IAG responds to Bunker Hill project

The new residential building on the Bunker Hill Mall fronting Rutherford Avenue had its first public meeting on Monday night via Zoom with the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and heard some concerns about parking and design of the building – which is designed by renowned Boston architect David Manfredi for Mall owner New England Development (NED).

The meeting began with an introduction to the project by the development team, including Joe Twohig of NED. The building, in brief, is a seven-story structure built around the current 99 Restaurant on the Mall property, with 240 units of housing – some of which are micro-units and 20 percent of which will be affordable housing at two income tier levels. There are 49 residential parking spaces and 29 retail spaces. Twohig also said they have access to a lot of parking existing in the Mall already as well, a topic that the IAG asked for more clarification on for future meetings.

“This is a community center and it has been a long time and that’s very important to us,” said Twohig. “It’s been that way for 40 years…The days of just building a retail project and that’s all it is isn’t what we do. Everything we do now is more mixed use.”

He said the residential building and an upgrade to the existing Mall property on Main Street – along with any future plans for the Mall – will revolve around the ‘Live, Work, Play’ concept that is how life has been trending for city residents over the past decade.

“That’s just how people live today,” he said. “People just don’t want to go and spend four hours in a mall and that’s their day trip. People don’t live that way today. They certainly don’t want to do that in the era of COVID-19.”

Manfredi said the building will be a major Gateway to the neighborhood, and they plan to present it that way by using appropriate brick around the lower floors and a tremendous amount of glass on the higher floors facing the Cambridge side. He said the building and the upgrades to the Mall will bridge the gap between the world of cars and the world of pedestrians and make this area of Charlestown more pedestrian-friendly.

“This is right in the middle between that part of Charlestown that is very auto dependent and that part of it that is very pedestrian-centered,” said Manfredi. “Our goal is to expand that pedestrian part of Charlestown.”

As part of the design, there would be four “townhouse” style units facing Austin Street that will have front doors onto the sidewalk. That is an effort to knit the building into that part of the neighborhood which features front doors to the sidewalk facing the larger boulevard-style roadway.

“We really want to put front doors on Austin Street, and we have four units that do that,” said Manfredi.

As part of the mitigation, NED proposes to make a $600,000 repair to a major water and sewer line under their property. They also intend to revamp the Main Street side of the Mall, fix the pocket park there and modernize the entry points to the Mall from Main Street. 

There is also a $1 million community fund contribution as well.

IAG Member Tera Lally was the first to chime in and she advocated for allocating that money to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) so they could disperse it to the community – as they did with mitigation money from Spaulding for the last several years.

She and others, including Toby Goldstein, had questions about the parking situation. They were worried that even though the development is prime territory for public transit and Transit Oriented Development, many might have cars and want to park them on the street.

The biggest revelation of the evening was that getting approval for the Compact Living Units means that residents at that address aren’t allowed to participate in the neighborhood residential sticker program.

That was a shock to everyone, as it’s the first Compact project in Charlestown and few knew that was a stipulation of that program.

“As part of the Compact Living Policy, all residential at the building will not be allowed to get residential parking stickers and the parking will be unbundled from the rent to discourage residents from owning cars,” said Risa Meyers of NED.

Said Twohig, “Most people don’t want to do that, but if we believe in what we’re preaching and what this is, we have to do that because it protects the neighborhood.”

IAG Member Nico Skiadas said he liked the building and the design and said it would be a feather in the cap to have a Manfredi building in Charlestown.

“There is a lot to like about this,” he said.

“It will be a gateway into Charlestown,” he continued. “I really think this is going to be the primary entrance into the Town. The question becomes what can be one to create more of a boulevard feel down Austin Street.”

The next meeting for the Mall project is a general neighborhood meeting online on March 10 via Zoom at 6 p.m.

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