Bunker Hill Redevelopment Re-Convenes Online, Adds Some Changes

After about a year since the last major meeting regarding the long-reviewed Bunker Hill Redevelopment project, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) reconvened the process on Sept. 9 with a general update meeting about the development online.

The BPDA had planned to host Article 80 review meetings in March and April this year, but that was all scrapped due to COVID-19 restrictions, and only recently did the agency start having online meetings. More than 150 people logged on to attend the meeting.

The project will also now begin to hold meetings of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) this month, with one happening last night on Sept. 16, and another on Sept. 30.

The project has largely remained the same in terms of unit count and density. However, one change is that the BPDA has apparently pushed for the development team to eliminate the free-standing garages and include parking in the center areas of many of the buildings.

“We are eliminating free-standing parking garages,” said Adelaide Grady, of the development team. “This creates new open space on Medford Street.”

The garages will now be hidden inside of buildings in later phases of the project, which is now slated to start in 2021 and finish in 2029. That means there will be spaces lost, and Grady said the BPDA pushed hard to eliminate the garages as it wasn’t consistent with their current Urban Design guidelines. That leaves a total of 1,400 parking spaces and a ratio of 0.52 spaces per unit for the whole development.

A tradeoff is more open space, with the project now boasting 2.7 acres of publicly accessible open space, an increase of 0.25 acres. A video showed in the meeting “walks” one through those spaces throughout the completed development, and hints at how they would be activated with retail offerings inside the development and on Bunker Hill Street.

The bottom line, however, is that the developers are now only looking for approvals for the first phase of the project. That includes Buildings F and M, which are behind the Kennedy Center.

Building F will demolish three current buildings and 53 units and replace them with one building containing 57 public housing units and 205 market rate units. The building will be five stories at the street level and step up to nine stories further back from the street. It is expected to be completed in 2023.

Building M is somewhat contentious because it is made up 100 percent of public housing units, with no market rate component. That isn’t new, but it has been a sticking point for a long time. That building, on Medford Street, demolishes three buildings with 58 units, and builds a brand new building with 102 public housing units. After Phase 1, there will also be a temporary parking lot next to it on Tufts Street that will eventually become a large park.

That building is expected to be done in 2023 as well. It will be four to six stories tall.

The reasons for the all-affordable building are mostly to make sure that existing tenants are not displaced to other parts of the city in large numbers during construction. It has been said time and again that 40 percent of the development’s population is kids under 18, and Boston Housing Authority Director Kate Bennett said they are comfortable with the 100 percent building as it keeps down relocation of families.

“The important thing for me is that everyone – the developer team, BHA, the CRA – is committed to trying to minimize the number of all-affordable buildings,” said Bennett. “And this project is going to take a while and it’s important that we get those first couple buildings going. That’s the current approval that’s before you all at this point is those two buildings. We do need that first all-affordable building – I think everybody understands why – and we’ve agreed to evaluate as we go…We’ve got 20 years or more of redevelopment experience in the city and so we do feel that there is a need to do some all-affordable buildings, but we’re committed to try to not do any more than we absolutely need to do.”

Joanne Massaro, a resident who is on the IAG, said she is troubled by the fact that there is an all-affordable building and there could be more. She said for her, even if it comes down to finances, it shouldn’t be allowed.

“I’m just not convinced that we need to have all those 100 percent affordable buildings,” she said. “I know that I keep seeing that it’s about financial feasibility. That seems to be a big cross that gets held up and we can’t talk about anything being required once you say it’s financially infeasible. And I think that hasn’t been pushed back on this enough.”

Grady said that it might be frustrating, but the BHA and the BPDA have reviewed the financing, and it comes down to the tools they have to use in terms of publicly financing the project.

“I understand and sympathize that the notion of financial infeasibility as a trump card seems unfair,” said Grady.

“We need to use more private capital and our goal is to incorporate more of the affordable units that would otherwise be in affordable buildings into mixed-income buildings, and that’s where the feasibility lies,” she continued. “The goal is to be able to attract a lot of private capital to a project, and to something that hasn’t really been done this way before. Our goal is to re-evaluate and re-assess, and hopefully be able to move towards more mixed-income housing as we move forward.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards has remained cautiously optimistic about the 100 percent affordable building, and hopes it doesn’t have to happen. However, she’s also proposed monitoring the experiences of those living in these buildings as they are built. If there is a stigma or negative experience, she has said the approach should be re-evaluated.

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