BPDA Updates CNC on Neighborhood Development Plans

By Adam Swift

Representatives from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) gamely answered questions about developments that are in the pipeline for the neighborhood before the Charlestown Neighborhood Council at the CNC’s monthly meeting last week.

Additionally, the BPDA representatives fielded the questions they have probably come to expect about how much they have backed the community when it has faced projects the neighborhood has opposed, such as the Hood project, and the scope of the PLAN: Charlestown process.

“We have the opportunity as a community to ensure that we give them input, take what they are trying to do over the next two years,” said CNC Chair Tom Cunha. 

Jason Ruggiero, the community engagement manager for the BPDA, updated the CNC on about a half dozen projects currently in the planning phases.

“201 Rutherford Ave, that’s been in process for a number of years and there’s no tremendous update with that,” said Ruggiero. He said the BPDA has issued a scoping and determination on the project, which is an 80 to 100 page memo with BPDA and community comments that the developer is asked to respond to.

“We don’t do that for all projects, but we do it for the really large ones,” said Ruggiero.

The 201 Rutherford Ave. project consists of the development of an approximately 46,000 square foot portion of the Bunker Hill Mall into 240 residential units.

A newer project at 420 Rutherford Avenue is from a developer who wants to construct a lab building, Ruggiero said.

“They filed a letter of intent with us, so there’s going to be a robust process on that, it’s just the beginning of the project,” he said.

As with other large projects in the community, Ruggiero said there will be an impact advisory group that residents can join to help review the project.

“Impact advisory groups help review the project alongside the community and the BPDA,” he said. “You decide what the benefits are, what the mitigation plans are.”

The Bunker Hill Housing project should see demolition begin early next year, Ruggiero said.

The BPDA also recently released a scoping and determination document for the large-scale One Mystic Avenue project.

“It really does amplify everything we learned from the community about that project, it’s too dense, it’s too tall,” Ruggiero said. “We always listen to the community, but I think that we articulated it very well in that memo that we issued, and the process is still open. If anyone feels a certain way about that project, that project is still under review.”

The One Mystic proposal consists of the demolition of the existing structures on the site and construction of an approximately 550,000 square foot mixed-use building with nearly 700 residential units, commercial and retail space, and about 240 off-street parking spaces.

“Rise is a development team and they filed a letter of intent for a couple of properties in the Inner Belt area of Charlestown, so right on the Somerville border,” said Ruggiero. “It’s probably four or five pieces of land that they have assembled, and they filed a letter of intent. They reached out to us and said we have a development vision and they filed some early visioning plans.”

The review process for that project is just underway, and Ruggiero said there will also be an impact advisory group for that development.

Other projects currently in the planning stage include a recently filed letter of intent for 425 Medford St. and the beginning of the requests for proposal process for the former EMS station. Ruggiero said the plan for the EMS station does include a new EMS facility, with housing around and above it.

CNC member Elaine Donovan questioned the effectiveness of the BPDA in representing the community of Charlestown.

“I’m really, really furious,” she said. “Has there ever been a project that the community disagreed with, that the BPDA backed the community?”

Cunha noted that he believed the main area of contention was the first phase of the Hood development, when the CNC wanted developers to hold off until they presented more information about the total development, but the project went ahead anyway.

Otherwise, Cunha said, the BPDA has typically been responsive about forwarding the concerns of the community to the developers.

“I know that people don’t love the Bunker Hill Housing project, but that was over a five year process, and the first iteration really went nowhere,” said Ruggiero. “I know some people were very frustrated and upset with the result, but that was a very thorough and robust process.”

Ruggiero said he knows that there are projects that go through that the community is not happy with, but noted that the BPDA is not the Zoning Board that has the final say on the developments.

Several questions were raised about the scope of the PLAN: Charlestown master planning process and if it included all of Charlestown or just the Sullivan Square and Rutherford Avenue portions of the neighborhood. BPDA officials said PLAN: Charlestown will be a vision for all of Charlestown.

In other business, Cunha said he expects a developer looking to build lab space in Sullivan Square will be before the CNC in February or March. He said there are also some smaller developments of 20 units or less on Medford Street that could be before the council in the near future.

The next meeting of the CNC is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 7 at the Knights of Columbus.

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