take it over.

Ekman said they would soon be submitting their Project Notification Form to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) soon, which would trigger several public meetings. Berkley would be seeking from the BRA a Planned Development Area, known as a PDA, which has a separate review process. The Article 80 BRA process would hopefully come to a vote by the end of this year. The Zoning Commission would come soon after that.

The Charlestown Neighborhood Council would also be meeting on the development, and is said to have some major concerns about traffic and traffic mitigation in regards to project.

They hope to break ground in the spring of 2016 and be ready for leasing in the late summer of 2017.

Cutlines – (3 renderings)

Renderings of the proposed 170-unit development by Berkley Investments on Cambridge Street and Rutherford Avenue show a mix of the old and the new, with the Graphic Arts Building being renovated and a more modern building being built behind it.

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