Urban Edge offers 4th plan

October 9, 2009
By

David Taber

CAC is receptive

JACKSON SQ.—Precluding a potential vote on building housing for the formerly homeless at its Columbus Avenue site, non-profit developer Urban Edge offered a fourth version of development plans at the Oct. 6 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

In response to concerns voiced by the CAC at its September meeting, Urban Edge President Mossik Hacobian said at the October meeting that the developer is heading back to the drawing board once more. It now plans to put forward a proposal for mixed-income housing with affordable and market-rate units on a taller, expanded Webb Building at 1542 Columbus Ave. Between 10 and 20 percent of those units will still be dedicated for the formerly homeless, he said.

The reaction from CAC members to Urban Edge’s new concept was muted, but more positive than the group’s responses to previous proposals have been.

Urban Edge is hoping to formally begin the city approval process for the new plan, and for a proposal to build an indoor recreation center that will likely include a new home for Jamaica Plain’s Kelly ice skating rink, before the end of the year, he said.

The non-profit developer’s last proposal was to expand the footprint of the two-story Webb Building. The new space would have been devoted to 30 units of housing for the formerly homeless on the top floor.

But CAC members said they wanted to see a mix of subsidized affordable and market rate units throughout the three Jackson Square sites where residential development is planned, and particularly on the Roxbury side of Columbus Avenue, where Urban Edge’s site, which includes its offices, sits.

Plans to build office and community space on the ground –floor remain the same.

The new concept addresses CAC concerns and “captures the intent of [Urban Edge’s] original proposal” of a mixed-income residential development for the site, Hacobian said.

CAC member Celia Grant said she is glad that the new proposal would bring a mix of income levels to the site. “I am more open to it,” she said of the new proposal.

The new plans are still in an embryonic stage. The only design details Hacobian could provide were that the building would probably see stories added to it and that the market-rate units would probably be on the upper floors.

The new stories mean a potential increase in the number of units built in phase one on the Urban Edge site. The units will all be built as rentals, but Hacobian said the developer would consider offering the market rate units to homebuyers if the market improves.

Urban Edge also announced a new timetable for its project. At the September CAC meeting, Hacobian said Urban Edge was trying to get a plan in place so it could apply for city funding for the project in November. That inspired a CAC decision at the end of the last meeting that it would vote on whether to support Urban Edge’s new plan at the October meeting. Shortly after the September meeting, Hacobian told the Gazette he had learned there is another funding round the developer will be able to apply to in the spring.

While Urban Edge is no longer trying to maintain that breakneck timetable, it is still hoping to move quickly. Hacobian said the developer hopes to have detailed plans ready to file a notification of project change (NFP) by the end of the year.

The developer is working on the Jackson Square redevelopment project with other non- and for-profit developers in a partnership known as Jackson Square Partners (JSP). While individual developers in the group are working on different projects, the components are all part of a master plan JSP filed with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

Even as other aspects of the plan move forward through the final design and approval process, Urban Edge must go back to the BRA and file an NFP so the master plan reflects its new plans for its site. It must also go through an individual BRA design review process under Article 80 of the Boston zoning code.

The Article 80 and master plan change processes will run concurrently, but will be voted on seperately by the BRA board. Neither “will be brought to the board without consensus on both,” BRA deputy director David Whiteside, who attended the CAC meeting, told the Gazette.

The NFP will also conclude a controversial proposal to build an indoor recreation facility at the corner of Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street that has been proposed to include a new permanent home for JP’s Kelly ice skating rink.

If approved, the recreation facility will be built in a later phase in the development project. Unlike at previous meetings, it was not discussed extensively at the October meeting.

After the meeting, Hacobian told the Gazette that the master plan change would also seek to move the rink construction from the final phase to the second or third phase of construction, so Urban Edge could seek to take advantage of a close to $5 million bond authorization included in a state environmental bond bill last year.

CAC member Caprice Taylor-Mendez asked Urban Edge to keep a close eye on the overall mix of affordable and market-rate housing in the new developments. Community developed guidelines call for at least 70 percent of the new units to have some sort of affordable housing subsidy.

CAC members did express some concerns about making sure the group has a meaningful opportunity to provide input into Urban Edge’s new proposal.

The group essentially vetoed two other plans Urban Edge brought to them earlier this year.

CAC members said that for the latest proposal, they would like to be offered a chance to review and vote on it before it is submitted to the BRA for review.

“What seems to make sense is you present it to us for a vote,” CAC member Dan Cruz said.

CAC member Red Burrows who is the Jamaica Plan Neighborhood Council representative in the group, agreed. “as a courtesy, we should be privy to the plans before they are submitted,” he said.

“You have been privy [to the plans and will be privy at every stage,” Urban Edge staffer Noah Maslan said.

At another point, he said Urban Edge’s goal “has been to develop this in a collaborative way that reflects community input and is not a surprise.”

Burrows and Grant said there have been times when the CAC has felt caught off-guard by seemingly sudden and radical new proposals from Urban Edge. Grant urged the developer to make a better effort to get information about proposed changes to the CAC before the meetings. One of the ongoing challenges is that we have to [absorb and] react to things at meetings,” she said.

BRA officials urged the CAC to have confidence in the redevelopment authority’s review process. The city will hold a public meeting, collect comments from the CAC and the community and actively work with the developer on improving the plan between the NFP submission and the BRA Board vote, Whiteside said.

“We have a system in place…to address what you are talking about…I would caution you not to add more process than there needs to be,” he said.

Urban Edge, which owns and co-owns a host of properties in JP, mostly in the Egleston Square area, including the Academy Homes public housing development on Columbus Avenue, plans to host a community meeting to discuss the development changes and other issues in November, Urban Edge staffer Katie Provencher said.

The CAC will likely have one meeting in early December between that meeting and Urban Edge’s NFP submission.

For a recap of changes to Urban Edge’s plans for the site, see Jamaicaplaingazette.com/node/3637

Public infrastructure

The CAC also heard an update from Bart Mitchell of Mitchell Properties—another JSP partner—on planned public infrastructure improvements in the area.

Many of the CAC members are professionally involved in the construction and development fields and many are veterans of other community development review processes. Mitchell’s public infrastructure presentation offered the group a chance to nerd out over things like bus clearance around street corners; the sometimes-combative relationships between street-tree roots and sidewalk slabs; and substituting green roofs for underground detention basins to deal with storm water run-off.

The first part of the public infrastructure work—funded by a close to $3 million state grant JSP received in 2007—is dues to start this spring.

Since the proposed plans were unveiled last summer, the improvement plan has been vetted by city and state agencies.

Notable among the changes: The Boston Transportation Department nixed JSP’s plans to build two crosswalks at the intersection of Lamartine and Centre Street, Mitchell said. One of those cross walks was meant to improve the Southwest Corridor bike path crossing at that intersection, but city officials felt the two crosswalks would be too confusing for motorists, he said.

JSP will revisit that issue in the future, he said.

Mitchell said future pieces of the work will hopefully be funded in part by a state Public Works Economic Development (PWED) grant. JSP’s application for that funding is pending before the state, he said, asking the CAC to draft a letter of support for that funding.

The CAC did not formally agree to do that, though no apparent game-changing concerns were raised about the plans.

A full report on the planned infrastructure improvements will appear in a future issue of the Gazette.

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