By Michael Coughlin Jr.
On Tuesday evening, the Flatley Company, the proponents of a proposed development that would bring lab, residential, hotel space, and significant public realm upgrades to the site of the old Domino Sugar Refinery at 425 Medford Street, shared countless updates and community benefits associated with the project during a public meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
As explained by John Roche, CEO of the Flatley Company, the organization owns 425 Medford Street and two adjacent properties in the area, the Schrafft’s Center and 465 Medford Street.
Back in November of 2021, the proponents filed a Planned Development Area (PDA) Master Plan, the subject of Tuesday’s meeting, and Roche explained that significant changes have been made.
“We have had literally dozens of meetings in the last 26 months with the community, the BPDA, elected officials, abutters, other relevant stakeholders, and I tell you, we have made many significant, responsive changes,” said Roche.
As the meeting progressed, Jamie von Klemperer, President and Design Principal at KPF, the project’s lead architect, walked through changes to the proposal from previous iterations in 2022.
One significant change is that the parking, initially planned to be at surface level, has been moved underground. Further, two buildings combined in previous designs have been split with “an interior gallery walkway,” also called a paseo.
Additionally, updates have been made to the dimensions of different aspects of the project. Specifically, the hotel component has been narrowed and dropped in height from 198 feet to 160 feet, and the residential component’s height decreased from 228 feet to 140 feet.
One of the public ways that will be incorporated into the development, coined “Olmsted Way,” has been widened from 65 feet to 100 feet and “even at the mouths of the north and south 145 feet,” per von Klemperer.
Finally, von Klemperer also pointed out other aspects of the project when speaking about the current site plan, such as a community path, integrated resiliency, and multi-use along the waterfront.
In addition to sharing updates about the proposal, the project team also shared many community benefits that would come with the development.
These community benefits comprised six categories: open space, waterfront access, resiliency, community programming, architectural character, and economics.
As for the open space category, community benefits include around 13 acres of “pedestrianized and programmed” public open space, about five acres of waterfront park, “seamless connectivity” to the waterfront and four public ways into the site, a community path, and much more.
In speaking about the public open space, von Klemperer said, “There’s a real specific attention and care given to smaller elements that are very important.” Specifically, he spoke about features such as a kayak launch, a fitness area, and much more.
Sanjukta Sen of Field Operations, the project’s landscape architect, went through a very detailed outline of the open space amenities, featuring renderings that can be viewed in the PowerPoint presentation and the meeting recording on the project’s webpage on the BPDA website.
Additionally, Sen spoke in depth about the waterfront access benefits, which include several ways to access the shoreline through activities like fishing and kayaking, opportunities for enhanced ecology at the shoreline, and bringing back recreational activities at the shoreline.
Resiliency benefits were also detailed during the presentation. For example, the project is designed to respond to 2070 coastal flood risk and contains strategies to protect Charlestown beyond the property.
Regarding the community programming benefits, there are plans not only for a minimum of 10,000 square feet of community retail at “affordable rates” but also for 6,500 square feet at the site designated for community center space.
Finally, von Klemperer detailed benefits in terms of the architecture, which is slated to be inspired by the historic industrial character in the neighborhood, and the economic benefits, which include thousands of jobs created, 20% of the units at the site being affordable, and more.
“We imagine that without such a forward-looking development that really focuses on the betterment of Boston, we could be left with what we have today, which is not terrible, but it could be improved,” said von Klemperer.
“It’ll be a more usable, positive environment for everybody than the existing condition,” he added.
Following the detailed presentation, it was time for those in attendance to ask questions and provide comments. In all, the sentiment from those in attendance seemed to be mixed, with some folks complimenting the project and others voicing concerns with certain aspects.
A significant concern for multiple attendees was the height of the proposed buildings. Specifically, the height of the buildings in the site plan was noted to range from 120 feet at the lowest building to 160 feet at the tallest building, with others in between.
“They [the buildings] do stick out when you look at this view compared to a lot of the existing homes in Charlestown,” said an attendee.
Another attendee commented on the heights of the proposed buildings, saying, in part, “That’s just too much massing for the area. It’s too high; it’s going to have an adverse effect on people who are trying to enjoy Doherty Playground, and I know many residents, not just abutters, feel that way.”
Jennifer Schultz, a Partner at the law firm Sullivan & Worcester, commented on the height concerns, in part saying, “We’re doing our very best to strike the right balance; we are significantly lower than some of the other projects that have been approved in Charlestown.”
She also pointed out that the proposed buildings are shorter than the tallest point of the Schrafft’s building.
As the question and answer portion of the meeting progressed, several other topics were touched on, such as accessibility, transportation, and much more.
Concerning the next steps, Sarah Peck of the BPDA explained that there has been consideration of bringing the project to the BPDA Board meeting in February for a scheduling vote.
“This vote would not be an approval of the project but would allow us to publish notice of a public hearing for the project, which could happen during the BPDA Board meeting at the earliest in March,” said Peck.
To view the recording of Tuesday’s meeting and the PowerPoint presentation, which goes into greater detail about the project, you can visit the project webpage at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/425-medford-master-plan-pda and to submit comments about the project email [email protected].