In an effort to get things started without delays, the development team for the Bunker Hill redevelopment pledged $1 million in two funds to help support non-profits, parks and to study future transportation solutions to mitigate the project in future years.
In the category of ‘don’t bite off more than you can chew,’ the developers first pledged $500,000 towards an Additional Transportation Study and Improvement Fund in order to identify other ways to mitigate potential traffic caused by the massive development – improvements that they said would take too long to hash out in further depth prior to Phase 1.
“We just don’t have time to figure all these things out and not delay the start of the project,” said Adelaide Grady, executive director of the Bunker Hill team.
That fund could potentially look at a coordinated, consolidated shuttle service to Community College T Station, pilot studies to improve peak service on the #92 and #93 MBTA bus routes, and a proposed Transit Signal Priority system at the City Square traffic lights. Other things could also be suggested to explore with the money as well. That, however, would be a decision for another day, Grady said.
The other $500,000 would come in the Community Benefits Fund, provided by the developers and handed over to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). That fund would be split in half, with 50 percent used for improvements to parks within one-quarter of a mile from the development – with Barry Field (The Oilies) identified as a potential target for the money. The other 50 percent would be for off-site public amenities – like the community center pool – and non-profits within a half-mile of the project.
“That’s $1 million together and it would be administered by the BPDA with the community and the BPDA deciding how it would be spent,” said Grady. “We can be a part of that, but we don’t have to be. The goal is to empower those who make these decisions and who are most impacted. It’s just important we don’t delay getting a shovel in the ground while we debate the merits of several worthy causes…This is all our cards on the table and this is what the project can support given the restrictions.”
The pledge came at the Nov. 18 Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting, which was held online by the BPDA. It was the fifth and final working meeting of the IAG, with a wrap up meeting scheduled for early December. The comment period has been extended to Dec. 1, and the developer hopes to get approvals soon that would allow the first two buildings in Phase 1 to start in the summer of 2021.
Community Center Could Come Sooner
Another amenity to the community as part of the project includes a 14,000 sq. ft., $7 million community center slated to be built in Phase 4. That Center would be within the development, but open to the entire community. It is funded through payments into a fund as units are brought online – which is why they have slated it to start construction in Phase 4. That, Grady said, is when they felt they would have enough money in the “kitty” to fund the Center.
“By Phase 4 we believe we’ll be able to leverage that money that gets put into the kitty to construct that community center,” she said.
Recently, however, there has been some major pushback by the Kennedy Center to get the Center constructed or programmed earlier in the process. The Kennedy Center said two weeks ago they believe they would be a great fit for the lead agency at the new Center, and hoped the development team would designate them now to give some level of certainty to their organization. They have been operated out of temporary spaces for their social services and COVID responses due to COVID restrictions at the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) building they used for years. That building is slated to be demolished in a future phase, giving a level of uncertainty to the Kennedy Center about where they will operate that half of their services.
Grady said they would look to speed that up and put it into earlier phases, but made no promises.
“We are looking at ways to do that sooner,” she said. “We’ve been looking at things with the CRA and BHA to try to find ways to finance it so we can do it sooner. It’s a $7 million contribution from the project.”
In addition, the Center would have a set programmatic budget amounting to $1.1 million per year in contributions from the project annual. Each unit contributes about $420 per year for the duration of the 99 year lease, and that number does increase annually for cost of living increases.
“For 99 years, this is a significant investment going back into the community for this Community Center operations and programming,” she said.
Saving The Trees
Through strong advocacy from the community, in particular resident Johanna Hynes, scores of trees on the site will now be saved. Hynes and a number of residents were unhappy at several meetings about the lack of interest in saving several mature trees on the Bunker Hill site.
The initial filing with state environmental regulators called for saving 12 trees on the site, and now they have looked more carefully and found ways of saving 81 trees. In particular, they will be able to save some quality trees on Medford Street.
“Because of your advocacy, we did look more closely at the trees here and were able to make a modification to the open space to preserve more trees than the previous plan allowed,” said Grady.
Arborist Andrew Arbaugh said a study by Bartlett Tree Service showed 340 trees on the site, with 81 tagged for removal. Of those remaining, 109 were in good condition, and 133 in fair condition.
Of those 81 that were saved, much of that came through shifting open space in Building L on Medford Street from one side to the other. In doing so, an additional eight trees were saved.
“There are some major honey locusts and elms on that site,” he said. “It’s not just preserving more trees but we’re getting better trees and it’s one place we identified that can make a big difference.”
Through the entire project, more than 500 trees will be planted and in a fashion that will allow them to grow to full health and maturity. That, however, will take 15 to 20 years for them to grow to maturity.
“Ultimately this urban forest will benefit from the care we’ve taken in planning here and that will allow them greater growth,” said Grady.