The development team for the Bunker Hill Development presented an enhanced mitigation package at what was to be the final Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Dec. 9, and residents seemed to be torn between moving forward and addressing issues later in the process – or altogether postponing the Phase 1 approvals until more questions are answered.
The mitigation package was presented by Executive Director of the Redevelopment, Adelaide Grady, and included a new pot of money that was championed by State Rep. Dan Ryan and other officials.
That was perhaps the largest change in mitigation measures, which is what the IAG is tasked with negotiating.
That new pot of money would be a $500,000 grant from the developer to the Boston Housing Authority to fix buildings and improve open spaces in areas of the development slated for reconstruction much later in the process.
“We’re proposing a new mitigation fund of $500,000 to be invested in the existing development itself for buildings that are in future phases and for residents who live in units that need a little work,” said Grady.
She said Ryan and the Turn It Around group helped them to see that something had to be done for tenants who might not be included in the redevelopment for another eight years or more.
“Residents of later phases shouldn’t have to wait for living conditions to be improved,” said Grady.
Those improvements could be to buildings, units, open spaces, tot lots and other maintenance – as determined by the BHA.
“Conditions are tough and BHA appreciates that because we don’t have the resources to address issues in the units,” said BHA Director Kate Bennett. “The reality is now we’ll be able to invest in buildings that will be in place several years before being demolished. It’s the right approach…We wouldn’t be able to do it without something like this.”
Beyond that, the developers increased the Community Benefits Fund from $500,000 to $1.5 million over 10 years, which is basically around $200,000 for community benefits each year. That money would be to support resident programming through a temporary and permanent community center. Likewise, it would be used to support amenities off-site and non-profit organizations as well. That money would also be slated for improvements to parks within one-quarter mile of the development – such as Barry Field, a new tree nursery and other upgrades.
There would also be a new Transportation Fund administered by the BHA that would be used to study the feasibility of launching a coordinated shuttle service with other local landlords. Also, it would be used to start a shuttle service pilot program from Bunker Hill to Community College MBTA Station.
There is also a mitigation commitment to offer 20 percent of the retail space at affordable rents.
Grady stressed that moving forward isn’t the end of the conversation, but the beginning of a long-term relationship and discussion.
“We’ll be seeing a lot of each other in the next 10 years,” she said. “I humbly ask for your support in moving forward on the first phase so we can get that started sometime next year.”
State Rep. Dan Ryan said he shares some of the concerns that neighbors have about the redevelopment, but ultimately felt they were close to resolution and could be solved along with letting the first phase move ahead. He stressed by doing that, it isn’t an end to the discussion or the negotiations.
“I don’t think we’re all that far off from each other as a community,” he said. “There may be an issue with timing…but the concerns are all the same. I have some of the same concerns as people who are concerned about the project. I feel it’s better to move forward and make this slow trudge. We’re six years into this. It’s been slow. We need to address the project and concerns as we go forward.”
Several others are still uncomfortable with giving the go-ahead though. IAG members Heather Taylor and Joanne Massaro, and advocate Johanna Hynes were all skeptical that there would be opportunities in the future to address issues.
Hynes said she is part of a group of 320 people that signed a petition to keep the comment period open longer to develop a plan for the residents and to address issues like density and trees. She accused the BHA of being slumlords to move the project forward, making conditions worse so residents of the development would just go along to get out of the mess.
“It seems to me, and this might just be my opinion, that the development team and the BHA benefits when the residents have to leave or are willing to go along because it’s better than what’s going on now,” she said. “I’m not saying that’s true for everyone, but that’s how it appears to me. If you really cared about residents like you claim to and Leggat McCall was in this for the residents, which obviously they’re not…you would clean it up today. There are kids that live there that will live there 10 years. That’s their whole life they have to live there and wait. The BHA is acting like a slumlord and you should be held accountable. It’s unbelievable and I hope you take that seriously because people are catching onto it…”
Bennett refuted that statement, “It’s completely inaccurate that conditions have plummeted since this project started. It’s simply not true.”
Tina Goodnow, vice president of the Charlestown Residents Alliance (CRA), said they aren’t living in a “slum” and they are not along for the ride.
“We are in no way, shape or form just along for the ride,” she said. “We sit at the table with the developer and the BHA and address some of the same challenges the community members bring up in this meeting. We also share some of the same concerns and bring those challenges all the time. I want to make it clear we’re not just along for the ride. We are a party and we represent the concerns of the residents here.”
Community member Elaine Donovan made an emphatic plea for those concerned to move on despite the past and present issues. She said trees are not important when human beings need hope that they will have a nice place to live.
“I hate that this is three to one (market rate vs. public housing units) and it was sold to us years ago as two to one,” she said. “I still thing we were sold a bill of goods. Now, though, I’m willing to let that go. I’m willing to say, ‘You know what, it’s time to move it along’ for these people. The density, it stinks. We’re going to be inundated with traffic and people. All I can say is for a development to be redone and 1,110 families to live comfort, that has to be done. What doesn’t need to be done is four million units down at Hood Park…You want to fight something? Fight all those things…These people need to have just have their homes replaced and that’s what we need to focus on.” The process moving forward hasn’t been outlined, and there is no other IAG meeting for Phase 1 scheduled as of now. For some, the goal is to get the initial hearing of the project on the agenda for January