By Seth Daniel
Most worthwhile things have their beginnings over a cup of coffee.
And so it is the case that four Charlestown women sharing a cup of coffee three months ago began their passionate opposition and quest for answers regarding the One Charlestown redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Housing Development – a project that is the largest development ever embarked upon in the Town and one that will bring more than 3,000 housing units to the Town over a 10-year period.
Yet, as those four founding members of the group sat over coffee and considered the ambitious plan, they found it remarkable how few of their friends, neighbors and acquaintances knew about the plan they feel will altar the Town for decades to come.
“This started with four women over coffee after one of the first meetings,” said resident Elaine Donovan. “It has grown now, and we do have a following. This is something we have to talk about more. The density is an issue. It’s not Manhattan here.”
Leading the group – which they call #WeAreOneCharlestown – are Donovan and her sister, Mary Boucher – a resident of Newtowne, which is an abutter to the One Charlestown proposal. They are joined by a core group of residents including Elaine Scadding, Kathy Doherty, Tricia Boucher, Sharlene Cahill, Marian Callahan and Jim ‘Macca’ MacDougall. However, they also point to a Facebook page with more than 500 followers and old time advocacy that includes walking the hills of the the neighborhood and dropping fliers to hundreds of homes.
Already, their advocacy has certainly contributed to the 90-day moratorium on development review of One Charlestown granted by Mayor Martin Walsh and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) last week to the community and the project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) committee. Such advocacy included asking many productive conversations directly to the mayor during the November traveling City Hall event at the Harvard Kent School.
Last week, they traveled to City Hall itself to meet with State Rep. Dan Ryan, City Councilor Michael Flaherty and representatives of the BPDA – including a new project manager recently assigned to One Charlestown to replace Ed Maguire, who has been handling those duties.
“Our goal is transparency; our goal is for this to be up front and honest,” said Mary Boucher. “We want to see the original RFP…People are feeling squeezed and tired of development in places they know. A lot of people still don’t even know about this one. We are going to have to meet as a community (during the moratorium). First of all, though, we just want people to know. We have to get the word out, which is why we’re putting out fliers. People will talk and discuss this over Christmas. Maybe it will even be a topic of conversation over Christmas Dinner.”
Once January hits, they said they would begin to talk about have productive meetings, and not just a forum to complain, but a place to begin asking questions that need to be answered and bringing the overall community together so when the moratorium is over – they can be ready to demand answers.
One of the biggest misconceptions, the group said, is that they are against the idea of fixing up the housing development. Most of the core members of the group point to the fact that they grew up in Bunker Hill, and they know the place and the conditions. They all said they are very much for the idea, but not as currently proposed.
“We’re all for it; it’s high time,” said Mary Boucher. “I live in Newtowne, though, and I’m concerned about the density and parking. There are a lot of question that haven’t been answered.”
All of those in the group said they have been contacted by a number of the residents who live in Bunker Hill who are concerned and not willing to speak up.
“They are asking us to advocate for them, and to be their voice,” said Donovan.
Said Scadding, “I have a friend who lives there and they didn’t even know this was happening. They had heard about it, but gave up on the process and figured they would just let things happen and figure out what to do later. There are too many people that just don’t even know this project is happening.”
She also said she would like more public officials to declare their positions on the project.
Some of the major points of contention are the density, and they said they are united in opposition to the 2-to-1 plan – which means that for every one unit of public housing replaced, two units of market-rate housing would be added. The developer, Corcoran-Jennison/SunCal, has said they cannot do the project financially without that ratio, but the group said that formula has resulted in more than 3,000 units (1,100 of which are public housing units) of housing, an estimated 6,000 people and a density rivaling New York City.
Other concerns are parking, which comes in at a rate of 0.6 spaces per unit on site.
They want to talk about affordable housing within the development that includes a preference for those already living in the Town, as they said their children are going to be priced out of their own community.
Also, a traffic plan has yet to be discussed at this point in the process, and the group also wants to pose one major question – why can’t the units be spread out on other public lands in Charlestown such as the Bunker Hill Community College parking lot or the wealth of state, federal and City-owned lands throughout the Town.
“At the end of the day, you’re talking about five women who started this because they wanted to stay in their community as long and comfortably as possible,” said Donovan. “It’s very important to us.”