Bunker Hill Redevelopment Unveils Changes

Developers of the Bunker Hill redevelopment project – once called One Charlestown – unveiled some changes to the affordability component of their first phase, but still maintained one building in the first phase that would likely be completely affordable – something many in the community have said would not fly.

After a moment of silence for the late, former Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Director Bill McGonagle – who passed away suddenly after a very short retirement, there was plenty of talking about the $1.25 billion Bunker Hill project he once championed during a meeting last Wednesday, Nov. 20, with developers Leggat McCall and Corcoran.

Leggat Co-President Eric Sheffels appeared with a new worker on the project, Adelaide Grady – the senior vice president of multi-family and multi-use projects. She was a former senior vice president with Pritzker Real Estate. They addressed a standing-room-only audience packed into the Harvard-Kent School lunchroom.

“We said we were going to come back a little after Labor Day, but it’s a little beyond that and for that, we apologize,” he said. “We have our first phase re-imagined in a more palatable way to the community…Our ability to build a multi-use community…will be somewhat defined by the sheer tyranny of the numbers.”

Two of the outstanding issues that were talked about during the meeting was the fact that some buildings were to be 100 percent affordable housing – rather than mixed-income – and that there were very few certainties in the presentation despite having taken extra time for the design.

Overall, the project – after an eight-year proposed buildout – will have 37 percent affordable units as they replace at least 1,010 public housing units on site, and add 1,589 market-rate units. The new plan does eliminate any buildings that will be all market-rate, said Grady.

“There are no all-market rate buildings now on the site,” she said. “We are trying to build a true mixed-income community…It will take eight years to construct the entire project, and we plan to start next fall, building 16 buildings in 10 phases.”

However, a big problem for those in the community has been in Phase 1 where the first two buildings were nearly all affordable – with those buildings being behind the Kennedy Center.

Grady said the first building has now been changed to a mixed-income building. They will demolish three buildings containing 53 public housing units, and rebuild one larger building with 57 public housing units and 199 market-rate units – for a total of 256 units. That was a positive change, but the second building in Phase 1 looks to be 102 all-affordable units, and many at the meeting were worried that could lead to stigmatizing the project.

Grady said they were going to make an effort to include 10 percent market rate units in that building, but there was no promise for that.

“This doesn’t sound like a mixed-income project to me,” said one resident. “You said you would try to get to 10 percent (market rate)…I understand what you’re saying, but I don’t think it’s realistic or ethical.”

Said Grady, “The ratio of the community as a whole is 63-37. Ideally we would mix all the buildings, but it doesn’t work with the numbers.”

Sheffels stressed they are trying to build something that is possible – a realistic project that brings almost all of the public housing units back and keeps the market-rate units down so as to reduce density.

“We want to present something that is possible and responsive to the needs of the current residents,” he said.

Elaine Donovan challenged Sheffels and the development team on the affordability and also on the vague details on a project that will be filed with the City in January.

“You have a lot of hopes and a lot of goals, but not a lot of facts,” she said. “I think many of us expected we would have a lot more answers when we came in at 6 p.m…I’d like some facts and not goals. You’re talking about goals.”

Many, including Donovan and her sister, Mary Boucher, wanted to know why the ratio of affordable to market rate had gone up since the last iteration of the project two years ago. The ratio was 3:1 and is now 3.5:1.

“When those representations were made, it was by a team that spent $5 million and they quit,” said Sheffels. “they quite because they couldn’t achieve it.”

Councilor Lydia Edwards attended the meeting, and said that the team has changed one building in Phase 1, and perhaps they need to re-look at their math for the second.

“Already we’ve watched a 100 percent affordable building become a mixed income building,” she said. “We’ve seen them change already. It’s time for them to look at their math…It might serve them better to say this is what they’re struggling with and the goal is a mixed-income, fully integrated 27 acres.”

The team plans to file with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) in January, which would begin the Article 80 process and all of the usual public meetings that come with it. It would also unlock meetings once again of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG), and the new members that are on that group now. They hope to have their full approvals from the City and state environmental regulators (MEPA) by June 2020. That would give them a start date for Phase 1 in the fall of 2020. With each successive phase, they said they would be coming back to the community for another full Article 80 process, and there are now a proposed 10 phases over eight years.

There are 2,699 units of housing, with 100 public housing units to be relocated off-site, but in Charlestown. There is 60,000 sq. ft. of retail along Bunker Hill Street, and a maximum height of 10 stories at four buildings – mostly located in the interior or Tobin Bridge edge.

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