By Michael Coughlin Jr.
On Monday, May 1, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held another meeting regarding the proposed One Mystic Avenue project – this time to discuss a draft Planned Development Area (PDA) Development Plan, which was filed on Monday, Apr. 3.
Essentially, Monday’s meeting focused on the plans of the project proponents to request a PDA for the development.
According to the BPDA’s website, a PDA is “an overlay zoning district that establishes special zoning controls for large or complex projects.”
Donald Wiest, a Founding Partner of Dain|Torpy, the permitting counsel for the developer, went into a little more detail explaining what a PDA is as well.
He explained that the PDA mechanism in the zoning code has been around for more than 50 years. “The idea was that some projects are unusually complex and complicated, and they don’t lend themselves well to the standard provisions of the zoning code,” said Wiest.
In order for a PDA to be approved, a development plan must be filed that explicitly outlines aspects of the project like proposed uses, parking, landscaping and must outline public benefits “to ensure that these deviations do not unfairly burden the surrounding neighborhood,” per the BPDA’s website.
It should also be noted that for full approval, the PDA proposal for this project must be approved by both the BPDA and the Zoning Commission.
As currently constituted, the 480,680-square-foot proposed development is slated to be 279 feet tall with 25 floors comprised of 636 units, including 20 units for veterans through the Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing program (VASH). Moreover, the project proposes 171 parking spaces, significant green space, and improved pedestrian and bike connections throughout the area.
As part of the presentation, Wiest outlined an ample amount of public benefits in the development plan and indicated over time that the proponents have used feedback to shape the project to best benefit the neighborhood.
“We understand we cannot, will not meet every need in the neighborhood, but we have done our level best to keep our ears open and understand what the significant needs in the neighborhood are and to make commitments to those needs,” said Wiest.
Some of the outlined public benefits include providing 636 units during what Wiest called a crisis for housing – 127 of which are new affordable rental units. Moreover, the development would create about 1,500 construction jobs and 60 permanent full-time jobs for potential retail and building staff.
Another major public benefit mentioned was an environmentally-sustainable construction approach. “This will actually be one of the most environmentally-sustainable residential buildings in North America when it’s done,” said Wiest.
Additionally, there are other public benefits, such as improved pedestrian and bike connections, the creation of an area shuttle bus program, public realm improvements, and much more mentioned by Wiest.
“We think this is actually the best residential site in the entire city … If you’re coming into Boston from the north, this site is going to be highly visible; it’ll be a beacon of entering our great city,” said Wiest.
After Wiest finished presenting the proposed public benefits, the meeting was opened up to questions and comments. During this portion of the meeting, at least two residents were trying to figure out why the project proponents decided to go through the PDA process.
One resident, Joanne Massaro, wondered if the proponents were requesting a PDA to circumvent impending zoning changes that could be coming from PLAN: Charlestown.
“I don’t see the value of what you’d get out of this other than circumventing the recommendations that are coming out of the plan,” said Massaro.
However, Wiest indicated that was not the case saying, “We don’t have the ability to circumvent the city’s recommendations. We are going to end up with a plan-compliant project in the end, and the PDA zoning will be consistent with what the plan recommends.”
Wiest’s response seemed to cause more confusion for Massaro, who then asked about the value of getting an approved PDA if the project would be zoning compliant.
“The value to us is PDAs are designed for projects like ours. We’re not a standard project on a standard lot – we’re a distinct project on a unique site. There’s only one site like this – we think – remaining in the city,” said Wiest in response to Massaro.
“It’s a big site; it’s not close to any particular sensitive abutters right on top of a multimodal transit station, it’s a good site for dense housing, and it’s appropriate for a PDA,” he added.
Wiest’s responses did not seem to clear up any confusion because, later in the meeting, another resident, Dan Jaffe, essentially shared the same uncertainty as Massaro.
Seemingly in an attempt to clarify, Wiest said, “There are two issues here. As you rightly say, there’s plan compliance – what does PLAN: Charlestown call for after several years of study, and we are going to be proposing a plan-compliant project.”
“We also need a zoning approval to get the right to get a building permit, get a bank construction loan; without zoning compliance and zoning approval, we can’t build.”
Other comments included support from a local union representative, questions about the lighting for the project, and concerns about the traffic the development might cause.
As for the next steps, the public comment period for the draft PDA Development Plan closes on Friday, May. 19. Written comments can be made on a BPDA webpage – https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/one-mystic-avenue or emailed to [email protected].