BPDA Hosts Austin Street Lots Development Meeting

By Michael Coughlin Jr. On Tuesday, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) held a meeting regarding the Austin Street parking lots, during which Trinity Financial reviewed its plans to redevelop the site. In November 2023, the BPDA’s Board tentatively designated Trinity Financial to redevelop the Austin Street parking lots, which Bunker Hill Community College students have predominantly used. Since April of 2023 — around the time the BPDA released a request for proposals (RFP) for the site’s redevelopment, Trinity Financial has been working with stakeholders in the community to develop its plan. “One of the hallmarks of our company and our approach to development is really to engage the community,” said Abby Goldenfarb, Trinity Financial’s Vice President of Development. Before the project team reviewed the plans, Goldenfarb provided some updates since the last community meeting. These updates include that Trinity Financial has engaged with Tech Environmental to complete an air quality study with results coming this summer. It is also working with Fougere Planning & Development to conduct a school children study assessing things like capacity and is in talks with Boston Sand & Gravel about its access needs and more. After the abovementioned updates, Kenan Bigby, Trinity Financial’s Managing Director, outlined the plans for the site. Trinity Financial is proposing up to 700 new residences in four new buildings. Building one has plans for up to 189 apartments, a mix of affordable, market, and artist live/work units. Building two is slated for up to 216 apartments, a mix of affordable and workforce units, and building three is projected to have up to 149 condominiums, a mix of market, affordable, and workforce units. Finally, building four would have up to 146 condominiums with a combination of affordable and workforce units. In addition to the residences, plans are also for several other amenities, such as arts and culture, neighborhood retail and commercial, early childhood education, and indoor recreational space. Moreover, the development is slated to contain around 3.1 acres of open space, new landscaping, trees, and more. Plans also include 233 parking spaces, which would be situated under the buildings and at surface level. “Those elements all come together to create some community benefits beyond the provision of affordable and workforce housing,” said Bigby. Some specific benefits to note include art gallery space, four 90-by-90 playing fields, indoor recreational space with a gym and fitness areas, and much more. It should also be noted that up to about 60% of the project site will be affordable housing, with affordability ranging from 30% to 80% AMI (area median income) for rentals and 80% to 100% AMI for homeownership units. There are also plans for 100 project-based vouchers. After Bigby outlined the plans, Nancy Ludwig of Icon Architecture spoke about the design approach and much more. She specifically discussed locating the playing fields closer to Rutherford Avenue, creating a geothermal well system for the buildings’ heating and cooling, improving site circulation through the creation of neighborhood streets, and more. Ludwig spoke about the site massing and the idea of having taller massing at the back of the site to shield the highway noise, having the tallest portions near Cambridge crossing, and dropping near the Charlestown community. She also detailed general design approaches, such as having the buildings relate to the neighborhood through materials and step-downs. Ludwig later described the site’s features and how the buildings are distinguished on the ground floor. For example, Building One will focus on arts and culture, with gallery space and more. In terms of sustainability, the plan is for the buildings to be passive house certified and all-electric. The buildings are also targeted to meet LEED Gold standards. As the presentation progressed, Ludwig touched on several topics, such as resiliency and transportation, which can be viewed in detail in the project presentation located on the project’s webpage on the BPDA website. Regarding the project timeline, the team projects completing Article 80 permitting and its MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act Office) process by the end of 2024. The team predicts that in the first quarter of 2025, it will begin design development and Chapter 91 permitting. It hopes to obtain the Chapter 91 permit in quarter four of 2025 and begin construction, which is predicted to be complete in quarter four of 2031. Following the presentation, those in attendance were allowed to comment and ask questions. One attendee asked about the placement of the project-based voucher units. Bigby indicated that they would be located in buildings one and two. Another attendee had asked who would be eligible to use the proposed parking spots. In the meeting chat, Bigby wrote, “The parking located below the buildings will be for occupants of those buildings. The parking created as part of the street improvements would be treated as public parking spaces.” The same attendee also wondered if a gated dog park had been considered for the development, to which Bigby indicated that it had not to this point but that they would consider it. As the discussion progressed, a few residents raised concerns about parking. Specifically, one resident questioned where the focus was for families and those not using other means of transportation. “We’re getting a few questions about the amount of parking and how that will work, so we’ll continue to study that, and we can sort of expand our discussions around how parking will be allocated and utilized throughout the site,” said Bigby. Questions were also raised about noise from the highway and how that might be mitigated. In response, Goldenfarb said, “We’ve developed at least two buildings on top of the MBTA and on top of the highway and are very familiar with noise, especially noise combined with vibration.” Moreover, Ludwig indicated that the passive house envelope is “a thick, highly insulated envelope” and that the windows used are typically triple-glazed. The height of the proposed buildings was also questioned. Building one is slated to be up to 13 stories, building two up to 12 stories, building three up to eight or nine stories, and building four up to nine stories. Moreover, Ludwig indicated that the buildings are planned to range from 70 to 150 feet tall. Ultimately, the question-and-answer portion of the meeting covered several topics before it concluded. To learn more about the project in detail, view a recording of the meeting and its presentation—when posted—and leave comments, visit the project webpage at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/austin-street-lots-redevelopment. The current comment period for the project is open until July 2nd. “We are open to your feedback, your comments… it’s been a really great process so far, and we look forward to getting back to you with the answers to those questions that we’re still exploring,” said Goldenfarb.

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