State environmental regulators, known as MEPA, have approved a Phase 1 waiver for their extensive process so that the Bunker Hill Redevelopment project can move forward and start before completing the larger state review of the project.
The approval doesn’t preclude the developers from having to go through the City Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) process, which is expected to start later this year. It does allow two buildings in Phase 1 to start before finishing the MEPA process – including one building that is 100 percent affordable and not a mixed income building like the rest of the project.
State Environmental Secretary Kathleen Theoharides disclosed the approval in a letter on May 6.
She said she found merit for the request to get a Phase 1 waiver.
“I find that strict compliance with requirement to complete MEPA review prior to initiating Phase 1 would result in an undue hardship for the Proponent,” she wrote. “As described in the (filings), full buildout of the project will occur over several phases in an 8-10 year time frame. This phased approach supports a tenant relocation plan designed to minimize disruption to existing tenants and increase opportunities for tenants to return to the upgraded building complex.”
She wrote that Phase 1 will demolish 111 units and replace them with 247 units, giving extra capacity for displaced tenants in future phases. That will minimize any relocation and prevent disruption in schooling for children.
“This cycle will continue with each phase, such that each cycle of demolition and construction would create additional capacity for returning tenants,” she wrote. “According to supplemental information provided by the Proponent, Phase 1 is scheduled to begin in Summer 2020 in order to reduce disruptions to families with school-age children. This early timing is also needed to carry out the carefully timed tenant relocation plan described in the (filing) and to secure the financing needed for later phases of the project.”
The Kennedy Center did express opposition to the Phase 1 waiver, and the first two buildings in the project would be surrounding them. However, the secretary pointed out that the opposition wasn’t so much to the waiver as to construction impacts and truck traffic – all of which have been planned for and are within the legal boundaries allowed, she wrote.
“I find that compliance with the requirement to complete MEPA review prior to Phase 1 would not serve to avoid or minimize Damage to the Environment,” she wrote.
Councilor Lydia Edwards said she supported the waiver, even though she isn’t comfortable with the 100 percent affordable building.
“I don’t like 100 percent of anything – market or low-income,” she said. “That isn’t how neighborhoods look or how neighborhoods feel…It’s a necessity even though it’s not ideal. I don’t like it, but if it means that people don’t have to leave Charlestown, I get that.”
Adelaide Grady, senior vice president at Leggat McCall Properties and executive director of the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Project, said getting the approval is one of many steps they need to take. However, she said it is good momentum at a time when many projects are stuck in COVID-19.
“It’s important,” she said. “I think we’ve all been encouraged by it through these difficult times professionally and personally. We are definitely committed to this project and it’s great to have some momentum. This helps us with our potential investors…The fact we are able to get through some of the internal meetings with the BPDA that normally happen and we can do it virtually, that momentum is great too so that when we’re again able to meet with the public again, we’re not simultaneously trying to answer BPDA and public questions at the same time.”
Grady said they don’t expect extensive delays in the project due to the COVID-19 issues. She said they expect a one-to-one loss of time, meaning every day lost would be a day’s delay.
“Right now, we expect the delay associated with COVID-19 is one to one,” she said. “We’re very optimistic that the delay associated with the lockdown will be one to one.”
Despite the Phase 1 waiver, it does not mean the project doesn’t have to continue through the state process. A larger MEPA review of the project continues and will be ongoing for some time as the full environmental and traffic impacts are considered. The City BPDA process is also ongoing and most public meetings have yet to be scheduled, having been cancelled in March and April due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
Meanwhile, residents looking for information or to give input are invited to e-mail the developers or to check the website. The website is www.bunkerhillhousing.com and the e-mail is [email protected].