The owners of the Charlestown Commerce Center on Terminal Street said this week that they tried to bring a housing and rehearsal space product to the long-time commercial building, but were turned away before any public process could start.
Now, they said they are still pursuing a plan that City officials would like to see, but also would like to be able to bring their case for the housing plan to the community.
Developer/Restaurateur Paul Roiff and Kevin Joyce, along with Jack Kelly, are trying to get the word out to the community about their former plan in hopes that the community might make a call to hear what it entails – something they were prohibited from through official channels.
“We have owned that building for 27 years and in 27 years it has never been half-full,” said Roiff. “It’s half-full because it’s eight stories tall and no industry wants to go up on the top floor…We learned over the last year or so that we were outside the Chapter 91 boundaries (for the waterfront) after the Nancy Sales Co. building was proposed. We figured we’d to the same thing because that’s what everyone else was doing on the waterfront…We spent a lot of time and money on it.”
Said Joyce, “We’re hoping the people of Charlestown know we tried. We did several versions of the plan and changed it a lot. We’re still trying to go forward, but we wanted people to know we tried to respond to the community’s concern…We’re not trying to keep the proposal going on the housing; we’re just disappointed…It’s been going on since last June, and we’re trying to get to the community.”
That concern discussed above is workforce housing and affordable housing, and it’s been at the top of the list of concerns at nearly every meeting in the Town for several years.
Roiff said they were in a unique position to capitalize on providing moderately-priced units on the waterfront, while allowing all the current tenants to stay and to create coveted artist rehearsal and performance space. They also were looking to do some artist live/work space there, and to include a boat/ferry dock as an amenity and possible alternative transportation amenity.
He said they had planned about 350 units there, with 45 of them being affordable by City statute. Beyond that, Roiff and Joyce said they had planned to price the other units at an affordable rate, between $300,00 and $650,000.
“We heard the community wanted housing and we were in a position to create some affordably priced housing because we owned the building a long time and because there is so much space there,” he said.
Kelly said he is working with them because he believes the previous plan is a good opportunity for Charlestown families – particularly those trying to keep younger family members in the Town as it gets more and more expensive.
“I believe this is an opportunity – a really good opportunity – to get affordable housing into Charlestown,” he said. “People have issues with development not necessarily because it will help people stay in Charlestown, but because people can’t afford to stay here and also have to put up with construction…We have an opportunity here to keep working-class people in Town, and no one gets to hear the plan…What we want is simply to have a chance to have this talked about in the community so we can present the idea to the community.”
Roiff and Joyce said they spent a great deal of time and money over the last year to develop the housing plan. Being outside of the Chapter 91 boundaries was an eye-opener as they had believed for more than 20 years that the building was restricted by those waterways requirements. Once they learned it wasn’t, they began to develop the housing plan.
Nearly a year later, and after investing a great deal in the design work, they were told by the City and state that the plan was an inconsistent use with the area – even though there are apartments in the same style across the street.
Despite having the support of elected officials like Councilor Lydia Edwards, they also met with stiff opposition, they said, from MassPort and the Conservation Law Foundation (CLF).
Now, instead of housing, the City has suggested the owners do a re-design and pursue a Research and Development concept. They have taken them on a tour of the Black Falcon Terminal in South Boston’s Marine Industrial Park, and suggested something along those lines. Both said they would pursue what the City is after, but they would also like to let the community know what the former plan was, and hear whether or not they like it.
“All we are saying is we want to put this before the community and see what they think about it,” said Kelly. “Maybe they won’t like it, but we never were able to get to that point.”