By Michael Coughlin Jr.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a meeting on Wednesday, Mar. 8, to discuss a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for development at the Austin Street lots that Bunker Hill Community College students have notoriously used.
A BPDA statement regarding the goals of the draft RFP reads, “The BPDA seeks to convey the property to allow mixed-use development that, in conformance with PLAN Charlestown, will bring a mix of housing with an emphasis on affordability to the Charlestown area along with community-driven ground floor activation and open space.”
“This is a significant piece of land within the City of Boston. It has been identified as suitable for redevelopment, and that’s why we’re here with you tonight,” said Rebecca Hansen, Director of Real Estate at the BPDA.
The lots, which cover 5.6 acres, are the property of the BPDA. As a scale, the site’s size is similar to that of the Bunker Hill Mall (six acres) and the Ink Block (seven acres), which helps demonstrate the possibilities for development at the site.
During the meeting, there were specific development objectives or guidelines for the draft RFP outlined by Natalie Deduck, Real Estate Development Officer at the BPDA.
Essentially, the guidelines or objectives will help push potential developers to emphasize aspects such as conformance with PLAN Charlestown, affordable housing, ground-floor activation, creation of open space, sustainable and healthy development, and arts and culture as part of their proposed plans. To see each development guideline in full detail, you can visit https://www.bostonplans.org/news-calendar/calendar/2023/03/08/austin-street-parking-lots-rfp-discussion-meeting.
Along with the development guidelines, suggested design parameters for the RFP were laid out. These parameters include a maximum FAR of 4.0 and a maximum building height of 150 feet – with the caveat that 200 feet could be possible at the Austin Street and I-93 corner for developments with “excellent affordability.” Other suggested parameters included lot coverage between 30 and 40 percent and 1.5 to three acres of open space.
In addition to the guidelines and design parameters, the evaluation criteria that will be used to pick the best development plans for the site were also discussed.
During the meeting, the evaluation criteria were focused on the potential development’s diversity and inclusion plan, development concept, design and public realm contribution, ability to execute and strength of financial plan, and sustainable, resilient, and healthy development.
To see each evaluation criterion in full detail, you can visit the aforementioned link containing the presentation slideshow.
While this meeting focused on what the BPDA had come up with to include in a draft RFP, it also allowed residents to provide feedback and address concerns about potential development at the site.
One of the main points of feedback or concerns raised regarding a potential development at the Austin Street lots dealt with air pollution – especially if housing would be included – due to the site’s proximity to the highway.
However, Deduck tried to quell some of those concerns by saying, “We’ve been working with leading academics who have been studying this in Somerville as well as recommended project engineers who have focused on HVAC systems that mitigate against these air pollutions.”
“If they [proposed developments] want to advance and they want to score high within this evaluation process, they’re going to have to submit something that follows the utmost safety and health standards,” added Deduck.
Other feedback regarding development at the site was scattered from what to do about incorporating indoor or outdoor sports fields, pedestrian connections, paths to homeownership, affordable housing, and much more.
Currently, the plan from the BPDA is to use the feedback from this meeting to help supplement the creation of the draft RFP. Following the finalization of the draft RFP it will be posted on the PLAN: Charlestown website in the coming weeks and be open for public comments. Those public comments from the to-be-posted draft will then be considered before a final draft RFP is created.
“This, again, is all part of the iterative process of creating an RFP, and so when there is a final draft, it will then go to the BPDA Board for review,” said Deduck.