Latest Morrissey housing project – 230 units near Boston Bowl site – stirs talk about density and access

An architect’s rendering of what would replace the Ramada Inn on Morrissey Boulevard in Neponset. Rendering courtesy of Cube3

Developers of a proposal to bring 230 new residential units to an increasingly busy stretch of Morrissey Boulevard in Neponset pitched their updated version of the project to neighbors during a public meeting last week. Reaction was mixed, with comments largely focused on concerns about access to the site, which now houses a Ramada Inn hotel, and the future of the surrounding neighborhood.

The proposal would replace the hotel at 800 Morrissey Blvd. with a five-to six-story building with 230 rental units and 152 parking spaces. According to the presentation, 35 of the units would be affordable. The building would rise next to the already approved 780 Morrissey Boulevard residential project, which is now under construction.

The building’s design and site plan between the boulevard and I-93 are meant to accommodate any future development of the neighboring Boston Bowl property, said Jay Russo, vice president of the New Jersey-based Michaels Organization, which is working with property owners The Phillips Group to develop both 780 and 800 Morrissey.

Several attendees of an Aug. 17 virtual meeting, which was hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency, referred to rumors that the nearby Comfort Inn would also be converted to residential units.

The Reporter published a story online earlier this week noting that the Pine Street Inn is working with a developer to convert the Comfort Inn into permanent housing for formerly homeless people. See the update on Page One.

“These two projects, the Boston Bowl, then there’s the Comfort Inn, and it’s all sort of one big island,” said Impact Advisory Group member Henry Wessman. “This project is at such a scale it’s more like an urban redesign project rather than just a residential project. Is there any assurance that Boston Bowl won’t just be taken over for another residential project?”

Russo said his company does not own the Boston Bowl site, though it has “tried to buy it multiple times.” The Phillips Group also controls Boston Bowl and Phillips Candy House.

Boston Bowl is a “functioning business right now that’s doing pretty well now that we’re out of the pandemic,” Russo said. “I think it will do better when there’s more residents there. It’s a hard situation for me, because of course I would love to have it. I’ve been asked that question in every meeting I go to: What’s going to happen with that?”

As to broader planning for the Port Norfolk-Neponset area, BPDA project manager Stephen Harvey said there is no neighborhood plan in place, nor an upcoming one expected.

“I hear the conversations with the city,” Russo said. “It would be nice to plan it all out at once, but right now we tried to plan ­– were asked to plan – our building appropriately so if in the future someone were to take that parcel and try to redevelop it, we weren’t doing anything quote-unquote that would stop that kind of good development.”

Since the last public meeting in December, the 800 Morrissey project dropped four units and gained two full parking spaces and seven tandem parking spaces. The team “carved away and molded the shape of the building,” said John Harding, architect with the Lawrence-based firm Cube3.

In general, the structure is still laid out with a “strong focus on studios and one-beds,” Harding said, with about half of the units designated as studio apartments and 37 percent as one-bedrooms.

The entryway for the site has been relocated with a new plaza, a shorter driveway, and space for short term parking and shuttles on the driveway. Developers said other updates include landscaping and art integration along multi-modal pathways, as well as separated bike and pedestrian connector paths with BlueBikes bike shares alongside.

A work-from-home patio for residents would be placed near the corner of Freeport Street and the multi-modal path, also with additional landscaping.

Impact Advisory Group member Stephen Le queried the team about on-site maintenance to keep the “beautiful” images in the rendering clean. Le also worried that people living in, or accessing, the 800 Morrissey site would prefer to dash across Morrissey Boulevard at an unsafe spot rather than walk to a nearby pedestrian bridge.

Wessman suggested some material changes to the exterior structure and expressed concern that there would still be too much sound coming into the site from I-93 and Morrissey Boulevard despite the additional landscaping.

“Nothing is final until we get approved,” said Russo.

The developers hope for a meeting before the Boston Civic Design Commission in September but are still gathering comments. An Impact Advisory Group meeting was scheduled for Wednesday of this week, with the public comment period ending on Sept. 2.

In response to later inquiries about meeting with the Neponset Greenway Council and Port Norfolk Civic Association, Russo said the team would work to coordinate presentations before both groups.

Several attendees asked about the amount of bike infrastructure included in the design without planned improvements to the connecting area. Phil Carver noted the area in front of Phillips Candy House as a likely access point for cyclists and pedestrians, which he said was “a mess” and called for some foot traffic mitigation if the 800 Morrisey project brought the nearby residential count to almost 500 units.

Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association member Kristine Hoag said she appreciated the idea of promoting bike usage, but worried about the lag with redesigning and improving Morrissey Boulevard bike infrastructure.

“Where’s everyone riding their bike to?” she asked. “I tried it and I feel like I’m going to die every time I get on the road.”

City zoning requires one-to-one bike storage ratios, Russo said, noting that whenever the Morrissey Boulevard redesign and renovation is completed, it will include a bike route from Milton all the way past Carson Beach.

Other points of contention during the meeting involved continued objection to a proposed digital billboard at the Boston Bowl site and union work ratios.

Maria Lyons, of Port Norfolk and the Neponset Greenway Council, said the proponents should ask the property owners to “do something magnanimous” and withdraw their digital billboard proposal as neighborhood impact mitigation.

Local union representatives Raheem Shepard of the Carpenters Union and John Cody of the Sheet Metal Workers asked Russo for commitments for their workers at the meeting. Both men referenced the nearby Dot Block project as a 100 percent union job, while this project is about 60 percent, according to Russo, who said he would do “everything in my power to get union people to work.”

He added that the team had, and would continue to, reach out to the union representatives to see if the bids could hit a “reasonable number.”

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