MassDOT picks buyers for JP parcels

After a public bidding process, the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) has designated buyers for several public parcels totaling 30,135 square feet near the Southwest Corridor Park that it obtained as part of the failed I-95 extension project several decades ago.

The new ownership of the parcels will result in the construction of a total of 25 new housing units, including 11 affordable units.

MassDOT introduced bid guidelines for the parcels in May and had several public meetings to collect feedback, one at English High School, and two sponsored by Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC). The JPNC, whose Housing and Development Committee assists in the disposition of public land in Jamaica Plain, provided a public venue for discussion and gave feedback to MassDOT.

“MassDOT has been pleased to work closely with members of the public and the JPNC throughout this process and ensure these properties are put to the best use and help strengthen the local community,” said Patrick Marvin, a spokesperson for MassDOT.

The MassDOT team provided two public comment periods, one for the bid guidelines and one for the Invitation to Bid (ITB), and made revisions to its proposals based on feedback and criticisms. JPNC submitted feedback to MassDOT with some requests about how to reword and revise the bid guidelines, and MassDOT issued revised bid guidelines in July, and a revised ITB in August. Some recommendations were met, while others were not.

Carolyn Royce, chair of the JPNC Housing and Development Committee, said that the committee raised awareness for the bidding process, and that their feedback resulted in some positive changes to the bidding process and MassDOT incorporated some of the revisions the JPNC asked for into the revised bid guidelines and ITB.

“Ultimately, by allowing greater community input into the process, a better resolution was reached on the disposition of these lots than was originally proposed by MassDOT,” Royce said.

Out of five bid packages, one parcel of land at 8 Oakdale St. was not auctioned so that it can remain a community garden. This parcel is 6,475 square feet and zoned as open space, which is its current use. The other four parcels will be developed with varying levels of affordability and density.

The parcel at 71-77 Call St. and Everett St. is 4,123 square feet and zoned for three-family use. The minimum bid was $985,000. This parcel will be acquired by Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and Watermark for $1,356,789 and will provide nine market rate units and eight affordable units with affordability levels between 60 and 80 percent area median income (AMI). MassDOT’s requirement in the bidding process was that at least six units be affordable at 80 percent AMI.

According to Leslie Bos, JPNDC real estate director, JPNDC and Watermark have partnered for the bidding of this parcel wherein Watermark will pay the full purchase price due to MassDOT for both sites included in the bid package. Watermark will keep the Everett Street parcel and then transfer the Call Street parcel to JPNDC for a nominal price. Watermark will be solely responsible for developing the nine market rate units proposed for the Everett Street parcel.

JPNDC is in the process of securing a City-owned parcel on the Call/Carolina site that will augment the previous mentioned Call Street site, where it will develop eight units of affordable housing.  JPNDC has committed to working with abutters of the Call/Carolina parcel to replace vehicular access and/or parking that previously existed on the site. In addition, Watermark has agreed to share profit from the development of the market rate units to reduce subsidy and cover unfunded development costs for the affordable units.

JPNDC initiated its community engagement and review process regarding this development in June 2017. Since this time, the group has held two community meetings, attended two JPNC Housing and Development Committee meetings, and conducted outreach through doorknocking, flyering and one-on-one meetings. Bos said that the team will conduct similar efforts moving forward.

The City of Boston has already initiated its own community process for the disposition of the City-owned parcel between the Call and Carolina parcels.

“Based on our understanding of their timeline there will be at least one additional meeting to review any proposals prior to designation, which is anticipated for March 2018,” Bos said. “We expect to continue to engage in the community review process with the goal of securing design approval and/or zoning variances by May 2018, to take title to all three parcels on the Call/Carolina sites by June 2018 and to initiate construction in fall 2018.”

The parcel at 97 Call St. at 3,432 square feet had a minimum bid of $55,000, and will be sold to Hollymount, Inc. for $300,000. The land is zoned for a three-family structure, but the proposed development will be one market rate unit. This property won’t be buildable until the necessary frontage lot, which is currently owned by the City, is acquired. MassDOT will work with the City regarding the acquisition of the frontage lot for this parcel, according to Marvin.

The parcel at 105-111 Call St. (8,443 square feet) had a minimum bid of $135,100 and will be purchased by Hollymount Inc. for $900,000. This lot will meet zoning requirements and provide three new market rate units.

The fourth parcel at 24 Spalding St. is zoned for open space, but MassDOT added a deed restriction limiting its use to either open space or affordable housing. The minimum bid was $10,000, and the winning bid was $355,000 by David and Tracy Steeves. They will build three affordable units on the 7,662 square feet parcel.

MassDOT staff are currently working on the parcel transfers and they will be transferred by the deadline of June 30, 2018. MassDOT finance reports that the allocation of these funds has not been finalized.

JPNC submitted recommendations that the invitation to bid include language that encouraged bidders to reach 100 percent affordable housing on the parcels, “especially in light of how these parcels were acquired.” JPNC also recommended that MassDOT provide “enhanced consideration” to bidders who exceed the minimum requirements for affordable housing.

JPNC recommended that language be included that clarifies “the highest responsible bidder”, instead of the highest bidder, “who does not have a history of problem properties, eviction challenges, or failure to comply with Boston or Massachusetts housing regulations.” JPNC also requested that the bid invitation encourage owner occupancy.

MassDOT did issue some changes to the original guidelines. They regrouped the parcels into four bid parcels instead of six; the number of minimum affordable housing units went from three to six; MassDOT would not advocate for variances to the zoning code in order to complete the disposition of any parcel; and language was included in the ITB which requires potential bidders in their responses to include any history of eviction challenges, citations from the City or State, tax delinquencies and housing violations.

MassDOT did not place language that favors owner occupancy over rental units. It also did not make the parcels 100 percent affordable because they “have a statutory obligation to maximize revenue from surplus land.”

JPNC accepts that the 100 percent affordability request was not met.

“Although there are those who would have preferred 100 percent affordable housing, we accept that there will be more affordable housing built than initially proposed and more than we expected following our last meeting,” Royce said. “When the bids were opened, we were expecting that less than 30 percent of the new units would be affordable housing units. In the end, if all of the projects get built as proposed, there will be 11 units of affordable housing out of 24 units, or a little over 45 percent.”

Royce also said that the proceeds from the land sale will go the public good, just not in the form of affordable housing because MassDOT is our public transportation system, and the proceeds from the sale will benefit the public agency.

As to whether or not JPNC feels that the land has “returned to the community,” as they hoped would happen in the bidding process, Royce said:

“It is impossible to speak for the individual or collective experience of those who were living in Jamaica Plain during the late 1960’s when this land was taken by eminent domain in order to build the Southwest Expressway.  That failed urban plan left a scar on the community both figuratively and literally, which for some still exists today.  Over time the literal scar, the Southwest Corridor Park, has become a beautiful, vibrant part of JP and we hope that this process will serve as a means of closing the figurative scar as well.  Throughout this process we have heard from many people who lived through those times when government agencies made local decisions without consulting the community. Since then there has been increasing efforts to include the community in all local decisions, including the development of the Neighborhood Councils, and this bidding process marks a point where the community was not only consulted but was asked to assist in the decision making process. Hopefully, we are ushering in a period of greater collaboration not just between the community and MassDOT, but all state and City agencies. Such collaborative efforts are required in the resolution of the Arborway Bus Yard regarding promises made by the State to upgrade the bus facility and turn over eight acres for community use. The JPNC looks forward to participating in this ongoing matter.”

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