It was a mixed bag of feelings in the Town as the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Board approved the Bunker Hill Redevelopment plan at its meeting on Jan. 14, thus paving the way for construction to potentially begin on Phase 1 of the project next summer and put to bed seven long years of planning and reviews of the project.
For some – especially residents of the housing development, City planners and a growing number of community members – there were tears of joy and relief that living conditions would improve and a long-stalled project would get off the drawing board and into the ground.
For others – particularly members of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG), preservationists and neighbors from outside the housing development – there were huge frustrations with the approval as they continued to feel so many important questions were left unanswered. Some of those questions included how transportation to and from the site would work, confronting the density of the massive project and moving ahead with only vague plans for the community center and public spaces.
“Receiving approval for the redevelopment’s master plan is a critical step in fulfilling our commitment to replace desperately needed affordable housing at the Bunker Hill site,” said Boston Housing Authority (BHA) Director Kate Bennett. “We are excited to arrive at this milestone alongside our partners, the Charlestown Residents Alliance and the Developer. We look forward to continuing to work with the community and all stakeholders as we move toward starting construction on the first phase.”
Members of the tenant organization, the Charlestown Resident Alliance (CRA), were ecstatic at the approval and noted that some of their members have already been relocated inside and outside the development and eagerly awaited the approval and confirmation they would be able to move back to a new development.
“On behalf of our approximately 2,500 diverse low-income Boston Housing Authority residents of the Bunker Hill Public Housing Development who have been waiting almost six years, the Charlestown Resident Alliance is thrilled to support the BPDA Board’s favorable vote,” said Nancy Martinez, president of the CRA. “We are doubly thrilled that with our developer’s voluntary commitment to the City’s historic Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing zoning amendment, we can look forward to continuing our robust public process with an explicit framework for ensuring that our historic and ambitious redevelopment project succeeds in converting 13 blocks of the City’s oldest segregated and distressed public housing into a truly inclusive, welcoming, environmentally sustainable mixed-income community.”
The project has been epic. Seven years ago the Corcoran Companies began having meetings with residents of Bunker Hill to talk about hopes and dreams for the plan. Five years ago the first official review started, only to be stopped in 2016 for a “pause” in the official review process. That resulted in a break-up of the project and the development team. Later, Leggat McCall joined Corcoran in proposing a project change and a totally new design. That has been under review for more than two years, with the last public meeting happening on Jan. 12.
The Board took six votes officially on Jan. 14, approving all of them – including the approval of the overall campus plan and the new Urban Renewal U-District zoning tool and the community mitigation agreement. Phase 1 will include the demolition of six buildings on the eastern side of the development and the replacement of them with two new buildings, one of them being an all-affordable building on Medford Street. Those buildings will have 358 units, with 158 of them being public housing replacement units.
The approved overall project will construct a new, multi-phase, mixed-use development that will include 15 residential buildings. Once complete, the project will consist of 2,699 residential units, 1,010 of which will be deeply affordable, BHA replacement units and 1,689 of which will be market-rate. An additional 100 BHA units will be relocated off-site in Charlestown. The project site is located on an approximately 1.15 million square foot area of land with 41, three-story public housing buildings. Once complete, the project will also create approximately 2.7 acres of publicly-accessible open space, approximately 50,000 square feet of commercial space, an approximately 14,000 square foot community center, up to 1,400 vehicle parking spaces, and up to 2,699 bicycle storage spaces (a 1:1 unit to bicycle storage ratio).
The approval puts to bed the Article 80 review process, as BPDA officials said future phases will not require Article 80 review unless there is a project change. That would require a Notice of Project Change and a formal review process of that change.
BPDA’s Ted Schwartzberg said it is rare for a project with an eight to 10 year timeline not to deviate from the original plan, and many do end up having to file project changes and go through a subsequent review process.
However, if not, future phases of the project would only have to go through design review with the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC).
The U-Subdistrict Urban Renewal zoning tool was also approved in the vote and will be used instead of traditional zoning. That tool will only apply to the designated project site and not to the rest of the Town. It can be modified in future phases with the traditional Urban Renewal minor modification process, said Chris Breen of the BPDA.
Breen also said the approval was a bit sentimental for him. As a former Mayoral Liaison for Charlestown, the Bunker Hill Redevelopment meetings were his first in that position. Later, after joining the BPDA, he continued to work on the Urban Renewal aspect of the project. Now, seeing it approved is meaningful.
“I go back to this Thanksgiving when we were giving out turkeys at Harvest on Vine and some residents came up to me and others and said, ‘You have to get this approved for us,’” he said. “They were almost in tears. To know their living conditions, and the long history of it, and the vote the Board took, it was a special feeling.”
Schwartzberg said there is a human angle to all of the planning and discussions that have taken place over the last five years, and that cannot be ignored now.
“In the end, these are people’s lives we were talking about and they were thrilled with the vote,” he said.
The development team of Leggat McCall and Corcoran also said they wanted to thank the residents and the neighbors in Charlestown for giving so much time and attention to the planning over many years.
“We want to thank the residents of the Bunker Hill Housing Development, our neighbors in Charlestown, the Charlestown Residents Alliance, and the Boston Housing Authority for their input and dedication that has helped get the project to this point,” said Addie Grady, the Project Executive for the Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment. “This has been a thorough, collaborative process and we are pleased to have received BPDA Board approval for the master project, which will allow us to create safe, modern housing for the residents at the Bunker Hill Housing Development in a project that will also create new open space and local retail options. We remain committed to creating a new, mixed-income community in Charlestown and we look forward to working with residents, the community, our partners, and the City as we continue our work on design and future phases.”
Another important vote in the six-vote package was the approval of a laundry list of community benefits and mitigation measures to be taken throughout the phased project. The vote made that list of items binding on the development team, and it includes commitments to affordable housing, open space, sustainable buildings, infrastructure, transportation, Transportation Demand Management (TDM), community space, affordable commercial space, job creation, public benefit funds and future commitments in future phases.
Key pieces in the Bunker Hill Redevelopment Mitigation Agreement:
•Seven acres of open space with four publicly-accessible open spaces/parks.
•Environmentally friendly, Passive House certified and LEED certified gold buildings.
•Preservation of existing trees on the proposed site to the extent possible with documentation of existing trees and regular reports of this tree-saving effort. In Phase 1, seven trees will be saved and overall, now, 81 will be saved.
•Implement a shuttle service to the Orange Line Community College stop with a $500,000 fund managed by the BHA.
•New bike lanes on Bunker Hill Street, Medford Street, Concord Street and Tufts Street.
•Free one-month T pass and free one-year BlueBike membership for all new unit leases.
•Construct a 14,000 sq. ft. community center that will include an annual $1.1 million operational and programming support for the 99-year lease. The Center will be constructed in Phase 4.
•Have 20 percent of the retail space offered to local retail tenants at 50 percent of triple net market rate.
•Establish a public benefit fund with $1.5 million, and $180,000 of that coming in Phase 1.
•Establish a $500,000 Existing Project and Open Space Maintenance Fund for the BHA to use for maintenance upgrades to existing public housing buildings to be built-out in future phases.
•Explore reducing the number of all-affordable buildings to two buildings total.
•Explore incorporating workforce/middle-income housing into the project.
•Comply with the recently passed Fair Housing Zoning Amendment.