By Michael Coughlin Jr.
On Wednesday, May 17, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting concerning the Building 108 project, where residents voiced their fears about the effects a potential project – The Helm on Third – might have on Building 108.
The Building 108 project is a proposal from Power House CNY, LLC, to redevelop the site of the now-demolished power plant in the Navy Yard at 108 3rd Avenue.
The proposal would create an approximately 99,600 gross square foot research and development office building with 78,370 square feet of research and development space and 1,800 square feet of restaurant or café space with 39 below-grade parking spaces.
This proposed project is in close proximity to the Consitution Inn, where there are plans drawn up to create The Helm on Third, a permanent affordable and supportive housing development that would primarily house those moving out of homelessness and those actively battling addiction or mental health issues.
Seemingly the concerns about how these two developments would interact deal with the fact that the Building 108 project proponents are merely building it out – they will have to seek tenants to fill both the research and development space and the café space, and there are fears that the Helm might drive away tenants.
In the Zoom meeting chat, one resident alluded to these fears when they asked, “How will you be able to convince tenants to safely enter Building 108?” That question was posed almost immediately after the development team wrapped up its presentation.
Not only did the question regarding the interaction of the two projects take a bit to be acknowledged the proponents did not initially address it; it was addressed by Sarah Black of the BPDA.
Black indicated that these concerns were also raised during the Building 108 project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting just two days prior and responded to the resident’s question with a statement.
“I know that given the proximity – I anticipated that there may be questions around it, but I want to make sure we’re kind of keeping it separate from the review and discussion surrounding this project. So we are here tonight because there is a filing under review for a proposed project at the Building 108 Project – right – so the BPDA has an active project page on this we have an active filing under review,” said Black.
“That isn’t currently the case for the Consitution Inn project. There is no active filing under review. When there is a filing for that project, then we will hold a similar round of public meetings to what we are doing right now to engage the community about that project specifically – any questions you may have, any impacts on the neighborhood, and this development team is certainly welcome to attend those meetings as well because I know there have been some questions about how these two projects might interact were both to be built,” Black continued.
“There will be an opportunity to have that discussion in a separate forum, but right now, I want to make sure that we’re focusing on the project that is currently under review and kind of keep questions directed to this one and again make sure – that we will hold space for questions and comments around the other project, but it is not actively under review with the city right now,” concluded Black.
Black did go on to say that she did not want to be dismissive of residents’ questions about the interaction of the Building 108 project and the Helm on Third but reiterated her point that the Helm is not currently under review.
After Black concluded her statement, the same resident who asked the question in the chat raised their hand and reiterated it. The question was again addressed by Black, who once again reiterated that there is no official filing for the Helm on Third project.
“You’re avoiding the question – which has to do with the financial viability of Building 108 – what your plan will be – your backup plan will be to make it financially viable if Mass and Cass is set up outside the door – what’s your plan B for that,” said the resident.
“Can we let some of the developers address the question? They’re the ones who are going to get stuck with this building and can’t rent it, Sarah [Black].”
Further, other residents in the meeting’s Zoom chat seemed not to understand how the two projects could be separated. It should be noted that while there is no official review for the project right now, there is a whole web page regarding the plans for the Helm at https://stfrancishouse.org/the-helm-on-third/.
One resident said, “These two projects will very much impact each other,” while another said, “Building 108 will be directly impacted by the Helm proposal – how can you separate the two?”
Eventually, one of the members of the development team – Geoffrey Lewis of Power House CNY, LLC, responded to the concerns and questions.
“Thank you for your comment. I mean, when there’s something for us to look at, we’ll look at it, but right now, there’s nothing for us to respond to,” said Lewis.
However, the resident alluded to the website mentioned above, indicating that there is something to look at and respond to.
The resident went on to say, “If I was the CEO of your organizations, I would be insisting that the BPDA not kill my Building 108 proposal two years from now.”
“You’re foolish CEOs if you’re not doing the same,” the resident added.
Overall, it is clear that for some residents, thoughts of the Helm on Third are overshadowing the Building 108 project. In the meantime, the current public comment period regarding the Building 108 project will be open until Wednesday, May 31.
Residents can make comments at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/building-108 or directly to [email protected].