425 Medford PDA Master Plan gets BPDA Board approval

By Michael Coughlin Jr. 

A project that would bring public realm enhancements, along with lab, residential, and hotel space at the site of the old Domino Sugar Refinery at 425 Medford Street, had its Planned Development Area (PDA) Master Plan approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s (BPDA) Board during a meeting last week. 

The Flatley Company, which also owns the Schrafft’s Center and has strong ties with the community, has proposed the project. 

“The Flatley Family has been an active member of the Charlestown community since 1985, and both Dan Flatley and I have children and grandchildren living in Charlestown today,” said John Roche, CEO of the Flatley Company. 

“We have worked very hard over the last two and a half years to bring our vision for the redevelopment of 425 Medford Street to the community,” he added. 

Six buildings would be constructed at the site as part of the project, encompassing several uses, such as residential, research/lab/office, hotel, retail/restaurant, and community center space. 

There are plans for about 1.79 million square feet of mixed-use development, according to Sarah Peck of the BPDA, who outlined the project at last week’s meeting. 

According to a document on the project’s webpage, which is located on the BPDA’s website, up to two buildings would contain residential space with around 500 units (400 rentals and 100 condos), the research/lab/office space would be in up to three buildings, and the hotel which may also include residential space would be in one building with about 210 units. 

Moreover, the document indicates that up to 889 parking spaces are planned, most underground. 

Additionally, Peck explained that plans are to create a 2,400-foot-long “resiliency component along the waterfront by the Mystic River.”  

After Peck provided a brief overview of the project, the development team went through a presentation of its own and shared more information about several facets of the plan. 

Initially, Jamie von Klemperer of KPF, the project’s lead architect, spoke about some of the work done to modify the project since September 2019. 

He also detailed specific design drivers for the project, which included aspects such as the Mystic Waterfront as an attraction, connecting people to the waterfront through public access, and much more. 

Specifically, around 13 acres of public open space are planned for the site through different programming, such as a kayak launch, the harbor lawn, a community path, and more. 

“Suffice to say, they’re very generously dimensioned, varied in use to create a tapestry of great possibilities for recreation and everyday life,” said von Klemperer. 

As the presentation continued, Sanjukta Sen of Field Operations, the project’s landscape architect, spoke about several other parts of the project. 

For example, Sen talked about an approximately five-acre waterfront park, the resilience measures in the project to combat 2070 projected flood risk, the public ways incorporated into the plan, a community path, the “railroad ramble,” and much more. 

Finally, von Klemperer discussed the parking strategy and design plans, which evoke some of the neighborhood’s traditional architecture. 

Following the presentation, those in attendance could provide testimony, and there seemed to be a lot of support for the project. 

Several representatives from local unions and Karl Alexander of the Mystic River Watershed Association spoke in favor of the project. 

While several attendees spoke favorably about the project, some residents shared concerns and had questions. 

A resident, Eric Zachrison, said he could not support the project and raised concerns about the heights of the proposed buildings and the proponent’s ability to maintain the proposed public realm upgrades. 

“Fundamentally, I have to beg the BPDA to either reject this proposal or cap its height for professional reasons. If my clients and other developers see this, they’re going to believe that if they propose 220-foot-tall buildings and come back with 160-foot-tall ones, the BPDA will support that,” said Zachrison. 

“How are we supposed to believe that they’re going to plant and maintain these lavish gardens when they don’t even take care of the narrow strip of trees and grass that exists along Medford at the moment,” he also said. 

JoAnn Grigoli, another Charlestown resident who complimented the project team for its renderings, wondered about the possibility of a grocery store for the retail component, citing the limited grocery stores in the neighborhood. 

After the public testimony concluded, project team members responded to some of the questions and concerns, such as the height of the buildings and the potential for a grocery store. 

Regarding the proposed heights, von Klemperer said, “We did look at — as we said — bringing down the heights significantly and also at the height that we have the buildings, stepping down the massing within each building so that they don’t go from the topmost to the ground uninterrupted.” 

“We think there’s overall a lot of care in taking the shape of the buildings seriously for the purposes of softening sightlines and shadows and giving a sense of proportion,” he later added. 

Concerning the grocery store thought, Roche mentioned that the retail would be community-based and that they have heard from other residents that there is interest in a grocery store at the site. 

“We’re more than open to that. We can accommodate it. We have had dialogue with — when we first started this process  — what I’ll say is a regional supermarket chain,” said Roche. 

“It certainly makes a lot of sense for us to be able to get a supermarket, and we will certainly do what we can to get one,” he added. 

Ultimately, the 425 Medford PDA Master Plan went to a vote and was unanimously supported. As for the next steps, a BPDA news release announcing the approval says, “The project will be phased and constructed over the course of approximately 10-15 years, with each phase going through the Article 80 review process.”

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