Following this summer’s three additional public meetings that were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and simultaneously translated into Spanish and Arabic, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) will finally vote next Thursday on the proposed phased mixed-use development at the historic 161-acre Suffolk Downs site in East Boston.
Ahead of the vote, the BPDA is holding a public hearing on Thursday, September 24 at 5:30 p.m. BPDA’s Director of Communications Bonnie McGilpin said the special public hearing, held separately from the regular monthly BPDA Board meetings, will allow time for community members to participate and for the development team (HYM Investment, Inc.) and BPDA staff members to respond to questions from both the community and BPDA Board members.
The hearing will be held via Zoom and translation services will be provided in Spanish and Arabic. It will be broadcast live on Boston City TV (Xfinity Channel 24, RCN Channel 13, and Verizon Fios Channel 1962) and Boston.gov.
“The Suffolk Downs redevelopment proposal has undergone a robust public process over the past three years, including over thirty public meetings alongside the community, elected officials, and local stakeholders,” said McGilpin. “This engagement has led to an updated proposal that better represents the needs of the surrounding neighborhood, including more affordable units, better transportation infrastructure, and improved open space and parks.”
McGilpin said the BPDA has worked closely with the development team to create an inclusive and accessible public process and provide Spanish language interpretation at all BPDA public meetings for the proposal and translate meeting materials and project filings. All public meeting notices have been translated into Spanish on the BPDA calendar and advertised in Spanish in both El Planeta and El Mundo.
With the BPDA poised to approve the development that will forever change the landscape of Eastie, City Councilor Lydia Edwards announced she will host her own community meeting to, as she puts it, “review what the proposal originally looked like, what we won on behalf of East Boston, and what we still need to fight for moving forward”.
Edwards’s meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 22 from 6 to 8 pm. The meeting will be on ZOOM and streamed live on Facebook. Residents can register for the meeting at https://forms.gle/byUwaF7ive2bgmFU8.
The proposed Suffolk Downs project will replace a vacant horse track with a new transit-oriented neighborhood that brings needed affordable and market-rate housing, and improved connections to open space between neighboring communities. It will create more than 900 on-site income-restricted units including an increased number of family-sized units and deeper affordability than the original proposal, based on feedback and requests from elected officials and community members.
The project will make an additional $5 million endowment to support off-site income-restricted housing, bringing the total commitment of affordable housing to 20 percent of the overall residential units.
The entirety of the affordable housing units will be within the City of Boston boundaries. The City of Revere did not require any affordable units in their approval of the portion of the project within the Revere boundaries.
McGilpin said the BPDA and City of Boston recently finalized an agreement with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that highlights the City and BPDA’s commitment to equitable and inclusive access for all by formalizing the implementation of measures that will expand language and communications access for Boston residents. The agreement, which was approved by the BPDA Board on Thursday, September 10, will formalize Language Access Plans for both the BPDA and the City of Boston.
In 2016, Mayor Martin Walsh signed a City ordinance to make the City more accessible for people who use languages other than English or have at least one disability by creating the Office of Language and Communications Access. The mission of the Office is to support City departments in three different areas: interpretation, translation, and assistive technology.
The Office of Language and Communications Access has led an interdepartmental effort to create a citywide Language Access Plan (LAP) that formalizes clear guidelines and procedures for city departments to follow to ensure full access to all city services for people who use languages other than English or have at least one disability.
“Simultaneously, the BPDA has been in the process of creating a LAP focusing specifically on creating a more accessible review for development projects and planning initiatives,” said McGilpin. “The BPDA’s LAP will require proponents for projects undergoing small or large project review to create and implement a project specific LAP to ensure that residents within the neighborhood where a project is located will have language access and appropriate translation and interpretation.”
The agreement also increases the BPDA’s Community Engagement Initiatives.
“Since 2014, the BPDA has led a new approach to neighborhood planning, relying on robust and innovative community engagement,” said McGilpin. “The BPDA has moved away from strictly town hall style meetings to better engage residents, including walking tours, workshops, “chat with a planner,” “popsicles with a planner,” and “pupusas with a planner”, and other innovative ways to engage residents at different hours of the day in order to fit various schedules and meet people where they are. The agreement will formalize these planning efforts piloted by the BPDA.”
The agreement with HUD specifically outlines the BPDA’s Expanded Outreach for Suffolk Downs Proposal.
“Over the past month, the BPDA has exceeded language access requirements by hosting three additional public meetings for the Suffolk Downs redevelopment proposal that were advertised and simultaneously translated in both Spanish and Arabic,” said McGilpin.