Bunker Hill Development Needs More Collaboration

By Joanne Massaro, BHHR IAG Member

As the Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment (BHHR) project Article 80 process continues, through long meetings on Zoom, there are residents who are not participating but who may want to understand the issues and their implication for Charlestown’s future. 

While there have been a myriad of issues and concerns raised in the discussion so far, here are a few that are at a critical point along with my thoughts on each.  

•All-affordable buildings:  At the 10/28 IAG meeting, I commended the BHHR development team for presenting alternative options for reducing the number of all affordable buildings from 5 to 3.  After months of financially infeasible we are now at too complex. That’s progress but it’s just the beginning. I believe there are more options to explore, and further we can go to reduce the overall number of all affordable buildings.

From the beginning, my understanding was that the Corcoran-SunCal proposal had included one LIHTC building of about 200-300 units for seniors and the disabled. The first two all affordable buildings (Phase 1 family and Phase 3 senior/disabled) have a combined unit count in this range.

We need a commitment from the developer to keep it at just these 2 buildings and to come up with other creative options for incorporating the remaining units into the mixed income buildings. It is possible, even if at first glance it appears too complex. I have faith in the expertise of the development team and the housing professionals at the BHA, BPDA and DND to get it done.

•Density: At 2,699 units, I am among those who think the plan is too dense for the site.  I do understand the developers rationale for this number and their conundrum given the current state of financing options. (Hopefully the administration change in Washington will broaden these options.) But I also believe in the end, the long term success of this project will be hindered by cramming in so many units.  As one of my fellow IAG members has said, it’s like putting 10 pounds of housing in a 5 pound bag.

•Design: It’s hard to believe the generic apartment building designs we have seen for Phase 1 will be attractive to market rate renters who have comparably priced options, with better locations closer to transit.  I’ve seen nothing so far that says ‘Charlestown‘ which one would assume would make the project more attractive and desirable. Instead we’re looking at a design that has no sense of place.  This despite the stated goal in the DPIR (Draft Project Impact Report) to integrate the project into the rest of the historic neighborhood through not just a continuation of a street or two, but through its design.

•Tree canopy:  The proposed deforestation of the site should give us all pause. The negative impact of removing more than 300 trees, on the environment and the health of residents of the project and the broader community, is a very real concern.

Replanting trees of 3-inch caliper as was mentioned at the last meeting, even if their number is more than double the current count, will take decades to compensate for the loss of the mature trees that now grace the site.

•Phase 1 approval: I understand the compelling argument by the developer, the BHA and current residents to begin Phase 1 as soon as possible.   As a community we need to listen the residents and support them so that this project can get underway expeditiously. Therefore it is incumbent on the developer to take our concerns seriously and begin to address them in a more collaborative and constructive manner. Leggat-McCall has shown they can do this by their attention to reducing the number of all affordable buildings. Now we need them to also focus with us on the design and siting of the Phase 1 buildings and on protecting and minimizing the impact on the trees that currently stand in the way.

Solutions to density, however, may not be immediately available. Rather than holding up Phase 1 (with the essential caveat that all other issues have been satisfactorily addressed), I suggest we utilize the U-subdistrict regulatory agreement to protect our future rights. For example, the density limit should be granted only provisionally, with a clear timeline for reevaluating it and a goal of reducing the upper limit, all written into the agreement.

•Plan: Charlestown can provide one forum for this discussion and for developing solutions. These include envisioning how to incorporate the affordable housing needed, both deeply affordable and workforce, into any future development projects. But in order to ensure all proposed projects are part of this discussion, we need the City to immediately impose a moratorium on any project that triggers Article 80.

I encourage my neighbors to weigh in on these and other issues and concerns by submitting comments to the BPDA.  If we all do our part with a common goal of making the BHHR the best it can be, we may yet have something we as a community can take pride in.

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