BRA Approves Bennington Street Residential Project

February 18, 2016
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An architectural drawing of the BRA approved Bennington Street project.

An architectural drawing of the BRA approved Bennington Street project.

By John Lynds

A new market rate housing development project in Orient Heights was one of eight projects approved last week by the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA).

The BRA approved the $9 million 1181 Bennington St. project at its monthly meeting.

In September the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council voted 18-0 in favor of the scaled down version of the project being pitched for a contaminated auto body at 1181-1183 Bennington St.

In their fourth meeting with the community the developers found a happy medium that addresses concerns of density, height and parking.

The plan calls for 44 units of housing-down from 55 units. The building has been lowered from 5 stories to 4 and the developable land has been reduced from 54,000 sq. ft. to 48,000 sq. ft.

“The development at 1181 Bennington Street will significantly improve the state of the property, where a car repair lot that has received several environmental violations is currently located,” the BRA wrote in its ruling. “The development team, which won unanimous support from the Orient Heights Neighborhood Council after scaling down the project based on community feedback, will contribute $75,000 over ten years to support research and education at nearby Belle Isle Marsh.”

At the BRA meeting, community members expressed optimism at the prospect of cleaning up the site, and the project will include lighting and security cameras at the rear of the building to discourage loitering and illegal dumping.

“The developer will work with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department to make substantial landscaping improvements to the property as well,” wrote the BRA.

The site has caused much anxiety among East Boston’s environmental activists and the project presents perhaps the best chance to get it cleaned up.

The site on Bennington Street houses the Auto Doctor, whose owner was fined $180,000 by former Attorney General Martha Coakley for illegal dumping into the Belle Isle Marsh in 2012.

Developers Michael Patrick and Brian Hosker plan to buy the Auto Doctor at 1181 Bennington St. and an adjacent building at 1183 Bennington St. and combine the two lots into an 18,000 sq. ft. lot.

Attorney for the developers said past issues and issues with contamination of the site would have to be cleaned up before his clients takes ownership of the Auto Doctor property.

Converting the site into housing would once and for all remove the grandfathered use of keeping the site an auto body shop.

In 2012 Eastie environmental activists that have worked for decades to try and keep the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation clean were fuming after it was revealed that the owner of  the Auto Doctor was caught dumping there.

The auto repair shop was sued and later fined by the Attorney General’s office for failing to clean up underground gasoline contamination and not removing construction and demolition debris that was illegally dumped in the Belle Isle Marsh Reservation.

According to the fine handed down by Coakley that owner failed to clean up underground gasoline contamination at his auto business and failing to remove construction and demolition debris that he dumped – or allowed others to dump – in the Belle Isle Marsh.

The lawsuit also found that the owner violated the state’s hazardous waste law by failing to assess and remediate the gasoline-contaminated soil and groundwater at his property, even after entering into an administrative consent order with the MassDEP to do so in 2006.

The business came under scrutiny prior to April 2010 when he dumped – or allowed others to dump – three large piles of construction and demolition debris from his property in a wetland buffer area of the Belle Isle Marsh. The dumping was in violation of state wetlands and solid waste law.

Belle Isle is a protected reserve managed by the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). The marsh was saved in the early 1980s by then Governor Michael Dukakis after there was a plan by Massport to construct huge containers to store jet fuel. Since that time the Belle Isle Marsh has become an area of ecological importance as Boston’s last remaining salt marsh.

The marsh serves as a nursery for fish and shellfish and provides critical habitat to many locally rare salt marsh plants and wildlife, including at least five species of birds state-listed as endangered, threatened, or of special concern. The marshes also provide vitally important flood damage prevention to the surrounding human communities, as alleged in the complaint.