By Seth Daniel
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) announced to the Patriot Bridge this week, after issuing a detailed Scoping Document to the One Charlestown developer, that they plan to take the summer off and come back full speed, having the developer unveil a revised plan after Labor Day.
“Our big goal going forward is to guide the narrative,” said Jonathan Greeley, chief of development at the BPDA. “We want to be consistently guiding the narrative and timetable on the project…We are in a very long timetable. this is not all going to happen at once in any scenario…We see this as a milestone – being a transition in the project. We’d like to proceed with this revised proposal that is in response to the last year of dialog.”
That means, in short, he and others from the BPDA said, that the former project will not be coming back to the community in any way, shape or form. In fact, the Scoping Document released last Friday indicates that the community and the City has concerns about the density and unit count in the former project.
A Scoping Document is the response from the City Departments and the BPDA to the first round of public meetings and reviews – which took place last fall, and after a breather in the fall – resumed in April. The developer, Corcoran Jennison, and the property owner, Boston Housing Authority (BHA), will now take all of the public input in the Scoping Document and the City input and respond.
That is the case in every Article 80 process, but in this case, the initial review proved that the project as presented couldn’t stand and a revised version was necessary. The original plan called for a mixed income, mixed use project with more than 3,000 units – with the replacement of 1,100 public housing units included – on the site of the Bunker Hill Development. After a round of meetings last fall, the community showed great opposition to the size and density, most especially.
In fact, the Scoping Document indicated that more work needs to be done with the community.
“In reading through the comment letters that the Proposed Project has simultaneously generated excitement and concern,” read the executive summary. “While many of the letters show a desire to see redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Public Housing Development, numerous letters request additional studies occur in order to evaluate the potential impacts of a project of this magnitude, as well as the potential benefits…The general public along with the IAG (Impact Advisory Group) have expressed concerns with respect to the height and density of the buildings throughout the site. The BPDA encourages the Proponent to continue to work with the community to address the concerns regarding density and the height of the overall project.”
Also, in another point, the Scoping Document summary indicated the developer needed to work on the unit mix and unit count.
“The BPDA encourages the Proponent to continue to work with the IAG and the community on the unit mix to help meet the demands of the neighborhood,” read the document.
Other main issues in the summary included more traffic studies and analysis, and to develop a better understand of the parking plan and parking spaces.
BPDA officials said they expect a response, known as a Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR), with a revised plan in the summer, but they don’t expect to roll it out publicly until everyone is back after Labor Day.
“You can expect a response to the proposal, a DPIR, sometime shortly after Labor Day,” said Greeley. “We anticipate its going to take the BHA and Corcoran time to respond to a very lengthy document…We don’t want to re-start this in thimble of summer. We want to wait until Post-Labor Day when all eyes are back on Boston to begin this process again.”
He and Project Manager Raul Duverge said they would have an informational meeting before July 4th, but that will not be on the development. Rather, that will be a conversation with the BHA about the Request for Proposals process that occurred before Corcoran was chosen. Many questions have arisen about that process during the public meetings, and the BPDA wants the BHA to clear up any confusion or issues before the revised project rolls out.
Michael Christopher, deputy director of development for BPDA, said the Charlestown process is one that the agency – which has revamped its image over the last year – has learned a great deal from. He said the Article 80 overview that took place – a primer on what the process is all about without talking about any projects.
He said that’s something they’re going to repeat citywide, as it was very useful not only to the community but also the staff – to be able to come before the community without having to ask for something.
He said they plan to have a very long process that plays out over the fall.
He anticipated having meetings on the overall development, but also having meetings on specific aspects such as parking, parks, transportation or amenities.
The format will also be a bit different, having traditional meetings and also having more of an Open House meeting format where people can view plans and talk casually with the developers and their team – sometimes in one-on-one situations.
They assured that the project would be different, and there would be no hurry in rushing it through.
“You will see a dramatically changed project that includes the feedback they got,” said Christopher.
“That’s the change we’re trying to meld together,” said Greeley. “If we can work with the community and Corcoran and the BHA, we think we can do it.”
Duverge said all input, including the Community Alternative Plan drafted by Sy Mintz for members of the community and the IAG is being considered. They said some aspects of that plan are being considered in the new proposal. Greeley said they know Mintz well and see his alternative plan as yet another piece of community feedback.
“We want to hear from stakeholders in all facets,” he said. “If someone wants to stand up and voice an opinion at a community meeting, that’s valuable. If someone wants to take the time to draft an alternative development plan, that’s valuable too. We certainly appreciate Sy…and it shows the dedication of the neighborhood and interest in this project.”
Greeley also reassured that a once-talked about deadline of getting the project approved by December to preserve outside funding sources is not applicable any longer. While he said they are sensitive to funding elements of any project, he also said there is no deadline he knows of in December to get the matter completed.
“I think there is a sensitivity to the real estate environment so that any project can attain the financing,” he said. “I think certainly BHA and Corcoran realize we’re only going to be successful if we get to the right point. That’s the focus above everything else.”