The BHHR development team did all they could to make the Dec. 16 IAG meeting the last one. There were thank you’s all around and roses tossed to the players for their hard work. But I, for one, don’t believe the community process is complete as much as the powers that be would like it to be.
The Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) meeting on Dec. 22 provides a case in point. The developers returned to the subcommittee with significant changes to Building F in response to comments made at the previous meeting about its awkward and hulking design juxtaposed with its much smaller neighbor, the Kennedy Center. I was amazed at how a little pushback from the commissioners led to a much more interesting design. Imagine if the community was able to have as much influence what this project could be?
The BCDC intends to have at least one more meeting to discuss Phase 1 building designs. After that process is done, the community deserves to see all the changes made in response to commission recommendations.
I also heard the developers at this meeting ask to decouple approval for the zoning framework from approval for Phase 1 to hurry the process along. They said they were willing to accept that it might take into February to finish design review. This leads me to wonder why, if as we were told the rush to end the community process had to do with getting Phase 1 started. The developer needs to be more transparent with the community about this new strategy.
At the Dec. 16 IAG meeting I asked about the developers’ plan for integrating BHA residents and their market-rate neighbors so that everyone felt a sense of belonging. Studies have shown that true integration takes much planning and sustained and iterative efforts to have any chance of being successful. While I was assured that this was a significant part of ongoing discussions with the CRA, the broader community deserves to hear more about the management plan including the relationship with the BHA during and after build-out.
I appreciated hearing the developers talk about including units affordable to workforce households in later phases as a community benefit. This is one of the components that has been shown to be most impactful to a mixed-income community’s success, since it provides an opportunity for housing mobility to low income residents if their financial situation should improve, and helps blur income stratification lines. But there are currently no government subsidies for workforce housing. So it’s easy to say they would explore including it but without a demonstrable plan, it’s not a community benefit. It’s a fantasy. The community deserves to hear more concrete details about this promising housing proposal.
So for as much as I would like this process to be over, it’s not. There needs to be at least one more IAG meeting. And we need a defined plan for ongoing community engagement to monitor the project after it eventually gets underway.
Stay engaged and don’t let the official end of the comment period keep your voice from being heard.