Community Participation Urged in Suffolk Downs Public Comment Period

Last week the owners of the Suffolk Downs site, HYM Investment Group, LLC, released its Planned Development Area Master Plan (PDA).  This started that a 90-day public comment period that City Councilor Lydia Edwards is urging East Boston residents to submit their comments.

In its filing, HYM proposes approximately 10.5 million square feet of development on the approximately 109 acres of the Suffolk Downs site in the City of Boston. The multi-phased proposal will include development of a new mixed-use neighborhood, a 40-acre publicly accessible open space system, and two retail squares at Suffolk Downs and Beachmont MBTA stations.

The initial project phase will include approximately 1.39 million square feet of development consisting 520,000 square feet of corporate use and amenity space, three residential buildings, and a portion of the townhomes proposed along Waldemar Avenue totaling more than 800 housing units. Phase I also includes the construction of the Horseshoe Pond landscaped wetland enhancements and Belle Isle Square public plaza with over 100,000 square feet of ground floor retail.

However, Suffolk Downs is in an overlay zoning district that the city establishes special zoning for to add more control and oversight for a large or complex project like HYM’s. The Boston Zoning Board of Appeals may approve a request to establish a PDA where a development that is well-suited to its location cannot be accommodated by the general zoning for the area. For example, a PDA may be appropriate where a development involves a large building, a cluster of buildings, or a mix of uses like the proposed Suffolk Downs site.

Approval of a PDA requires the submission of a development plan. Development plan submission triggers a 45 day public comment period and requires the approval of both the BPDA and the ZBA. However, HYM agreed to extend the comment period to 90 days as well as translating the entire filing into Spanish.

Councilor Edwards said the comment period will really give the community the opportunity to define the proposed neighborhood.

“We really need the neighborhood of East Boston to be part of the public comment,” said Edwards. “There are folks that have expertise in design and other folks that are going to be commenting but I want to see as many people as possible writing letters of what they want to see for that 100 plus acres.”

Edwards said she wants the community at the ‘helm’ of driving Suffolk Downs’ look and feel through this public comment period.

“I plan to have a couple of public meetings on this,” said Edwards. “I’ll even drive to folks’ homes if they want me to in order to discuss this. We want folks to get into this process and really start to think about it.”

Edwards said she is not only very excited for this opportunity to comment but has been very upfront about her standards for planning a neighborhood.

“A neighborhood is diverse,” she said. “It is diverse both economically and ethnically and that what makes a community. I want more affordability because the percentage at 13 percent is a little too low for me know. I also want a place for working poor people because if we plan from the beginning to their exclusion then that is a sin and a shame. We need to plan for diversity so I’m asking you to get online, look at the PDA and really get involved.”

The public comment period will end on March 2 and comments can be sent to www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/suffolk-downs#comment_Form.

“The redevelopment of Suffolk Downs presents a monumental opportunity for residents to shape the future of our community,” said Edwards. “Fortunately, this is what we do best in Eastie: work with large institutions to ensure they are good neighbors and that industry benefits our neighborhood. It’s time for all of East Boston to speak up on the proposal.”

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