PLAN Charlestown Looks at Rutherford/Sullivan, Concerns About Attendance

The PLAN Charlestown planning process held a public working meeting on May 26 to look specifically at the Rutherford Avenue and Sullivan Square areas – a large corridor of the Town that is expected to change dramatically in the next 20 years and within the confines of the planning study.

At the same time, several dedicated members have this week expressed concern about the low numbers now involved in the planning process, saying that many people have dropped out after an amazing kick-off gathering in January 2020 and successful Zoom meetings last fall.

“One of my concerns is my opinion that the attendance is rather low in all these meetings,” said Amanda Zettel, president of the Charlestown Preservation Society (CPS). “In one of the last meetings there were only about 60 attendees online. We’re planning for the future of Charlestown and 60 voices doesn’t represent 19,000 people in the neighborhood.”

Nancy Johnsen, also a frequent attendee, said people seem to be Zoomed out, and aren’t showing up like they did. She said she hopes the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) can revive in-person meetings for PLAN Charlestown this fall to get more people to come out.

Meanwhile, at last week’s meeting, the BPDA rolled out a process to look at the Rutherford/Sullivan area. They prefaced the discussion by noting that neighborhoods change, and while the core of Charlestown will likely change very little, the Rutherford/Sullivan area is likely to change quite a lot in the next 20 years.

“It’s very likely that in 20 years some of the areas of Charlestown will look very different than they do today,” said BPDA Planner Anna Callahan. “This planning initiative is meant to help guide that change and help the neighborhood evolve holistically. We’re not targeting one specific site, but how do we target neighborhoods so it’s a healthy place to live.”

BPDA Planner Ted Schwartzberg said what is likely to change greatly is any area now that is a surface parking lot, or a one-story industrial/warehouse building. He said one example of this kind of planning is at Hood Park, where a Master Plan has several new buildings proposed, but also turns a surface parking lot into a new one-acre park open to the public.

However, Schwartzberg has been very critical of some projects, such as One Mystic, within PLAN Charlestown and in review meetings for that high-rise project in Sullivan Square.

“The development capacity in terms of area is limited by transportation improvements,” he said. “Some people may have heard me say that within the context of a development meeting last week. The sky is the limit to what public benefits mean, but at a certain point the sky is not the limit for development. You can only fit a certain number of square feet in an area based on the infrastructure that serves it – that being transportation infrastructure and other pieces of infrastructure.”

Other pieces of the corridor under consideration are also the BPDA-owned parking lots that serve Bunker Hill Community College. Part of the planning process is looking at those lots and dreaming about what they could be and what they should look like.

The planning exercise focused on four areas, mobility, climate resilience/open space, public realm improvements and locations of housing/businesses. During the meeting, participants were divided up into those four groups to focus on those areas for the Sullivan/Rutherford areas.

Some of the findings were that people wanted safe routes to that side of the community, and also into Paul Revere Park and the Gilmore Bridge. There was also a desire to lay out the Community College parking lots with new streets. For open space, there is a big call for dog parks and parks that incorporate climate resiliency – particularly in the Sullivan Square area. In the public realm, people are interested in activating the waterfront and creating wider sidewalks for outdoor dining opportunities.

For business and housing, homeownership was a big topic and making sure that young professionals were able to purchase homes at a reasonable price in Charlestown – particularly those that grew up in the Town and are looking at being priced out of their community. The next PLAN Charlestown meeting will be on Tuesday, June 29, and will focus on The Lost Village and the historic heart of Charlestown.

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