By Michael Coughlin Jr.
Two development teams, Onyx/DREAM Austin LLC and Trinity Financial, presented plans to redevelop the Austin Street parking lots during a public meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last week.
Back in May, the BPDA released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for potential proponents to share what their plans would be to redevelop the lots.
Fast forward to this month, there have been two proposals in response to the RFP from the aforementioned development teams that would transform the property, which contains two parking lots owned by the BPDA.
As part of last week’s meeting, each development team was given 15 minutes for its presentation and another 15 minutes for attendees to provide feedback and ask questions.
The first development team to present was Onyx/DREAM Austin LLC. The team’s proposal consists of six buildings across three phases.
Phase one of the project would bring three buildings to the site at heights of 69 feet, 94 feet, and 149.6 feet, providing 338 units, 202 of which are affordable. Additionally, this first phase would also provide soccer fields to the community, either one under-10 or four under-six fields.
Phase 2A would have one building, which is 149.6 feet tall, providing 130 units, 70 being affordable. Finally, Phase 2B would consist of two buildings, one at 130 feet in height and the other at 149.6 feet, with 289 units, 174 being affordable.
In total, this proposal would bring 757 units, with over half of the units being affordable. Additionally, 381 of the affordable units are rentals, and 74 are affordable homeownership units.
Regarding parking, there are 196 proposed vehicle spaces, up to 800 bike spaces, and additional bike spots for the proposed retail plans and fields.
Other aspects of the project include implementing hundreds of new trees, interior open spaces like an arts and culture courtyard, a pedestrian bridge, and much more.
In speaking about some of the proposal’s amenities, John Barros, a Partner/Investor of DREAM Development, made some comments.
“We understand the importance of having a new pedestrian bridge over the Boston Sand and Gravel access drive that allows Charlestown families to safely access the new soccer field, the art programming we’re proposing, and the other amenities that we’ll bring on-site,” said Barros.
“We have put together a team of diverse architects and designers to make sure our development doesn’t have a big overwhelming campus feel but that there is a unique design for each building ensuring more appropriate fit into Charlestown,” he added.
When it came time for the question and answer session, the first concern brought up by an attendee was air quality, considering the site is right next to I-93.
Kate Kennen, Founder of Offshoots, described some aspects of air quality mitigation through the use of phytoremediation. She described the mitigation as “This ability to use trees with stickier, waxier leaves.”
In terms of other mitigation, according to Greg Minott, Managing Principal at DREAM Development, the buildings will be designed to LEED Platinum standards. The buildings will also be passive house certified.
Other comments on the proposal included concerns about the height of the buildings, the proposed pedestrian bridge, parking, traffic, and more.
Following the questions and comments from those in attendance, it was Trinity Financial’s turn to present its proposal.
The team’s proposal would bring four buildings to the site, with the buildings closer to I-93 coming in at 12 stories or around 140 feet tall and buildings closer to Rutherford Avenue at six stories.
Further, there is a proposed total of 686 units on the site, with a mix of different types of units in each building. Building one would have 175 apartments with a combination of affordable, market, artist live, and workforce units.
Building two would have 217 apartments with a mix of affordable and workforce units. Buildings three and four would then be condominiums.
Building three would have a total of 148 condos with a mix of workforce, affordable, and market units, whereas building four would have 146 condos with affordable and workforce units.
Regarding parking, the project proposes having 245 parking spaces. Additionally, there are plans for bike rooms, racks, and electrical vehicle charging stations.
Other aspects of the proposal to note are plans for retail, arts and culture spaces, and vast amounts of open space, whether that be for recreation, sports, or arts.
In talking about the proposal as it relates to scale and the initial plans, Abby Goldenfarb, Trinity Vice President of Development, underscored the importance of community input.
“What we’ve presented here is really our initial take. We know these developments are shaped by community input,” said Goldenfarb.
“We’ve been working on a project in the Back Bay neighborhood of Boston for over three years, and it’s turned, and the programs have changed, and the heights have changed in response to the neighborhood, and that’s something that we as a company are committed to,” she added.
During Trinity’s question and answer, the point about air quality was brought up again. The development would have all-electric green buildings, use passive house development, and geothermal and photovoltaic energy.
Additionally, the project would have a funded reserve to maintain equipment that is used to ensure better air quality.
Other topics brought up during the question and answer session focused on bike transit, pedestrian access across Rutherford Avenue, the proposed green space, and more.
As for the next steps, the BPDA and Project Review Committee will continue to look over the proposals, and a public comment period will be open on the BPDA’s website.
After the Project Review Committee recommends a proposal, Natalie Deduck, Senior Real Estate Development Officer at the BPDA, mentioned there is hope for a developer to be tentatively designated in the winter.
It should be noted that each proposal will be judged based on evaluation criteria laid out in the RFP, which includes the diversity and inclusion plan (25% of the evaluation), development concept, development program, design and public realm contribution, ability to execute the project/strength of financial plan and ensuring sustainable, resilient, healthy development.
To view each development team’s proposal, the recording and presentation from this meeting, and all other information about the Austin Street lots, you can visit https://www.bostonplans.org/planning/planning-initiatives/austin-street-parking-lots-disposition-planning.