Bunker Hill Mall Proposes Housing, Complete Make-Over of Property

The owners of the Bunker Hill Mall proposed a new, 240-unit residential building on vacant land abutting Rutherford Avenue, and a complete make-over of the current Mall property in a Letter of Intent filed this month with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).

There have been rumors and discussions for several months regarding the overall plans for the Mall, which features a large amount of unused surface parking and some dated facades along Main Street and in the interior of the Mall. This month, New England Development finally shared their initial ideas for the development.

ONE IF BY LAND, AND TWO IF…BY THE NORTH WASHINGTON STREET BRIDGE? Following almost exactly the route of Paul Revere on his famous passage across the Charles River so long ago, a curious rowboater watches crews demolish the North Washington Street Bridge on Monday under the watchful eyes of the Bunker Hill Monument.

The proposed program would create a 203,727 sq. ft. building on approximately 46,000 sq. ft. of vacant space on the southern edge of the current mall property near (and perhaps on) where the 99 Restaurant currently sits. That building would contain 240 units of housing, to include Compact Living Units and tiered affordable units. That building would include residential amenities, surface/structured parking and landscaping improvements.

“We are excited to introduce a residential component to Bunker Hill Mall, a neighborhood shopping center that has provided services to the Charlestown community since 1978,” said Michael Barelli, vice president of New England Development. “Our goal is to continue our longstanding commitment to Charlestown by providing a number of public benefits – including affordable housing, a significant endowment for community funding, and enhancements to neighborhood open space and the shopping center itself.  We look forward to further public conversations as we shape our plan for 201 Rutherford.”

The filing relayed that the project would transform the existing mall into a residential, transit-oriented gateway development along Rutherford Avenue. It would also revitalize and modernize the shopping center – with no disruption or closures to existing stores during the project.

“Anticipated public realm and Bunker Hill Mall improvements to be advanced concurrently with the project include new canopies and façade treatments along Bunker Hill Mall’s Main Street frontage, new open-air pedestrian connections between Main Street and the interior of the Buner Hill Mall, and modernization and renovation of the Austin-Main Plaza – also known as O’Reilly Park,” read the letter.

The current plans fall in line with other existing projects, including the Compact Living Unit Pilot program, the Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square Re-Design, and the Charlestown Urban Renewal Plan. There was no mention of the current PLAN Charlestown effort by the BPDA to study the City’s zoning and development future.

Councilor Lydia Edwards said she is calling for the developer to be open to accommodating some of the 100 units of workforce and/or public housing that needs to be relocated as part of the Bunker Hill Housing Development project. Those 100 units of public housing have been left in the lurch since the most recent proposal for that project, and Edwards said she would like to see all new developments proposed accommodate those units in some way.

“That’s a very large development and a great deal of community process that needs to happen,” she said. “We are in the middle of changing our zoning and they come up with this thing in Charlestown….I’m not interested in any new development that isn’t interested in accommodating or welcoming people from the Housing Development. I would like to see them incorporate some of those 100 units from the Housing Development on that site just to start. I think it’s a real show of being a good neighbor to have some of these folks from the Housing Authority come in with a voucher.”

She said she hears that a lot of people are already opposed to the project, and it is going to need to go through a rigorous community process.

“I know people are outright opposed to it,” she said. “They bought the property. It was privately owned and they bought this site. Something is going to be built.”

State Rep. Dan Ryan said he has already heard concerns as well, but is open to working with New England Development on something that fits.

“Some people have already expressed concerns about height and density,” he said. “Some people have expressed those concerns to me already. We will have to take a serious look at scale and scope. I do like the proximity to the MBTA. This will be true transit oriented development. We need to avoid the cookie cutter type developments that spring up around transit. I think we, the community, can work with New England Development to find a proposal that fits in with the neighborhood while meeting some long range goals for this corridor.”

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