Accordia Partners kicked off another chapter in the already four-year process to plan and permit Columbia Point’s Dorchester Bay City (DBC) with an online meeting last Wednesday. Despite recently unveiled changes to earlier proposals, the conversation, which involved more than 25 attendees, showed that some neighbors are still not satisfied with the development program or the ambitious meeting schedule that is set to begin in January.
The development team’s new plans, which were unveiled last week in the Reporter, followed the filing of amended plans with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) that included the proposed acquisition of the Boston Teacher’s Union (BTU) property along with several updates in response to neighborhood input from earlier review meetings this year.
During nearly three hours of discussion, Accordia and the BPDA staged the first public meeting to feature neighborhood input, and while there was appreciation from residents, there also were no standing ovations for the amended plans.
“We’re excited to be back before you again,” said Accordia’s Kirk Sykes. “This is a kick-off, really, and a continuation of the dialog that’s been ongoing on for several years. But also, it’s a follow-up to meetings that took place last fall…This is a ‘wow’ site. It’s literally America’s most transit-accessible beach, bay, HarborWalk, and park combination site.”
In a one-hour presentation, Sykes highlighted some of the changes - including the increase to 15 percent affordable housing (up from the required 13 percent), making better connections to Day Boulevard and Harbor Point, adding a splashy entrance point at the corner of Morrissey and Mt. Vernon, and re-designing the project as a series of “Green Gloves” leading “from the T to the sea.”
The nuts and bolts of the changes have now made the initiative a 15-year, five-phase development plan with 4.3 million square feet of office, research, and lab space (75 percent of the development), 1,970 residential units to include 296 affordable units at 60 percent AMI, and 165,000 square feet of ground retail space.
Some 40 percent of the developed site will now be open space, including large portions at the waterfront to connect Mt. Vernon Street and Morrissey and Day boulevards. Compared to previous plans, the addition of the BTU property has added 10,000 square feet of retail, 230 housing units, and 400,000 square feet of office/lab space.
For all that, several remote attendees said the refined plans with modern buildings reminded them of the Seaport, which in many Boston neighborhood circles has come to stand for bad design and social exclusion.
“We don’t want to build another Seaport here,” said Dan Webber. “I don’t want asphalt and concrete and a parking lot, and I believe that has to go. I am for the density here, but if you’re saying that this isn’t going to create a lot of individual car and vehicular traffic demand, you’d be crazy. The Seaport created more demand than they thought, and the Silver Line wasn’t enough…This is an opportunity to do something different.”
For her part, Caroline Chou said she sees the plans as another exclusive neighborhood not built for the existing people of Dorchester. “I don’t understand how this is different from the Seaport,” she said. “I don’t understand how it demonstrates that it will create equity and not just another segregated, wealthy neighborhood that also cuts off our communities from public space that is currently used by a very diverse group of people.”
Sykes had said from the outset that DBC is striving to be the most inclusive community around, and he indicated that his team is working with Harbor Point and do not have any “fences” on their development to keep people out.
“Our goal is to have DBC be the most inclusive project done in America, not just Boston,” he said at the outset, promoting the job training programs and job opportunities that would come with the project’s majority office/lab space.
Dorchester resident Eileen Boyle challenged that notion when she asked about the affordable housing piece and learned that some of it will be rentals on-site and some will be rentals off-site and that ownership opportunities would come from a $10 million donation to Massachusetts Affordable Housing Alliance (MAHA) for downpayment assistance on properties not part of DBC.
“That’s a problem,” she said. “I think 296 units is an insult when you have close to 2,000 units. I just want to tell UMass I’m upset with them for starting this whole project. I really didn’t want to see another Seaport by our beach. The beach will be destroyed… we’re going to let the rich live down here and you working people will go live somewhere else. That’s what this [plan] is telling us.”
Neighbor Elizabeth Doyle said she applauded a good deal of the program, but wanted more details and numbers about whom the project would benefit.
“I applaud the jobs and the community benefits, but as we move forward, we need to see real numbers like how many jobs and where will the workers be from,” she said. “We need to start getting into the details that are important.”
Several members of the community were also unhappy with the pace of the review meetings set for this coming winter that calls for four topical meetings in January and February.
“You’re burning folks out and pushing this pace in a way that is disrespectful to the community,” said George Lee.
The BPDA’s project manager, Aisling Kerr, said they worked out the schedule with elected officials, community stakeholders, and the developer, and were “very comfortable” with it, signaling it probably wouldn’t change.
Don Walsh, of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association and a member of the DBC Community Advisory Committee (CAC), said, “I’m a supporter of the project and I’m a supporter of Accordia, but I’ve got some gripes about the process. This is not the way it should be.”
He also pointed out that DBC is just one of several developments that account for more than 10,000 units of new construction that is either complete, or being built, or being planned in that area of Dorchester. He warned that more attention needed to be paid to that aspect.
Accordia’s Dick Galvin said DBC’s traffic planning group is working with a city/state task force and they are accounting for that 10,000-unit number Walsh referred to, which was apparently news to a lot of the attendees.
The project is not without its strong supporters, though, as many of the unions and their local members from Dorchester spoke in succession about the fact that they would like to see this project built to improve the community and put local people to work.
Raheem Shepard, of the Carpenter’s Union, said he lives in Hyde Park and grew up in the St. Mark’s area of Dorchester, and that it was projects like this that got him into the Carpenter’s Union – his ticket to homeownership and the middle class.
“We do have more than 100 members that live in Dorchester and our office is less than one-quarter mile from the site,” he said. “Our office trains young men and women who would one day be a part of this project…Boston is changing and without the Carpenter’s Union, I wouldn’t be a homeowner. These jobs are the gateway to the middle class for our residents.”
The upcoming online meeting schedule begins in January as follows:
•Jan. 10, 6 p.m.: Transportation, Infrastructure Sustainability and Resiliency.
•Jan. 20, 6 p.m.: Housing and Economic Development.
•Jan. 31, 6 p.m.: Inclusive Public Realm Improvements and Placemaking.
•Feb. 17, 6 p.m.: Urban Design and Open Space.
Some of the community benefit commitments offered at the Dec. 15 meeting include:
•15 percent affordable housing on-site and off-site at 60 percent AMI.
•$10 million contribution to MAHA for downpayment assistance on homes in communities of color.
•$57.9 million in linkage fee payments to support affordable housing projects in surrounding areas.
•15.4 acres of publicly accessible open space.
•12,500 square feet for community and cultural facilities.
•$4.5 million for an economic development fund to help existing businesses get into the door of DBC retail opportunities.
•$8.5 million for off-site resiliency solutions on Columbia Point, and $5 million for flood protection along the neighboring Harbor Point Apartments community.
•$26.7 million to design, permit, fund, and/or construct transportation infrastructure, with $17.7 million of that paid during Phase 1 to advance design and permitting.