A development team last week aired its latest plans for a new, five-story, mixed-use building at 1463-1469 Dorchester Ave., a parcel next to the Fields Corner MBTA station that was the longtime home of the the John Gallagher Insurance Agency. Under the proposal, a 29-unit apartment building with ground floor retail space would rise from the 5,300 square-foot site. The building would house 21 studios and five 1-bedroom units, all of which would be income-restricted.
The details of the proposal were vetted at a Thursday evening virtual meeting hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency. The proponent— Travis Lee, founder and owner of TLee Development LLC— noted that he’s 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.
“The common thread with all of these projects whether they are commercial, residential or mixed-use is that they aim to build community. They aim to bring people together particularly people across cultures, races, socioeconomic lines to be in community together,” said Lee.
He added that his development team hopes to celebrate and reflect the diversity of the communities that live in Fields Corner in developing their latest building.
“One of the things we care a lot about is something called ‘placemaking.’ That means that we appreciate, significantly, the social fabric and the interconnectivity of a particular community in this case it’s Fields Corner,” he told about 40 people attending the online Zoom call.
“Fields Corner truly represents the meaning of diversity and that’s one of the most beautiful things about it. As we think about real estate projects, one of the things on the forefront is that the small businesses and people that live in our buildings should represent the beauty of that diversity.”
The project was initially presented to the Fields Corner Civic Association over a year ago. Lee said that covid-19 restrictions have set his timeline back a bit.
“There were a couple of iterations from all of that feedback to get to where we are today. I thank all of you who were involved in conversations about the building in the past. Covid has set us back a couple of months, but nevertheless, here we are today to keep the conversation moving,” he said.
Multi-level affordability was a key component emphasized in Lee’s presentation.
“These units will be restricted to households making somewhere around $70,000 a year or less,” he said. “Whatever market rate is at the time of completion, at a very minimum we will be 10 or 15 percent below that.”
And 100 percent of the units will be restricted to families making less than $70,000 a year, however, 13 percent (or 4 or 5 units) of these units will be restricted to families making $60,000 a year or less.”
The project is being designed to meet passive house standards which, Lee said, is “currently one of the primary means by which the real estate community is measuring efficiency.” The standard drives down operating costs for owners and tenants of the building.
The MBTA station directly abuts the back of the site, a dynamic that makes the proposed building “as transit-oriented as a project can be,” said Lee. He noted that the proposal would not include off-street parking. Amenities include an elevator, laundry rooms, community space on the ground floor level that could include a fitness center, a reading room and game room, and an outdoor patio.
Jana Belak, a lead designer at Placetailor Architecture, an urban design architecture firm based in Roxbury, said the team took cues from nearby buildings to influence design. The site’s location at the corner of Charles Street and Dorchester Avenue brings together residential three-deckers and commercial buildings, respectively. Belak explained that the architectural team wanted to “split the building into two separate portions so that we can speak to both residential and commercial designs.”
“The site is on a border between commercial and residential,” said Belak. “Along Dorchester Ave., we have a lot of commercial buildings and the common element that we found is that the ground floor is retail space and that there are patterns created through window placement and material selections.”
When the meeting was opened to questions from the community several attendees posted comments conveying enthusiastic support for the project, although some people had questions.
One person asked about the affordability range and said the units would still be too expensive for some Dorchester residents.
“My niche is moderate income families,” said Lee. “The maximum income for a household in this building would be about $70,000. The proposed rents would be in the $1,500 range. I know that’s a lot of money, but the average studio listed in Dorchester is north of $1,800 dollars a month.”
“I don’t pretend to be a developer that develops housing for low-income households,” he said. “But I do believe strongly in what we call workforce, middle-income housing, that can support folks that have pretty good jobs but aren’t making six figures. Someone making $60-65,000 a year would qualify perfectly for this housing.”
Another attendee asked whether or not the team would be providing green space.
“We’re going to have the opportunity to do some street greenery, whether it’s street trees or planters. We have a patio in the rear for the residents of the building,” replied Lee.
“But we aren’t creating meaningful green space. Town Field is a block-and-a-half away and Ronan Park is about two blocks in the other direction. We are relying on the infrastructure already existing in the neighborhood for green space.”
Raheem Shepard, a business representative for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, asked the team to commit to using “responsible contractors” and raised some concerns over affordability.
“As far as the affordability, if you look around the area not a lot of people make $70,000,” said Shepard. “The average income of people that live in that area is very low and I just think with Dorchester changing, after a while your limit will go up and you could rent them out at a higher price.”
Lee noted that the project, if approved, would generate roughly $5.5 million in construction wages.
“It matters to me greatly who is on the job,” said Lee. “I have a minority-owned general contractor that is building a 14-unit project of mine in Dorchester and they have achieved a 96 percent minority-owned business participation on the job. They are looking at participating in this contract as well,” said Lee. “I have not signed up a general contractor yet but I assure you, exploiting workers or undocumented folks is not part of the program. I am completely up for having conversations about how the Carpenters Union could participate in this project and maybe that’s something we should do.”
Another attendee posted a comment in the Zoom Q & A saying that “parking is needed” otherwise the project would “create community burden.”
Lee said that he did not think that the compact living development, located across the street from the Red Line, would negatively impact parking and traffic issues.
“I sympathize with all of you who are navigating the streets-- it’s not pretty. I don’t believe that 29 studios and ones is going to meaningfully impact that,” he said.
If approved, Lee said he expects to start construction in the summer of 2021 with a goal to complete the job by the end of 2022.