By John Lynds
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has set January 10 as the date the public comment period will expire regarding HYM’s Phase I filing with the agency. However, at a BPDA sponsored meeting at Suffolk Downs’s Topsider room, HYM Investment Group, LLC’s Director of Development Douglas Manz said the company would be willing to extend the public comment period if the community asks.
“We want a complete community dialogue and we can ask the BPDA to extend the public comment period if need be,” said Manz.
The willingness to extend the public comment period is a result of an erroneous report in a local daily newspaper that suggested HYM was looking to ‘skip’ some environmental reviews. While the newspaper corrected its reporting, Manz said HYM wants to get as much information out there as possible on Phase I of the project that is a small sliver of the overall 161-acre development.
“We are only seeking a zoning change and expedited review from MEPA (Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act) for Phase I,” said Manz. “I know there was confusion over the recent story so we want to set the record straight and make sure residents understand we are focusing the expedited review and BPDA approval on Phase I only.”
Manz said while the news story was corrected he wanted to make clear HYM is not skipping any categories of environmental reviews. HYM is only asking that the MEPA staff review its prepared filing more quickly than the typical schedule. Manz said HYM has submitted a detailed environmental impact analysis to the state on the Phase 1 land and it will still be reviewed by the state as part of the master plan review.
Manz said the reason for the request to MEPA and the BPDA revolves around the big Amazon question mark.
“When we purchased the land and began forming our vision we had no idea Amazon was going to come crashing into our world,” said Manz. “They sent a Request for Proposals to the whole country for their second North American headquarters (H2Q) and we became the centerpiece for the City of Boston’s bid because we had everything the RFP was looking for–lots of land, access to public transportation, close to a major city and close to a major airport. Amazon was very specific and needs 500,000 sq. ft. occupied by 2019. This was the reason that HYM asked for the expedited process but only asked for Phase I of the proposal.”
Manz said Phase I will consist of two, 260,000-square-foot office buildings located in the southeast corner of the site next to the Suffolk Downs MBTA Blue Line Station. The submissions made for these buildings include full studies of traffic, drainage, greenhouse gas emissions, energy utilization, climate change resiliency, and historic, wind, shadow and daylight impacts.
These two buildings represent a tiny portion of the entire development–less than four percent of the total floor area which can be constructed at Suffolk Downs under current zoning regulations. These two initial buildings would be constructed to LEED Gold environmental standards and the only vehicle access will be through the existing vehicle entrances to Suffolk Downs.
At the meeting Manz showed both Plan A and Plan B of the overall 161-acre development. The mixed-use development with a strong retail presence will also include 40 acres of public open space. Manz said one plan is more commercial and one is more residential depending on whether or not Amazon is part of the deal.
A few concerns raised at the meeting was the lack of any educational facilities. East Boston’s Mike Russo said while he expects there will be thousands of people flocking to live at the development he was concerned about taxing an already overloaded public school system in the neighborhood.
“My concern is this is a massive build out and there is not a day care center, an elementary school or a middle school even being considered at the site,” he said.
Another issue raised was with over 60 percent of the property within Boston’s city limits residents wondered how the property would benefit from basic public safety services like police, fire and EMS.
“We only have one ambulance in East Boston, our police are short staffed and Suffolk Downs is the furthest point in East Boston so I worry about how this huge development might affect public safety or put a further strain on it,” said one resident.
Manz said HYM is currently working with police and fire in both Boston and Revere to evaluate how public safety would best be delivered to the site.