I Cannot Support the NE Development Project as Currently Presented
To the Editor,
After attending two public meetings and reviewing New England Development’s (NED) proposal for 201 Rutherford Ave., I cannot support the project as currently presented. While others may have their own concerns about the project, these are my thoughts and questions.
1. Not an “Inviting Gateway”: The project is a hulking mass rather than an ‘inviting gateway’ into Charlestown. While I understand the phrase ‘underutilized’ is a term from the urban renewal lexicon, it doesn’t appropriately characterize the bit of open space surrounding the 99 restaurant.
2. No Zoning Waiver: The project is too tall and too dense for the site. Current zoning allows a height of no more than 35 feet. At 85 ft. tall with 240 units of housing, this building is too much for the site. The Gatehouse across West School Street also exceeds zoning but at 5 stories/58 ft. and the Bunker Hill Community College at its tallest point is 62 ft.. Until a new zoning code is established for Rutherford Avenue through Plan Charlestown, I do not support granting a waiver for this project.
3. Master Plan for Mall: The community needs to see a Master Plan for the entire mall site. To discuss and evaluate this project, and to consider a U-Subdistrict designation without seeing how it all fits into the broader context of NED’s plan for the site, leaves the community at a disadvantage, making shortsighted decisions that will impact the future.
4. Austin Street Edge: The street edge along Austin Street should be addressed as part of this Master Plan. It needs an infusion of vibrancy and activity that its current soullessness lacks.
5. O’Reilly Plaza Upkeep: NED proposes to rehabilitate O’Reilly plaza as a community benefit. I hope this includes ongoing maintenance. That strategically located plaza is the gateway for many into the mall and its condition over the past 4 decades, regardless of the City’s ownership, reflects poorly on the mall’s past and current management.
6. Sewer Pipe is Construction Cost: Repairing the BWSC pipe beneath the proposed site should not be counted as a community benefit. If it was not necessary for the project, the developer would not consider repairing it. The $600k cost is a construction expense.
7. Rethink Traffic Pattern and Parking Plan: Vehicles exiting the project’s one-way through-way from West School Street onto Austin Street will enter traffic already queued at the signal most times of the day, causing further congestion at a known choke point.
The amount of proposed on-site parking seems inadequate, though it may conform to City guidelines. The most likely result will be residents, their guests and restaurant patrons parking in the already oversubscribed mall parking l Affordable Unit Specifics: While I commend NED for committing to 20% affordable units, more information is needed to appreciate their value. For the 48 affordable units, I ask NED to provide a breakdown by:
– unit count by affordability/income level
– unit count of compact and standard
– unit/bedroom size
– square footage
– location in building.
9. A Re-Envisioned Austin Street as Community Benefit: The most meaningful community benefits should impact as much of community as possible. Over the years, grants to local nonprofits for operating costs have left the rest of the community with little to show for the millions that have been provided by a multitude of development projects.
A more fitting community benefit and mitigation package for this project would be the redesign and reconstruction of Austin Street as a boulevard with a central mall, creating a truly inviting gateway into Charlestown. While the cost of this idea would be significant, by taking it on the developer would show goodwill and commitment to the neighborhood it’s profited from since 1977.
Public comments are due to the BPDA by Friday, April 16, (though they will be accepted after that date too). Please let your voice be heard. The future of Charlestown depends on an engaged community. Joanne Massaro