Developer pitches housing for lot near Fields Corner T stop

The site that Travis Lee is eyeing for a four-story residential building sits adjacent to the Fields Corner Station bus ramp at left. Google photo

If Travis Lee has his way, Fields Corner will soon feature a four-story residential building on a lot next to the Fields Corner MBTA station.

The Dorchester-based developer, founder and owner of TLEE Development LLC, brought his preliminary designs for the development of the 5,300 square-foot lot at 1471 Dorchester Avenue to the Fields Corner Civic Association’s (FCCA) meeting last Tuesday.

The longtime home of the John Gallagher Insurance Agency, the property was recently acquired by Kaplansky Insurance.

Lee presented a plan comprising 23 studio units and ground floor retail in the four-story building. He said he was aiming ultimately for the residential units to be within the budget of a family making $54,000 a year, adding that he wants to include local entrepreneurs in the ground floor retail.

Two studio apartments would be available at the rear of the ground retail level, with seven available units in each of the above three stories, he said, noting that his private investors are “excited about moderate-income housing.” 

Lee told meeting attendees that without community support for his proposal, he’ll likely pass on buying the property. “I want to be a small part of adding value to the community,” he said, adding that his goal was to “be efficient” and provide “moderately affordable housing in Fields Corner.

The developer presented three options for development of the property, including:

Standard rental units priced at roughly $1,500, with no requirement for a security deposit; first and last-month’s rent, home-ownership opportunities with condominium units priced at $275k per unit; or rental units with a community buy-in option. The latter alternative would allow community owners to get paybacks over time commensurate, on a percentage basis, with the developer’s payback. “While no one investor is getting rich off their investment,” said Lee of this option, “it hopefully would create a greater sense of community ownership.”

Lee said he would offer a home-buyer training class to “local folks” if community interest in condominium home-ownership units were high, and employ deed restrictions in an effort to combat property flipping. 

City Councillor Frank Baker, who was at the meeting, said he thought “the cleanest way is to retain the property as rental units.” Annie Le of Fields Corner had a different view. “$1,500 is still too expensive to rent a studio. If I’m only making $50,000 a year, it doesn’t make sense to pay that monthly. I think the condo option is better.” 

Stephanie Lefebvre, a homeowner in Fields Corner, was in Le’s camp, preferring homeownership to rental. As to deed-restrictions, she said, it’s “great in theory but in practice it can be something else.”

The third option, which would allow renters to buy into a small piece of the property, earning a portion of the return investment, was most supported by the group. 

The development would not offer parking, per the city’s Compact Living Pilot program guidelines, which alarmed some and pleasantly surprised others at the meeting. Its close access to nearby Red Line transportation would bring the project in line with the pilot’s mission to address parking issues where alternative transportation is readily accessible.

Lee has been involved in many local developments in recent years, including co-founding the Fields Corner Business Lab in 2014 and the Dorchester Brewing Company in 2016.

Mary Burke, treasurer of the civic group, liked Lee’s proposal, although she added that she would want assurances that rents would not increase disproportionately over the years. 

“If you’re telling us the real story,” she said to Lee, “I think you’re onto something here. You would have my support.”

Although Lee isn’t required to make a decision on rental vs. condos units before he seeks approvals from city planners, he again said that he values community input. “I need to know that what I’m offering you works,” Lee said.

He later told the Reporter that he expects to return to the the FCCA in October with renderings and “a tightened-up set of choices requesting that they vote on the project.”