Of course, all of us support the replacement of the old Bunker Hill Project. But, we have some real concerns regarding the current BPDA plan submitted by the Developer.
February 2, 2017
Mr. Martin Walsh
Mayor, City of Boston
One City Hall Square,
Boston, MA 02201
Dear Mayor Walsh:
We represent the Charlestown Preservation Society, a nonprofit organization with a nearly fifty-year history of working to protect Charlestown’s cultural and architectural history. First, we thank you for your leadership and advocacy for Boston and, and particularly Charlestown during the past couple of years.
We are excited about the prospect of replacing the old public housing units in Charlestown. The old project is significantly past its useful life and no longer comparable to good quality housing. As a community organization, we are deeply concerned with what will replace the current buildings, the plans for the substantial additional housing, and the impact it will have on the community. We have reviewed the submissions provided to date on the BPDA site and have kept current with the documents and the general community meetings held in October and November.
We know that a few of our members participated in early planning efforts for the project and were frustrated by a lack of response to their concerns about the project’s density. This density had been determined by the Boston Housing Authority’s acceptance of the current development proposal. We understand that the BHA’s RFP for the project allowed fewer units to be built than the number we are being forced by the City to accept
We have two fundamental concerns. First, this is the largest residential project ever to be built in Charlestown. It sets a disturbing pattern for future development within the historically significant Breeds Hill area. We are concerned about the number of planned units, the height of buildings on the site, and the impact on the overall life of this community. Secondly, we are concerned about the public process and lack of information available to the community. There have been only a couple of meetings of the project’s appointed IAG. With one of our Board members on the IAG, we know that they too, feel in the dark. This process bypasses the Charlestown Neighborhood Council which is well known for being the go to organization for issues of such magnitude for the community.
We are, however, very appreciative of the IAG’s request a ninety-day moratorium on the project to allow for more community input. Below we address both concerns.
Our major concerns are as follows:
- The project is currently designed for a two-to-one increase in the number of housing units on the site. This rule of thumb calculation produces 2,200 additional market rate units which at an estimate of two persons per unit results in 4400 additional persons. This will increase the population of Charlestown by approximately 25%. From a resource perspective, this is huge, from an absorption perspective even greater. This raises the question of the capacity of the local public schools as well as the adequacy of public safety resources to handle the increase. We know we cannot look at this project in isolation when thinking about overall growth in Charlestown. There are several other sites in Charlestown (some owned by the City) that when built out, will add even more to the overall population.
- The plan will result in an area with double the maximum (FAR 2.0) density zoned for the rest of Charlestown. If the City can do this, other developers may argue a precedent has been set and will make it more difficult for us to force future developments to stay within the current zoning. This has the ability to significantly adversely affect the character of Charlestown, Boston’s oldest neighborhood.
- While OneCharlestown’s architects have tried to emulate Charlestown’s streets, they cannot do so because there are currently no streets in our community with six-story row housing on each side.
It is difficult, if not impossible, to make this new development feel like it is part of the neighborhood.
- Any of the buildings in the plans that are taller than the roadways on the Tobin Bridge would have a significant impact on views of Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Monument as seen from the bridge. The developer notes these buildings are planned for a future phase and have only been designed in concept. The question here is whether they would have to be built to make the financial calculations work. We do not endorse these tall buildings.
- We realize that Charlestown street plans will need to evolve to support some additional traffic from this project. Improvements in the Sullivan Square area are not likely to be finalized and built until well after 2020. The North Washington Street Bridge Parking will be under construction for some time. On street parking, all over Charlestown is problematic. This development under estimates both residential and visitor parking needs required to support the size of the new community.
- While the residents of the current project have participated in a variety of meetings there has been relatively little community wide public engagement given the HUGE scale of the project. In fact, we are surprised every day to discover how few residents really understand what is about to happen. The communication has failed for several reasons.
- The IAG formation has lagged the project planning process. Hence little engagement with the community. Much of the IAG communication has only been with the developer. We have not heard directly from senior BPDA and BHA officials.
- We have failed to use our most central community resource, the Charlestown Neighborhood Council (CNC) as the point of community engagement.
We trust there is still time to improve the project and the community involvement. We propose several actions:
- Review the size of the project. Are there ways to scale down the project such that it fulfills the realistic needs of the likely returning residents without creating such an overwhelming environment?
- Use some alternate funding to support this effort. Right now, it is exclusively being funded privately resulting in a larger than otherwise needed project. We do not believe that any other BHA project in the city has been forced into this situation.
- Recognize the CNC as a voice in the community for this project. The CNC is an elected group. It has representation from every precinct and many non-profits in Charlestown and should be consulted for its views.
- Create more active forums for feedback. The General Meetings have largely been one-way communications from the developer team without much support from the city.
Our hope is that you find our comments useful. We want to support the project if we can find a solution that benefits both the current residents and the community as a whole. Our mission includes protecting the unique historic character of Charlestown while guiding responsible development and educating our community. We look forward to working with you to that end.
With sincere regards,
Ellen Kitzis, Ph.D. President, William Lamb, Chair,
Charlestown Preservation Society Design Review Committee, CPS
CC: Brian Golden, Director, Boston Planning and Development Agency
Raul Duverge, Boston Planning & Development Agency
Chris Breen, Office of Neighborhood Services, Charlestown Representative
Thomas Cunha, President Charlestown Neighborhood Council
Lori Nelson, Communication Director, Boston Housing Authority