Re-Boot: One Charlestown Plan Comes in Smaller as Discussion Begin Anew

The numbers of units are down, and the height is much lower, but there is still much to discuss regarding the new One Charlestown proposal – which was formally rolled out to the community last Thursday night, May 30, at the Harvard Kent School.

Eric Sheffels, co-president of Leggat McCall, told residents at a meeting on May 30 that they are going to listen first, and plan second.

The night began with a summary of the new Bunker Hill Development project, which is more of a rough sketch, development partners said, rather than a finished project. That is in stark contrast to the first time the project came around three years ago when much of the design and layout was completed before it came to the community.

A rendering – mostly a rough sketch – of the preliminary plans for the new One Charlestown Bunker Hill Development construction project. The new development team has proposed fewer units and lower building heights.

Now, with a new partner in Leggat McCall, and in combination with one previous partner, Corcoran Development, the project is forging ahead with the support of the Charlestown Residents Alliance (CRA) and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA).

“This is a major project and you will have justifiable concerns about how it affects your families and your lives,” said Eric Sheffels, co-president of Leggat McCall. “This is the first time we’ve come with this version of the project with a plan and program and which we’re proud to be associated with. These buildings were built in the 1940s and are beyond their useful lives…I don’t feel like we’re standing in front of you tonight as the typical ‘greedy developer’ trying to put as many units as we can in there, and for which you may or may not feel is appropriate. We are legitimately coming before you as a partner. We’re here to listen and not present a finished plan before you.”

Said BHA Director Bill McGonagle, “We’ve been at this about five years now and I think we’ve made an extraordinary effort to listen and to incorporate public comments into this proposal. We are 500 units less than what we proposed a couple of years ago. We listened to the concerns about density. The heights of the buildings are significantly lower because that was a concern as well.”

At this point, the project is more of a sketch than a finished project, but Sheffels indicated time was of the essence because they would like to break ground for construction next summer – in 2020.

The long and short of it includes 2,699 units (previously the numbers were 3,200) in 16 residential buildings, with 1,116 of those units being deeply affordable public housing. There would be sites for two free-standing parking garages, some 60,000 sq. ft. of retail and community space, and a maximum building height of 10-stories (the previous maximum height was 22 stories).

The highest buildings would also be located near the Mystic/Tobin Bridge, with a majority of the perimeter buildings – especially on Bunker Hill Street – being about four to six stories tall. Also, the existing roadway configurations would not change this time around.

“Our goal is the transform our homes to create a 21st Century neighborhood where residents are the highest priority, not just with new homes and new amenities, but also for job opportunities, socio-economic health and social programs – all designed to create a better quality of life for us and a better future for our young people,” said CRA President Nancy Martinez.

In fact, one of the key differences lies in the relocation of existing residents, with McGonagle saying they would make a much greater effort in the plan to keep existing residents on site during construction.

Sheffels said that is achieved by phasing the construction so that three existing buildings behind the Kennedy Center would be first to go. Those three buildings would be combined into two larger buildings. One of those would be a mixed-income seven-story building with affordable and market rate, while the other would be a 10-story all-affordable building.

By creating that density early on – and relocating within the Development during Phase 1 – they can minimize or eliminate off-site relocations for existing residents.

A snapshot of the other buildings shows that Bunker Hill Street stays at four stories tall for most all buildings, with the buildings behind approaching five or six stories. There would be one 10-story building in the interior across from the turf field and abutting a new, large open space park facing Bunker Hill Street.

Other buildings on the interior approach seven stories, while two 10-story buildings sit next to the Mystic/Tobin Bridge. The overwhelming majority of the buildings are five, six, or seven stories tall – accompanied by two large open spaces – with the one facing Bunker Hill Street and the second facing Medford Street near the NewTowne entrance.

Another aspect of the project is speeding up construction time.

“We have to do this faster,” Sheffels said. “We anticipated a total development period that went on nearly a dozen years. They told us that is an unacceptable time period and we concur. We need to find a way to do it quicker so we are responsive to the residents.”

Now, he said, they intend to start moving – noting that the $30 million investment by Mayor Martin Walsh in April was a spark to get designers of their duffs and moving.

“It’s our intention to try to begin construction in the summer of next year,” he said. “That means we have a lot of work ahead of us and explanations to you of how we will mitigate the issues that will face you in the community…We don’t have all the answers now, but we will come back to you with those soon.”

One way to make that happen, he said, was to look at constructing things differently. That, he said, could mean utilizing barges on the Mystic River to cart of contaminated soils and construction debris – as well as to bring in new construction materials.

The project does have an agreement with the unions and a Project Labor Agreement.

In questions from the community, there was quite a bit of concern over traffic and parking – of which the project team said they would be talking about in future meetings, likely to come in September.

One routine call was for more workforce housing in the project or somewhere in Charlestown – as opposed to more low-income deeply affordable units. One common concern among many in Charlestown is providing middle-income housing for young people who grew up in Charlestown, for retirees and for young families.

Mayor Martin Walsh said he was happy to provide the historic $30 million investment and is looking forward

“We look forward to working with the BHA, its residents, the Charlestown community and the developer, on the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill Housing Development,” he said. “This is a project that has been in the works for a long time, and that we’re excited to see come to life with our $30 million investment towards its rehabilitation. This investment is the first time in the City’s history that bond dollars have been invested directly into a BHA project, filling the gap created by federal reductions in public housing support. It is our hope that this investment will preserve and improve hundreds of affordable units for many years to come.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said he is glad the project is back on the community’s agenda, and looks forward to hammering out the details next fall.

“I’m happy to see the Bunker Hill Housing development is back on the agenda,” said Ryan. “I appreciate Mayor Walsh’s financial commitment to the project. I look forward to getting the formal process moving so we can move towards getting our neighbors the quality housing they deserve.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards said she believes the current process can find a solution for everyone, but also said such developments are a reminder that the Town needs a Master Plan.

“I am relieved that the conversation is starting and believe we can get to a size, design and infrastructure support plan,” he said. “I also think that if we are going to be serious about the future of Charlestown we need a master plan.”

Off-site housing likely to be a part of One Charlestown plans

One of the early concerns for residents around Charlestown for the new plans on the Bunker Hill Development was the idea of housing at an off-site location.

BHA Director Bill McGonagle said there are currently 1,116 public housing units at the Development, and that 1,016 are guaranteed to come back on site. Another 100 are contemplated to be located off-site somewhere in Charlestown- with the possibility of creating even more public housing at that site in combination with middle-income housing and market-rate housing.

While no site is set in stone, the City-owned parking lots at Bunker Hill Community College were mentioned at the meeting May 30.

“Right now we’re looking at the potential of 100 deeply affordable units to go off-site in the neighborhood and we’re looking at a few neighborhood areas in Charlestown,” he said.

“We are looking at re-locating 100 deeply affordable units at, perhaps, the Bunker Hill Community College (parking lots) on Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) owned land,” he continued. “That’s not cemented in stone yet. We will have a community process. It could conceivably be more than 1,116 units. That’s the minimum replacement now. As we get further down the road, there may be a chance to expand the number of affordable units…I suspect they will be in a mixed-income community as well. Nothing is cemented in stone yet.”

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