Though a lot of friendly faces from Charlestown were there to dull the criticism of the proposed One Mystic project in the far reaches of Sullivan Square, members of the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) sounded off mostly about concerns over the height of the 29-story residential tower that is being dubbed as a western gateway to the Town.
Charlestown attorney Michael Parker and Charlestown native Kim Mahoney were present in the online offering to the CNC – the first public rollout of the plan since it was proposed in December. They were representing Scott Brown, a Melrose native living in Newton who runs Fulcrum Global Investors (FGI) – the proponent of the 695-unit mixed-use tower.
“This project is right for Charlestown,” said Mahoney. “The Flynn Junk Yard is a dead space that can be transformed by this project. It’s run down, dark and dangerous. This can bring about a transformed area there into beautiful public space with sidewalks, trees and lighting. Sullivan Square might finally be reclaimed as a part of Charlestown that can be enjoyed…It’s been a forgotten part of Charlestown our entire lives. It’s time to see this area revitalized and returned to our community.”
Said Parker, “This will bring 695 units of badly needed housing and public improvements and very little impact to Charlestown.”
Brown, in brief, said the project is a very large tower containing 695 units of apartment rentals, with 91 affordable units – but overall a program of units that would be termed workforce in the affordability realm. It is located on the furthest west portion of Charlestown, abutting the railroad tracks as one approaches Assembly Row and the Somerville City Line. There are 240 parking spaces, but it was stressed they expect people to access public transit if they live in the building – with Sullivan Square Station across the street and the new Assembly Row Station not much further. The building would also be under the Compact Living Guidelines that prevent residents of that address from getting neighborhood parking stickers, a new stipulation in those guidelines that went into effect this past January, but which has been standard for development in neighboring Everett and Chelsea for the last year. The development team also said parking spaces would be unbundled from the rent, and anyone getting a space would have to pay full market value for it – an effort to discourage residents from owning cars.
The building would also have a community room for meetings and gatherings, and a Public Market abutting an open space through the middle of the plaza – called the Paseo. The Public Market would be a venue for budding entrepreneurs and upstart restaurateurs to start their businesses, the team said.
A key piece of the development is to provide middle-income rentals so “children and young people in Charlestown don’t have to leave Charlestown because they cannot afford it,” multiple team members said.
Architects James Gray and Aaron Hodges both said they are looking for a unique design, using warm metal facades so it isn’t a giant grey slab, and also stepping it back with terraced gardens.
“Because it is a tall building, we want to mitigate the height by stepping back every few levels and creating garden ledges,” said Hodges.
However, as most could predict, it was hard to get around the height of the building and what it will mean for future development on that corridor.
“I’m just dead-set against a 330-foot tall building in Charlestown,” said Member Karson Tager.
“I have to say I’m impressed you said workforce housing because it’s the first time I’ve heard that in this community,” said Elain Donovan. “I feel we’re being hit by development in every direction. You know me, I’m not for development. To me, if anyone wanted to build something over there, I can’t even say the people from the Forgotten Area would be disturbed because it’s not even near them. The location is the only thing I’m happy about…I have concerns about the height. Can we lower the height at all?”
Member Bill Galvin predicted a “disaster” if the project were approved with only 240 parking spaces and at the 29-story height. He said it would set a precedent for every other developable lot on Sullivan Square.
“If you let this happen at that height and this lack of parking you open it up and all the other buildings on Sullivan Square will be the same height,” he said. “We will set a precedent. You’ll have thousands of people living there with no parking…They’ll be parking on Bunker Hill Street, Main Street and Sullivan Square. It’s going to be a disaster. Charlestown has got to put the feet to the fire.”
Parker said he and the team hear the concerns about height, but said they would defer any comment or commitment on it to the official Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) process. So far in that process, an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) has yet to be formed, but is in the process of being assembled. The comment period for One Mystic’s most recent filing ends on March 30.
Member Paul Hollien said he would like the affordable housing numbers to be boosted to 20 percent, which would result in about 120 affordable units. Beyond that, though, he said he liked the project.
“I think it’s a great project,” he said. “I don’t understand why people are complaining. The more people in Charlestown the more voters we have and the more people will pay attention to us. If we bring the same 3,000 voters, we’ll continue to have no voice.”
A final concern was on traffic, most specifically on Uber and ride-sharing congestion that could emerge.
The Traffic Study showed very little traffic generated from the building, according to consultant Selma Mandzo. She said their modeling showed 20 cars entering in the morning peak and 60 leaving in the morning. In the evening peak, 60 would enter and 40 would leave.
Member Barbara Babin said she wasn’t confident in those traffic numbers, but nonetheless her main concern was ride-share congestion – which would not show up on any traffic model.
“I think you’re going to have a lot of Ubers coming to pick people up and drop them off and that’s what will make traffic much worse,” she said.