After the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) public comment period for the proposed redevelopment of Suffolk Downs closed at the end of last month, City Councilor Lydia Edwards submitted her comments calling for the BPDA to re-envision the project.
In her comment letter, Edwards called on the BPDA to re-envision the proposed planning and zoning for Suffolk Downs to promote equitable and sustainable development that is compliant with the Fair Housing law and reflective of Boston’s economic and ethnic diversity.
“Suffolk Downs presents Boston’s greatest opportunity to build the middle class by creating thousands of good jobs, but without substantial changes to the project and dedicated public investment, the proposal will create an unaffordable, physically separate and segregated neighborhood, likely in violation of state and federal law,” said Councilor Edwards. “The Boston Planning and Development Agency needs to present a plan or protocol for Suffolk Downs that reflects the economic and ethnic diversity of the surrounding area, prevents concentrations of wealth or poverty and creates a neighborhood where are all welcome.”
In a conversation with Edwards she told the East Boston Times that HYM Investment has been in the neighborhood for the past two years preparing the residents for what is about to come to the Suffolk Downs site.
However, she said with the plans now filed the conversation has shifted to zoning and she wants the community to have more time to digest the impacts—both positive and negative.
“Overall this is one of the greatest opportunities for East Boston to create something meaningful,” said Edwards. “What I would love is more time. HYM and Tom (O’Brien) have been talking to the community for two years and building a relationship with the community. Now that the conversation has shifted to zoning we haven’t had the same amount of time and the same amount of conversations. We are creating base rules for all other development that will come after Suffolk Downs so all I ask for is six more months. We’ve had the comment period for four months so another six months I don’t think is a lot to be asking.”
With 10,000 units proposed the Suffolk Downs site could easily rival the population of the North End or even Charlestown once completed and Edwards said she wants to ensure HYM is developing a ‘community’ and not just an isolated development.
In detailed comments filed with Mayor Martin Walsh and the BPDA, Edwards urged the BPDA to extend the project comment period, solicit comments on fair housing from city agencies and experts in the field, promote more sustainable transportation and undergo a comprehensive re-examination of the project.
“Without changes to the proposed zoning, we are going to see the development of another Seaport,” said Edwards. “The BPDA has active and discretionary decisions it can make to protect Boston residents, prevent displacement of East Bostonians and promote a sustainable community open to all residents.”
Since the public comment period began until its closing on May 31, Edwards ran a series of meetings in Eastie concerning the project and urging residents to submit comments.
“A lot of the public comments that came from East Boston resident came because of those meetings we held,” she said. “This is not like the casino where there was a lot of opposition and it ultimately failed here. People are not saying ‘don’t do this’ they just want to be heard. HYM should be excited about the energy and the fact residents involved want to help (HYM) make this a better project for the city.”
Edwards laid out recommended changes to the project that include:
• Increasing the required affordable housing on site at affordability levels matching incomes of East Boston residents.
• Increasing 2- and 3- bedroom units on-site to house East Boston families.
• Ensuring fair housing by through targeted and intentional review of development.
• Requiring public review of all binding housing, transportation and other legal agreements prior to project approval.
• Asserting public ownership of roads and open space to promote the public good and preserve eligibility for state grant funding.
• Requiring upfront mitigation payments to fund ESOL programs.
• Expanding civic spaces and creating opportunities for new educational and healthcare facilities on-site.
• Public-private collaboration to identify contracting opportunities for MWBEs.
• Reduce proposed parking on-site (currently far above city’s guidance).
• Shifting proposed private investments in expanding Route 1A to affordable housing and public transportation.
• Dedicating and seeking additional public resources to the project. • Ensuring the BPDA also consults research