By Michael Coughlin Jr.
The Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), in conjunction with members of PLAN: Charlestown, an initiative to reshape the future of the neighborhood, held a workshop Thursday, Oct. 27, to discuss potential redevelopment plans for the Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) parking lots.
The parking lots in question have often been referred to as the BHCC parking lots; however, in reality, the lots that take up six acres are owned by the BPDA.
“The parking lots are owned by the BPDA, but for many years the BPDA was working with a third party to operate those parking lots for the BHCC students,” said BPDA Senior Planner Patricia Cafferky.
Due to this, the BPDA will now refer to the lots as the Austin Street parking lots to quell any confusion.
Throughout the summer, the BPDA held several events, such as listening sessions, among other things, to get preliminary feedback – some of which can be used at the Austin Street parking lots – on what exactly residents are looking for in the future development of Charlestown
“We have been getting a lot of feedback through PLAN: Charlestown on what the neighborhood needs, what it wants, what it thinks is appropriate, and because these parking lots are BPDA owned, we have an opportunity to do some of that,” said Cafferky.
Some of this feedback came in the form of surveys that asked questions about aspects of the neighborhood, like housing, green spaces, and mobility.
Interestingly enough, one of the survey questions asked where residents would like to see new parks in Charlestown, and out of 160 responses, 39% referenced the Austin Street parking lots.
“We had an open response part of the survey also where repeatedly we were told there is a need for sports fields, often specifically at this location … as well as a call for dog-friendly spaces, kid-specific spaces where no dogs be allowed,” said Cafferky.
Further surveys that mentioned the parking lots specifically involved land use in terms of commercial versus residential and density.
For land use, out of 121 responses, 51 favored more housing than commercial, while 38 wanted an equal balance between the two. It was noted that the results could have skewed more towards commercial due to confusion that ground-floor retail and neighborhood services would not be allowed in housing-only areas – however it would be.
As for density, those taking the survey were given examples for the choice of low, medium, and high density to serve as a scale for choices. The low scale was 68 Baldwin Street, medium Flagship Wharf, and high Cambridge Crossing.
With those developments as a scale, out of 126 respondents, 58 thought medium and 45 thought high-density housing would be acceptable at the Austin Street parking lots site.
While the BPDA has gathered data from residents in Charlestown, some residents felt that not enough people could participate in aspects of the feedback gathering, such as the surveys.
“I feel that a lot of people just do not know what PLAN: Charlestown is. I feel like a lot of people have not completed the surveys that really do care about this community and want to stay in this community,” said Sean Boyle.
Others like Michael Parker, however, were happy with the BPDA’s effort to seek out public comments.
“Thank you to you all for getting public comments before you issue an RFP. That’s been something in the past that we have always asked for in Charlestown and, I am sure, in other neighborhoods, so really appreciate you doing that,” said Parker.
As the meeting progressed, attendees were put into break-out rooms to provide more suggestions on what could potentially be developed at the lots, such as housing, ground floor activation, and retail, as well as open spaces.
Housing feedback was pretty split, with some wanting affordable housing while others were not interested in any housing in the area whatsoever. Many attendees favored adding retail spaces or things like laundromats or focusing on green spaces like parks or sports fields.
Mobility or accessing the lots was also discussed, and attendees suggested future pedestrian walkways and bike paths.
Overall, there is a ton of feedback coming in on what to do with the Austin Street parking lots, and the good news is that the BPDA is in the early stages of gathering feedback.
The next step in this project will be in December, when the BPDA will draft scenarios in the area for more review and feedback, so there is still time for your voice to be heard, and the BPDA welcomes it.
“There’s a lot of ways to engage and interact with us, and we welcome it in any way that is convenient to you,” said BPDA Community Engagement Manager Jason Ruggiero.