Massive affordable redevelopment begins BPDA review

After a two-year community engagement process by the developers of the 125 Amory St. redevelopment, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held the project’s first official Article 80 review meeting on Nov. 27.

The project is proposed by Amory Street Partners, LLC, which is a partnership between The Community Builders, Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation, and Urban Edge. All three organizations are nonprofits that have been constructing affordable housing. Amory Street Partners’ proposal was selected by the Boston Housing Authority (BHA) to redeveloped the site located at 125 Amory St., which is a public housing development for seniors and people with disabilities

The development team has been meeting with stakeholders and community members before filing for review with the BPDA to be able to file a more secure plan. They have held ongoing bi-monthly 125 Amory St. resident coffee hours and 20 tenant task force meetings. In 2016 the team held community and resident meetings in July, September and November, and this year in May and June the team presented the more developed plans to residents and the broader community. The road to completion will still be long, as there are a lot of approvals, funding, and construction to occur.

The 125 Amory St. development currently has 209 affordable residential units and 54 surface parking spots. During renovation, some residents will be shuffled around the building into different units temporarily, but none of them will be displaced. Forty percent of the new residential units will be affordable to households earning 30 percent to 70 percent of the area median income (AMI).

The proposal involves renovating the existing building, and also building three new buildings, adding 360 new units to create a total of 559 units on the six-acre site. One hundred and four parking spots will also be added, bringing the total parking spaces up to 257 spaces total.

Sixty-two percent of all units on site will be affordable; 145 of the new units will be affordable, which means that there will be 344 affordable units total. Two hundred and seven units are slated for 30 percent AMI, 10 units for 50 percent AMI, 55 units for 60 percent AMI, and 72 units at 70 percent AMI.

The remaining units will be market rate. Noah Sawyer, senior project manager at The Community Builders, estimated that market rate would rent at around $2,500 for a one-bedroom.

Over 100 residents have signed a petition in support of the project. Several members of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) openly expressed support for the project at the meeting and asked for more details about when construction would begin.

The new development has been labeled as being “transit-oriented,” meaning that they are trying to design to encourage new residents to walk, bike, or use public transit. The site is located less than a quarter mile from Jackson Square and Stony Brook T Stations, and the project will supply 1:1 bicycle storage and opportunities for car sharing. All new buildings will be LEED Silver certifiable.

Part of the Article 80 approval process is to have an official IAG selected by public officials to review documents and negotiate with developers and the City. The IAG for this project includes Leslie Bramble, Stephanie Colson, Marc Ebuna, Akimi Garden, Eric Herot, Sherone Mahasse, Dale Martinez, Gina Rector, Angie Smith, Danielle Sommer, Donna Tremonte, and David Waters.

“The IAG looks at ways that potential impacts can be mitigated, and serves as the eyes and ears of the project,” said Dana Whiteside, deputy director of the BPDA and moderator of the public meeting.

The meeting allowed for questions and comments from the IAG and from other attending community members. Whiteside emphasized that since this was the first public meeting for the official review process, that residents ask questions so that developers can return to the community with complete answers in subsequent meetings. Some of these requests for more information were specific details about the funding and budget of the project, whether and where there would be designated spaces for residents to smoke, and a more clear timeline.

Gina Rector, a 125 Amory St. resident and IAG member, asked for the developers to create a specific plan for benches and trees around the property, saying that the benches were important to residents as a place to relax and mingle with neighbors. Rector also asked for specific questions about how and when construction would occur on the existing building, and how it would impact the existing tenants.

The way that the buildings are currently laid out in the plan has a building providing mixed-income units with the main entrance away from the other buildings, so that it faces the newly created Western Drive and the MBTA train lines. Danielle Sommer, IAG member and affordable housing activist, felt that “there is a limiting factor having the mixed-income building face away from the affordable ones.” Sawyer said that they hadn’t previously considered the entrance to that building to be a problem.

Traffic and transportation concerns were the most common type of questions and comments from the surrounding community. Some asked for speed bumps to be installed on surrounding streets to slow down the cut-through traffic, and some asked for the project to provide more incentives to reduce car usage. One idea given by a community member was to improve the transit-oriented nature of the building by finding a way to partner with the MBTA to provide T passes for residents.

Ben Hill, resident of Atherton Street, asked if all three buildings were necessary to build and how the sidewalk in front will be widened. The answer from developers is that all three buildings are necessary to build to secure funding for the whole project, and that the street space will stay the same, but the sidewalk will be widened using the existing open space in front of the building.

Debbie Lubar, resident of Atherton Street, wanted to make sure that the size of the units was not too small because “small units create high turnover and lack of community.” She also asked that there be given several meetings to discuss traffic and transportation concerns.

Several residents noted that they were disappointed by a lack of effective notification about the project meeting and felt that there needed to be a more efficient channel of communication with residents and with the public.

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