One Mystic Opening Meeting Pits Union Leaders Against BPDA Opposition

The first review meeting for the One Mystic residential tower seemed to pit two groups against one another – the trade unions that advocated for good jobs and a rejuvenation of Sullivan Square – and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), which clearly does not favor the project.

Somewhere in the middle was the developer, the residents and a group of young adults who see the new development as a potential affordable home in their neighborhood.

A rendering of the Food Market and Paseo at the ground level of One Mystic shows a lively and healthy lifestyle on what is now a junkyard, but City officials seem to be against the project due to its high density.

The meeting started with an elongated presentation of the project to the community, which was a similar presentation as was made to the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) two months ago. The basics of the project are that it is a high-rise residential tower on the old Flynn Junkyard abutting the Somerville City Line. There are 695 units and 243 parking spots and an active Food Market, restaurant and walking Paseo at ground level. The project was pitched heavily by members of Fulcrum Investments and their architects, James Gray of Stantec, as a key opportunity to rejuvenate a blighted part of the neighborhood and provide lower-cost housing for working adults.

“All these factors make it a four-star location for high-density housing,” he said. “It’s a way to stabilize housing costs in your neighborhood without being in your neighborhood. If the opportunity slips by, the opportunity to add significant housing stock for many in the neighborhood is missed. It really is a unique opportunity.”

That support was flanked by a large number of union leaders who are natives of Charlestown or currently live in Charlestown. They indicated the project – and if rumors are true, future similar projects on Sullivan Square – would bring good jobs to Charlestown residents and would clean up a blighted area.

That included Rich Lavoie of the Bricklayers, Greg Poole of the Carpenter’s, and Chris Brennan of the Painter’s – among others.

“This is an opportunity for residents of Boston, and especially Charlestown, to have an opportunity to build and perhaps live in this building,” said Charlestown resident Poole. “This is a real opportunity and Assembly Row is creeping up to that area. Somerville will continue to grow and Charlestown will miss out on this opportunity.”

Said Brennan, “I will be able to pull kids out of the projects, out of Mishawum and out of NewTowne to work on this project.”

All of that support, however, was punctuated with crystal clear and rare opposition from several BPDA members, including Charlestown Planner Ted Schwartzberg. He criticized the project as being way to dense for the area and for not fitting into the City’s planning efforts. He also said the City planning documents used by One Mystic to develop their plan were “mischaracterized.”

“I did the Sullivan Square disposition study and it does not enumerate the density that is proposed ,” he said.

“This is a FAR (Floor Area Ratio) of 12, which is appropriate for a skyscraper downtown by my office,” he said. “Hood Park has an FAR of 2.0. This is six times the density of what Hood Park is…To put it succinctly, this is not consistent with the findings of the Planning Study or the zoning in place right now.”

Later, Schwartzberg said such a building would set a precedent, and at that density, every road in Sullivan Square would be gridlocked all the time.

“We’ve done some preliminary traffic analysis and it shows that buildings of this density if everyone was allowed to do it, would lead to complete gridlock in Sullivan Square,” he said. “Would this set a precedent?”

Megan Richards of the BPDA also said they had significant concerns about open space too.

“Given the density, we continue to have concerns about open space and it’s something we need to continue to work on as we move through the process,” she said.

Later, Impact Advisory Group (IAG) member Joanne Massaro questioned the Affordable Housing and Compact Living unit breakdown, saying the math just didn’t seem to add up.

Gray said, upon closer look, that it indeed wasn’t correct and they had made a mistake.

“Hmmm, you may have got us,” said Gray. “Give us an opportunity to look at our math and get back to you. I think you’re spot on and we’ll get back to you on that.”

That revelation and faux pas threw all of the pricing and affordable unit numbers into question, and so that would have to be revised and brought back at a future meeting.

The clear BPDA opposition and the mathematical fumbles aside, the project does present a philosophical hope for a lot of long-time Charlestown residents who would like to get out of the family home and have their own place, but cannot afford it.

Casey Durham said she has been in Charlestown all her life, and is one of many generations to live in the Town. However, she cannot touch the dream of having her own place in the neighborhood now despite having a good job in Billerica.

“I’m in my 30s and living in a family home and I’d like to get a home of my own here as well,” she said. “With Charlestown prices so high, I don’t know if I could touch that dream unless something like this is built. That’s been a slum over there for many moons…I’m definitely for it. Traffic is traffic. It will always be there.”

As an opening salvo goes for such a large and transformative project, it was a bit different than most. A second meeting, for the IAG members and the public, was to happen on May 19, past newspaper deadlines.

The comment period for the current stage of the project ends on June 11.

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