BPDA Requests ‘More Information’ Before Okaying Suffolk Downs Project

Before granting approvals to the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project that will add another 10,000 units of housing to the neighborhood, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) wants more information and clarity from developer on some key aspects of the proposal.

The BPDA recently made the formal ‘Request for Additional Information’ from HYM Investment following the conclusion of the Public Comment Period in the spring.

The Suffolk Downs proposal includes 10.5 million square feet of development on approximately 109 acres at the former East Boston racetrack. The multi-phased proposal will include the development of a new mixed-use neighborhood, a 40-acre publicly accessible open space system, and two retail squares at the Suffolk Downs and Beachmont MBTA stations.

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

In the BPDA’s letter to HYM the BPDA requested more information regarding the configuration and layout of streets; transportation mitigation; parking and loading; public benefits; emergency service access; roadway maintenance; sea-level rise plans; bike-lane designs; as well as future connections to the East Boston Greenway.

First, the BPDA has directed HYM to submit additional supporting information demonstrating the internal street dimensions, including all vehicular, bus, bicycle, parking/loading/pick-up, and turn lanes.

The BPDA asked HYM whether or not they had or could provide estimated trip volumes for each street. 

“It would also be helpful to understand the methodology for deriving trip volume estimates and how these relate to parcel level, or district level, planned buildout,” the letter said. The BPDA would also like to see a diagram showing the location of anticipated curbside uses across the site, including parking, loading, pick-up/drop off, and any other anticipated curbside uses.

“The diagram should be accompanied by a tally of curbside spaces for parking, loading, pick-up/drop off, etc.,” said the letter to HYM.

The BPDA added that all roads should be laid out, with metes and bounds of all rights-of-way. “As per direction from the Public Works Department, certain streets will need to be designated as public,” said the letter. “These should include any future rights of way which would accommodate bus, shuttle or emergency vehicle access.”

The BPDA pointed out iIn numerous locations HYM’s documents refer to mitigation measures. However, as a result of changes to the transportation modeling requested by Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) as well as significant changes to required mitigation, many of the mitigation measures identified in the proposal submitted to the BPDA are now obsolete and new mitigation measures will be forthcoming.

“It would be helpful to have a consolidated list of mitigation measures,” the letter requested.

“At the end of the final paragraph in Section 8 of the Draft Master Plan it is stated that, ‘If the amount of traffic generated by the Master Project shall at any time exceed the amount of traffic projected to occur upon full buildout, (HYM) shall work with the City of Boston to implement additional traffic demand management efforts to reduce the amount of traffic to the projected level.” This language is problematic because it only refers to the amount of traffic associated with full buildout.”

The BPDA said any traffic trigger thresholds for additional mitigation should be tied to specific project phases as opposed to full buildout of the Suffolk Downs site.

The BPDA added that while the proposal states there will be up to 7,216 parking spaces at the development there needs to be a clear statement from HYM that they will monitor parking needs and demands over the build-out of the project with, “The goal of reducing further the number of parking spaces in future construction phases as warranted.”

When it comes to Public Benefits in the proposal the BPDA complained that the Draft Master Plan is “extremely vague.”

“There needs to be more detail about the public benefits (such as bicycle paths, bike parking, public bikeshare stations, etc.) including the location, characteristics, and scale or dimension,” wrote the BPDA.

The BPDA added that the $50 million mitigation fee for off-site transportation improvements, transit facilities and related infrastructure has changed substantially.

“As a result of recent conversations between proponents, MassDOT and the City, the list of transportation related mitigation improvements has changed substantially,” wrote the BPDA. “This full-modified list of mitigation measures should be identified in the documents. Where fees may be paid in lieu of improvements, the documents should stipulate that, over time, the fees will be indexed to inflation.”

Also in the letter the BPDA pointed out emergency services are critical for maintaining life safety and responding to events but in HYM’s filing it is unclear how the street system has taken into account access for emergency services like police, fire and ambulance.

“A diagram explaining routing for all emergency services, the implications such routinghas on street design, and the source or basis for the planned routing should be provided,” wrote the BPDA. “This diagram should assume direct access from Walley Street to the Suffolk Downs site which allows for two~way travel for emergency vehicles to access and exit the site; direct access from Walley Street will be critical for fire, police, and EMT services to access the Suffolk Downs site from existing locations in East Boston.”

Maintenance: Proper procedures for roadway maintenance, including snow plowing, should be outlined by the Proponent. The Proponent include information on locations for onsite maintenance facilities and how maintenance agreements will be structured if multiple owners are present at this site in the future.

The BPDA also made a request for more information regarding HYM’s Sea Level Rise plan.

HYM’s filing states that they “continue to refine and expand a resiliency assessment of regional barrier along Bennington Street and Route 1A”. More specifically, there is reference to possible barriers along Route 1A and Bennington Street to protect the project site and abutting properties, including Suffolk Downs station and portions of the tracks. However, the BPDA wants to know the status of this feasibility assessment and whether or not HYM is planning to implement any related improvements as part of the project.

“The Climate Ready Boston Coastal Resilience Solutions program will be conducting further analysis of East Boston with a focus on the Belle Isle Marsh and Chelsea Creek areas in 2020,” wrote the BPDA. “This will provide a greater understanding of vulnerabilities to current and future coastal storm events and sea level rise, as well as the types of coastal interventions and design options to protect landside areas. The Proponent should provide substantial resources to further advance the design plans and options that result from this process. Each phase of the development program must also adequately address City resiliency policies, programs and standards that are current at the time of design development.”

The BPDA added that buildings on the project site must be responsive to the BPDA’s Sea Level Rise Design Flood Elevation.

“The Proponent should (also) provide ongoing resources to support the maintenance and operations of the Department of Conservation and Recreation’s tide gate facility on Bennington Street,” wrote the BPDA.

The BPDA also felt the HYM’s bike access plan did not go far enough on the site.

The city is committed to implementing a network of separated cycle tracks to meet the mode share goals of Go Boston 2030. These connections will allow riders of all ages to use these facilities comfortably and with a high degree of safety.

HYM proposed separated bike lanes on the site’s main street corridor. However on other parts of the site HYM will follow MassDOT’s separated bike lane Planning and Design Guide which says that bike lanes are not needed on streets with speeds below 25 mph.

“A fully separated network of bike lanes, however, is critical for the City to meet the mode share goals of Go Boston 2030 and therefore should be located in more locations in the Suffolk Downs development,” wrote the BPDA. “Close coordination with the City/BPDA will be critical to ensure this network meets standards set by the City of Boston.” Finally in the letter the BPDA said HYM should commit to design and fully fund the implementation of an East Boston Greenway extension from Constitution Beach to the Suffolk Downs site via Bennington and Walley Streets. This connection will be critical for allowing cyclists from the East Boston community to reach the Suffolk Downs site safely and efficiently.

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