New England Development Files Further Plans for Mall Revamp

New England Development has filed a detailed Project Notification Form (PNF) with more specific plans for a project seeking to build an 85-foot-tall apartment building around the 99 Restaurant and revamp the look of the Bunker Hill Mall on Main Street – with an eye toward also looking at the future of the rest of the Mall.

New England Development filed the PNF late last month, and that began the Public Comment period, which ends on March 1. The company had officially notified the City and community of the plan last July, but filed detailed plans for the upgrade recently. Official Article 80 review meetings are expected to begin this spring.

The project would include 240 units of housing, with 128 of them being Compact Living Units and 48 of the units (20 percent) being Affordable housing opportunities. The building would be in a seven-story, 85-foot tall structure built in a U-shape around the existing 99 Restaurant. The new structure would run along Austin, New Rutherford and West School Streets and would have 49 spaces for parking.

“The new building will have a ‘front door’ at the corner of West School Street and Rutherford Avenue,” read the filing. “The proposed amount of parking is consistent with multi-modal transit availability at this location—e.g., the 92 bus, Rutherford Avenue pedestrian overpass to the MBTA Orange Line Community College Station, ZipCar and other car sharing or ride services, and the proposed Rutherford Avenue/Sullivan Square Design Project cyclist/pedestrian shared path and the City of Boston’s Compact

Living Policy.”

A view of the proposed building from near the parking lot of the skating rink, with the 99 Restaurant remaining in the middle of the building.

The design of the structure would be rather unique and would fit on what is vacant and mostly unused land. That said, what is now not very noticeable acreage would suddenly become a major gateway into the Town.

“The Project is designed around the existing 99 Restaurant, which will remain in its present use and location,” read the filing. “The U-shaped form of the Project accommodates 240 units within the available site geometry. The building width along each leg is optimized for unit size but narrows to a single-loaded corridor between the 99 Restaurant and Austin Street. The main building lobby entrance on West School Street and the individual apartment entrances along Austin Street are designed to enhance pedestrian activity and encourage an active street life.”

A major concession already in the filing is on affordable housing. Instead of the required 13 percent affordable, the company has built in a 20 percent affordable component, which would be 48 units. The affordability is a tiered offering, with 31 units available to 70 percent AMI and 17 available to the more standard 80-100 AMI. The Compact Living Units are also touted as being more affordable because they are smaller in size. There are 128 Compact units in the project, with 77 being Studios and 51 being one-bedrooms.

A rendering of the new Main Street entrance to the Mall, a part of the project that will run concurrently with the building project on the other side of the site. New England Development proposes to invest $2 million in upgrading the Main Street face of the Mall.

Beyond the actual building, New England Development is proposing to spend about $2 million to enhance and upgrade the Mall on the Main Street side. The filing details completely rebuilding the storefronts on the Main Street side so they don’t look like back entrances, and also making it a more active area for shopping. The breezeways on Main Street and from Thompson Square would also be upgraded with a more open feel to the and festive lighting and colors.

“Existing metal canopies will be removed and replaced with new materials such as zinc, painted aluminum or high-performance concrete panels,” read the filing. “Existing storefront will be removed, existing brick sills demolished, and openings cut for new 10-foot tall storefronts that extend down to the sidewalk and create a more open, visually interesting and accessible retail presence on Main Street. Tenant signage, colorful fabric awnings and new entrances will encourage browsing and shopping as well as walking through the passageways to and from the mall-side businesses. Lighting strung across the new pedestrian ‘lane’ will create a festive atmosphere for pedestrians passing through the formed metal arch that frames the Main Street entrance. At the Austin-Main Plaza, new entrances and storefronts soften the boundary between the park and the shops, especially when tables and chairs are set out in addition to the permanent park seating.”

As mitigation, already, the developer has proposed a $1 million payment in a Community Fund that would upgrade community assets near the proposed project. Some areas identified as potentially benefitting from that Fund would be the Emmons Horrigan O’Neil Memorial Ice Rink across the street, Rutherford Union Park, and Preservation Park in Thompson Square.

A revamp of the pocket park at the corner of Main Street and Austin Street is also part of the upgrade and building project.

The developers also propose to rebuild and provide a manhole access to the antiquated sewer main under the Mall. They estimate it would come at a cost of $600,000.

Of course, no one could look seriously at the project and not think of the future of the entire site – including the mall. That is also contemplated in the filing, and the developer indicates they would like zoning approved now to help begin looking at that future. Right now, the filing indicates that several long-term leases with retail tenants are in place that prevent the re-development of that side of the property. Beyond those leases, though, New England Development indicated it could see up to 250 more units on the site.

“Beyond the timeframe of the leases, further development of the Bunker Hill Mall site could deliver approximately 250 multifamily residences above newly constructed ground floor retail uses,” read the filing. “The Proponent is coordinating with the BPDA regarding adoption of a U-Subdistrict overlay for Bunker Hill Mall to support long-term planning for the overall site in alignment with the Charlestown Urban Renewal Plan.”

The U-Subdistrict zoning is the same tool that was approved and is being used for the Bunker Hill Housing Redevelopment project on the other end of the Town.

Already, around the Town, many have trepidation about the project and more than a few have expressed outright opposition to the idea.

At the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) on Tuesday, President Tom Cunha and Member Tera Lally said residents should take note of the comment period ending March 1 and let their opinions be known.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people around here and I don’t know anyone who likes or supports this,” said Cunha.

The project will go through the Article 80 process with BPDA meetings in the near future. Already an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) has been appointed and the members are:  Stephanie Ward – Lawnwood Place; Greg Poole – Tremont Street; Joe Savage – Monument Court; Nick Vuono – Green Street; Sean Getchell – Dunstable Street; Michelle McGee – Concord Street; Toby Goldstein – Lawrence Street; Tera Lally – Monument Avenue; Derek Gallagher – Green Street; and Niko Skiadas – Soley Street.

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