The Dot Block project, a development in Glover’s Corner that will transform a forlorn stretch of Dorchester Avenue into a mix of high-density housing and retail, is getting a fresh new look. Under a proposal pitched to civic members in Columbia-Savin Hill this week, an earlier plan to build a five-story above-ground garage has been nixed in favor of underground parking, which will increase the amount of green space on the site and boost the number of residential units.
When the billionaire Gerald Chan bought the Dot Block property in December 2016, he brought on the Boston-based real-estate development firm Samuels & Associates to take a new look at the project.
“We saw an opportunity to build on the original plan, to take it in a slightly different direction,” said Abe Menzin, a senior vice president of development with Samuels who spoke with the Reporter this week.
The updated version of the project, which will cost in excess of $200 million, shifts focus from a potential big box-style store on the ground floor to “neighborhood retail.” Putting the parking for about 360 spaces underground will allow for increased setbacks around all of the buildings and still leave space inside its footprint for another 15,000 square feet of green space, including a new park.
Above, the future site of DotBlock as it was cleared by demolition crews last summer. Bill Forry photo
The revision will retain the parking space’s interior access point after cars enter into the site from Hancock Street, which “opens up a significant amount of open space in the plan,” Menzin said, “strengthening public-facing connections through the site in a really positive way.”
The building heights are not changing in the revised plan, Menzin said, estimating that the actual square footage is “within five percent” of the original. The collection of structures will rise to six stories in places, leveling off to more closely reflect the residential street abutting it.
There will be a bump in residential units — up to 487 units from the 362 initially approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA).
Menzin, Peter Sougarides, executive vice president of development for Samuels & Associates, and Catherine O’Neill, who has represented the developers of the project since its inception, presented the new plans to the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association on Monday night.
The Samuels group has roots in Dorchester, O’Neill noted, from its work on the initial South Bay development decades ago “when no one wanted to be here.”
Now with their experienced eyes trained on Dot Block, Menzin and Sougarides said even the increased residence count —all rental units — likely would not result in an increase in traffic because of the retail switch.
“We think that with the reduction in the retail footprint, the actual traffic impact will be less than what was originally approved,” Menzin said.
Reaction at the civic meeting was mixed. Paul Nutting said he felt they had been “promised a supermarket. So we’re switching a supermarket for 100 more units of housing?”
O’Neill said the retail shift was in part due to the lack of interest from supermarkets in coming to the area because of the “demographics.” Options like Trader Joe’s or Roche Bros. “will not come,” she said. “Once we build Dot Block, we’re not going to be able to keep them away, but we’re not there yet.”
Some said the scale of residential expansion did not feel like a “minor change,” but the increase in density did not trouble civic vice president Eileen Boyle, who noted the 100-odd studio apartments that could be more affordable and the project have the potential to house people who could fill jobs in the Glover’s Corner area.
“I’m actually very happy with the change,” said Boyle, adding that the immediate abutters on Greenmount Street were also pleased with the aesthetics of the project near them.
O’Neill said the team intends to speak to neighboring civic associations as they head toward filing their notice of project change with the BPDA. An Impact Advisory Group will meet, and there will be at least one more public meeting on the new project, she said, after the filing.
There will be additional meetings before they file in January, Sougarides said, hopefully heading to the BPDA in March or so. Then, he added, “we’d like to have a shovel in the ground by fall, or the last quarter, of 2019.”