By Michael Coughlin Jr.
The Independence, a polarizing project that would bring affordable housing and permanent supportive housing (PSH) to the site of the old Constitution Inn, was approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Board during a meeting last week.
The project proposed by the Planning Office for Urban Affairs (POUA) and St. Francis House would bring 100 affordable rental units to the Charlestown Navy Yard. As for the unit mix, there are plans for 64 studios, 14 one-bedroom units, and 22 two-bedroom units.
Fifty-two of the 100 total units are planned to be leased to those earning no more than 80% of area median income (AMI).
The remaining 48 are PSH units leased to those making no more than 30% of AMI. Quinn Valcich, a Senior Project Manager in the Development Review Department at the BPDA, explained that these PSH units will include “onsite services for vulnerable populations that support stable tenancies.”
The Independence, which was formally known as the Helm on Third, has been in the works and has been a hot topic of conversation in Charlestown since 2022.
Bill Grogan, the President of POUA, walked through what he called “thoughtful consideration with the community” that “shaped the plan” that went before the BPDA Board last week.
“We participated in dozens of in-person and virtual meetings over that period of time with hundreds of participants, all before filing our letter of intent and Article 80 application to [the] BPDA,” said Grogan.
“The Independence at Charlestown Navy Yard is a culmination of that feedback,” he added.
In speaking about the work with the community, Grogan highlighted revisions to the plan since its initial iteration.
Some of these revisions included the reduction of total units from 126 to 100, an increase in workforce affordable housing from 30 units to 52 while expanding the income range to up to 80% of AMI, reducing the PSH units from 96 to 48 and making them exclusively for women and veterans (16 for veterans and 32 for women), and increasing the number of two-bedroom units.
Grogan also pointed to increased staffing to levels that “exceed best practice standards” and the addition of KROLL Security.
Even with all the revisions made to the project, as previously mentioned, the proposal has been polarizing. While some folks support the project, many Charlestown residents have voiced their opposition or, at the very least, have been skeptical of the project.
Unfortunately, for those who wanted to make their voices heard to the BPDA Board, last week’s discussion was not open to public testimony.
However, City Councilor Gabriela Coletta, who acknowledged that she received more correspondence in opposition than support for the project, provided testimony on behalf of her constituents.
Coletta highlighted her involvement with the process, which goes back to October 2022 when she wrote a letter to the BPDA’s Chief of Planning, Arthur Jemison, requesting that the proponent’s request to waive Large Project Review be withdrawn.
The proponents withdrew the request to waive Large Project Review that October. However, in what Coletta likened to “Groundhog Day,” she wrote another letter to Jemison last month requesting the community would have the opportunity to have a full development review process with an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) after she learned an IAG was not slated to be included. Coletta’s request for an IAG to be involved in the project review was not granted, highlighting an issue she indicated that residents of Charlestown have with the review process.
“What I’ve mostly heard from constituents is that they feel like this process is broken. There are many individuals in Charlestown who feel like this is a done deal. They are pessimistic that no matter what is said here tonight by me or anyone else, this Board will approve this proposal because they’ve seen the aforementioned appeals denied or go unanswered,” said Coletta.
“There are many in Charlestown who are frustrated that regardless of what they’ve said or done, this board will move the proposal forward. They simply don’t trust this agency, and they don’t trust the proponent to execute a successful program.”
Coletta also called for an “accountability mechanism” codified between the BPDA and the proponent, promoting “additional and mandated dialogue with the community.”
“If this proponent wants to be a good neighbor, they can’t just close the door after they’ve gotten what they wanted,” she said.
Coletta went further, demanding that the proponent agree to answer to an independent board or committee in the name of accountability — if the BPDA approved the project.
In response, Grogan, in part, said, “We certainly look forward to working in the best way that makes sense to fulfill our obligation with the community.”
“We’re long-term owners, and we’re committed to seeing the success of the neighborhoods that we work in,” he added.
Valcich also indicated that the BPDA could work with the proponent in determining how to make what Coletta had demanded happen.
Before the project went to a vote, some Board members made comments and asked questions. Board Member Ted Landsmark asked about the issues raised by community members concerning the project.
Grogan spoke about some issues raised, such as the type of housing proposed and security and staffing plans, and walked through the process of responding to those issues.
“There were a number of general broad categories, and I think we responded to those comments through that process,” said Grogan.
Another Board Member, Raheem Shepard, asked about the construction management aspect of the project and suggested making sure Charlestown residents work on the project if it were to go forward.
Board Member Kate Bennett indicated that she found Coletta’s comments compelling and asked about the best mechanism for a post-approval process.
Grogan and members of the BPDA indicated that they would be willing to work toward what Coletta had mentioned.
Finally, Priscilla Rojas, the Board’s Chair, also provided commentary, in part, saying, “I understand we need to build trust, and I trust that we are going to do that, but your voices are heard, and we have taken them into consideration.”
In the end, the proposal was approved unanimously by the Board.