By Seth Daniel
A group of neighbors – from the furthest reaches of Medford Street to the abutting Newtown apartments – have seemingly begun to unite against the current proposal for the One Charlestown redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Housing Development – one of the largest proposed building projects in the history of the Town.
A raucous public meeting on Weds., Nov. 9, sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) prior to the end of the extended comment period, which ends Nov. 21, pitched residents from all walks of life voicing frustration over the plans, the process and the details. Often times, however, it seemed to lead to residents from outside the development against residents inside the development – sometimes ending in unfortunate exchanges that some felt were unfair.
“I’m not opposed to development on that site, but I’m opposed to the current development,” said Elaine Scadding. “It’s too big…We have two fire engines and one ladder and you want two 21-story towers that don’t fit here.”
That was piggy-backed by some residents from the development who spoke in favor of the project, creating an us vs. them situation that was hard to avoid.
“What this is all about is keeping a roof over our heads,” said Phil Wright, first officer of the Charlestown Tenant Task Force. “The money from Washington is going away. It’s gone. Do you dislike us so much you want us to go away? If we do not go mixed-income now, these units we live in are going away. God Bless Joe Corcoran for doing this work.”
Those were just two out of dozens of residents who spoke out on the project Wednesday night, Nov. 9, at the BPDA public meeting in a crowded cafeteria at the Harvard Kent School. The groundswell of opposition seemed to carry the evening and it was also fueled by a Change.org electronic petition being circulated through the Town calling on Mayor Martin Walsh to institute a five-year moratorium on new construction in or near the city limits of Charlestown.
Numerous residents who spoke against the project seemed to also be in favor of the moratorium, which was beat back by BPDA Project Manager Ed McGuire from the get-go.
“I will say there is going to be a process here,” he said. “It’s only in the beginning stages. If there are people who believe it’s a done deal, assure them otherwise. I’ve heard and seen a petition online for a five-year moratorium. Nowhere in the City of Boston are they considering a moratorium.”
The project includes Corcoran Development taking 1,110 Boston Housing Authority (BHA) public housing units in the Bunker Hill Housing Development and completely demolishing them. That would lead to a 10-year phased project to rebuild those 1,110 units and add 2,100 market rate apartments and condos. It would be a brand new, 13-block development with parking underneath several courtyards and retail along Bunker Hill Street. In its final phase, the project includes two large towers abutting the Mystic/Tobin Bridge – two of them some 21-stories tall. Overall, the project is the largest project in the history the Town.
The newly organized opposition seemed particularly concerned about the relocation of tenants, and grilled BHA CEO William McGonagle about how the process would work and if tenants would be brought back.
Resident Elaine Donovan led off the questioning of McGonagle on the relocation efforts, wanting to know if he would guarantee that tenants relocated during construction, or those who choose to take a Section 8 certificate instead of returning, would find a place in Boston.
Much talk has been centered on the Section 8 certificates – which were offered to residents as an option to returning, noting that they would be able to use them to relocate anywhere they wanted. Many question whether or not that is the case as some postulated there are only certificates available in places like Fall River or Brockton.
“Are there Section 8’s available in the City of Boston?” Donovan asked.
After a meandering response and a colorful exchange with Donovan, he did commit to using his relocation team and his own management of the process to find tenants places in Boston.
“You will personally find a place for them in the City of Boston?” asked Donovan.
“Yes,” he said.
Another woman, who is currently a tenant in Bunker Hill and would not give her name, said she was scared and wanted to know what legal documents she would have to assure her of a unit and the ability to come back.
“I don’t look disabled, but I am disabled,” she said. “I came here from a shelter and I don’t want to end up on the street again. I’m scared.”
McGonagle said there would be legal documents and that a relocation company, Housing Opportunities Unlimited, would handle the relocation from start to finish.
“We haven’t lost one resident yet,” he said. “We allow residents to move to the development of their choice. There will be legally binding contracts about when they will leave and when they will return. I assure you we can relocate you and bring you back with minimal disruption.”
Corcoran’s Sara Barnat said the company and BHA successfully relocated and brought back residents at East Boston’s Maverick Landing – a project completed in the same fashion in the 2000s.
Tom Cunha, president of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, said there are too many questions still out there and the community needs more time.
“What we need to do is let the community have time,” he said. “The tenants have had a lot of time with the developer. They asked great questions. The community needs some time to meet with the developer. Unfortunately, whether you like it or not, in Charlestown we like to complain and moan a little bit.”
Bill Galvin said the parking plan was woefully inadequate, and needed to be revised. The current plan has 0.65 underground parking spaces per unit, not counting any street parking.
“It is grossly insufficient,” he said. “You have to build a lot more parking.”
Others commented that a 10-year phased project is too long, noting that what seems okay now could be unacceptable 10 years later.
Mary Boucher, of Newtown, said the new public housing units are not an even match, and that 1,000 three- and four-bedroom apartments will now only be 450 units.
“What happened to the families?” she asked. “This isn’t for families anymore. We’re not downtown Boston. We’re a community with families. It’s for young, single people. I don’t know how you’re bringing families back when it’s not set up for families.”
Betty Carrington, president of the Charlestown Tenants Task Force, countered the opposition and said residents need to understand how those in the development feel.
“They have guaranteed a one-for-one replacement,” she said. “The four-families there now are too small. Anyone who grew up on that development knows the rooms are tiny and weren’t built for families like we have today. I want people to take into consideration how we feel. Take into consideration we’ve talked about it and want it done and want you to be on board with whatever changes.”
But there were simply more voices in opposition in the end, something that seems to be growing as word and details emerge about the breadth of One Charlestown.
“Stop this project the way it’s conceived right now,” said one man forcefully, who wouldn’t give his name.
Added Teresa McGinnis, “You’re effectively taking it from Charlestown to Charles-City…The density of your development at Harbor Point in Dorchester is 55 people per acre. Here, it’s going to be 281 per acre.”
In other One Charlestown news, the state environmental regulators last week required that One Charlestown continue to go through the state environmental permitting process, known as MEPA. In a letter from Matthew Beaton, secretary of the State Executive Office of Environmental Affairs, he asked One Charlestown to submit a detailed Draft Environmental Impact Report focusing on numerous additional issues.
One Charlestown filed an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) with MEPA late last summer.