New housing, farmland slated for old state hospital grounds

Gov. Baker looked on as Rep. Russell Holmes addressed a protester during a June 23 news conference in Mattapan. Angela Rowlings/Boston Herald/Pool photo

Gov. Charlie Baker visited Mattapan on Tues., June 23, to celebrate the selection of a minority-owned developer to build new housing, day care, and healthy food amenities on the site of the former Boston State Hospital, but he was greeted with frustration from some community members upset with their lack of access to him and an element of his new policing reform bill.

The governor, joined by state Rep. Russell Holmes, was at the Mass Audubon’s Boston Nature Center and Wildlife Sanctuary, the first parcel of the site to be redeveloped after the hospital closed in 1979, to announce the selection of Primary Corporation as the developer of the final 10-acre parcel.

Primary Corporation, in a venture with Accordia Partners and Toll Brothers, plans to build 367 residential housing units, including 82 for ownership and 121 affordable units, including 42 for seniors. Holmes said it was the community that insisted on homeownership opportunities being part of the development, in addition to rental, and pushed for day care options and shuttle service for seniors.

The project will include food amenities, a farming initiative with the Clark/Cooper Community Gardens, and an expansion of the site’s day care center. Construction is slated to begin in 2021 and be wrapped up in 2024.

“We want people who live in our neighborhood to just move across the street. We’re not building a new neighborhood,” said Holmes.

Baker said the redevelopment of the Boston State Hospital property goes back as far as his days as secretary of administration and finance under Govs. Bill Weld and Paul Cellucci in the 1990s.

“The site will be a truly great place to live and raise a family, with easy access to the T and open space to support a healthy lifestyle, and outdoor activities,” Baker said.

Kirk Sykes, president of Primary Investments and co-managing partner of Accordia Partners, said the companies, along with Toll Brothers, are committed to making sure the community gets brought into the project with jobs and training, as well as housing and investment opportunities.

“Primary-Accordia-Toll seeks to empower this community and its residents through our efforts and reach the kind of harmony and unity our name Accordia implies,” Sykes said.

Holmes said that in his view the project will be successful when he sees residents of the community living there when it’s completed and before then also have a role in its construction by way of getting the training and jobs they need to start a career. He said it won’t be enough for the developers to simply meet their 13 percent diversity hiring goals, and that he believes the developers share his opinion.

“We have a neighborhood that we live in, my wife and I, my mom. We can all walk over from our different places. This is our neighborhood. We do not expect folks from our neighborhood to walk by a site and 13 percent participation and think that’s successful,” Holmes said.

The press conference was Baker’s first public appearance last week, and he used the opportunity to offer an update on the state’s fight against COVID-19. He also faced tough questions and interruptions from protesters about his proposed policing legislation. While the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus worked with Baker on the bill, one woman confronted the governor to take issue with a provision that would make officers eligible for one-time bonuses of up to $5,000 if they receive additional training in de-escalation techniques, bias-free policing, or narcotics.
“Five-thousand dollars for anti-racism training? Who deserves that?” the woman shouted.

Baker said his bill was crafted to enhance training for police across Massachusetts, and make sure they could be held accountable through a decertification process if they fail to live up to the new standards for policing.