The opportunity for the community and East Boston’s elected officials to weigh in on the re-development of the 161-acre Suffolk Downs site by HYM Investment ended Friday as the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s (BPDA) Public Comment Period came to a close.
However, before the comment period ended Rep. Adrian Madaro, as City Councilor Lydia Edwards did back in June, filed a lengthy comment letter regarding some of his concerns regarding the project.
“The residents of East Boston in recent years have faced challenges related to transportation, housing affordability, and environmental sustainability,” wrote Madaro. “East Boston is an environmental justice community, one of the hardest-hit in the Commonwealth when it comes to traffic, public transportation challenges, air quality and noise, flooding susceptibility, and, more recently, a surge in housing prices. These issues will be further exacerbated by the construction of Suffolk Downs.”
Throughout the consideration of this project Madaro said it is vital that the issues facing the neighborhood be thoroughly comprehended and addressed in the planning, construction, and development of Suffolk Downs.
After a year of studying this proposal, engaging in and observing the community process, and speaking with constituents to understand their views and feedback, Madaro said he has identified how Suffolk Downs will affect the major issues and suggested how to mitigate its impacts, and become a thriving part of the East Boston community.
In regards to transportation Madaro pointed out that when fully built the Suffolk Downs site proposes to be home to up to 10,000 units of housing and a number of businesses, retail venues, hotels, and restaurants. This will add an infusion of thousands of new daily trips to an already overcrowded system, affecting our roads and public transit alike.
“A project of this size can only be realized in conjunction with an overhaul of the transportation network in East Boston,” wrote Madaro. “This is a process in which Suffolk Downs must commit itself as a fully engaged, fully invested partner.”
Madaro said particular scrutiny must be paid to the proposal of HYM to widen Route lA. “Precedent suggests that widening the highway only invites more congestion, and is an unsustainable solution which would be ineffective in solving local traffic issues,” wrote Madaro. “In addition, such a widening would only happen in the immediate vicinity of Suffolk Downs, with the highway remaining two lanes before and after–and even narrowing to a single lane approaching the Sumner Tunnel, rendering the lane increase more harmful than helpful in that it would most likely create a bottleneck.”
HYM has proposed to make the Blue Line the “front door” of their site at Beachmont and Suffolk Downs stations.. In addition to this, they have also outlined plans for shuttle systems throughout the site and a commuter shuttle back and forth from locations such as downtown Boston. HYM has also planned for bike and pedestrian paths, as well as more ambitious proposals, such as a commuter rail connection at Wonderland Station.
However, Marado argues these plans are important for making the use of public transit more appealing and reducing vehicular traffic for the site. But, this can only succeed if public transit receives robust attention and funding to encourage people to make it their primary mode of transportation to and from the site.
“HYM must be a fully invested partner in this process in order to make it a reality,” wrote Madaro. “Today, public transportation throughout the neighborhood is hindered by a number of issues; the lack of a direct connector between the Red and Blue Lines, the need for signal and power upgrades, as well as capacity expansion along the Blue Line, the lack of an inner-harbor ferry system, the need for improved bus service, the limits. All of these issues have an effect on Suffolk Downs, and finding solutions will be essential to facilitate greater connectivity to and from the site, and encouraging future residents and visitors alike to view public transit as the best mode of transportation available.”
On housing affordability at the Suffolk Downs site Madaro said housing affordability is one of the greatest issues facing East Boston residents today.
“When completed, the Suffolk Downs site proposes to contain up to 10,000 units of housing, the largest single project in Greater Boston,” wrote Madaro. “Suffolk Downs is currently on track to introduce the largest number of affordable units in the city’s history, an exciting opportunity with the potential to allow more families and longtime residents to remain in the neighborhood. But there is still room to go further than the minimum requirements of 13 percent currently set by the City of Boston for affordability, and doing so will be crucial to making the impact that is truly needed for a project of this size. HYM needs to offer more affordable units, set at a lower threshold of affordability so that they are accessible for the populations that need them most.”
On sustainability and climate resiliency Madaro said Suffolk Downs must take a leading role in promoting sustainability across the site, working toward energy-efficiency, zero-waste and carbon-neutral goals, through measures which are practical, yet ambitious.
“Suffolk Downs should strive to achieve the highest possible Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”) certification standards across new construction, and explore options for placing renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, on-site,” wrote Madaro. “Efforts should also be made to build in systems which promote low-waste living and operations for the residents and businesses which will occupy the site. Such measures could include electric vehicle charging systems, water recycling and reuse systems, and site-wide single-stream recycling and composting programs, among other options. These investments will not only make Suffolk Downs a more sustainable development, but will also distinguish the site and make it a more attractive location for sustainability-minded residents and businesses alike. The BPDA must be prepared to hold Suffolk Downs to increasing standards as the project progresses, and HYM must be committed to re-evaluating each successive phase, updating their goals to match increased capacity for sustainable development. These improvements are an investment in the future of this site and in our community, and I encourage the commitment to resiliency be continued with the highest diligence.”
Madaro also called on HYM and the BPDA to continue the public process.
“Over the past year, HYM has carried out an extensive number of community meetings across East Boston, presenting to residents about plans for the site, meeting with abutters, and soliciting feedback from the community,” wrote Madaro. “I appreciate all of the hard work and diligence that HYM has devoted to participating in the public process, and I believe that these efforts should not be understated. At the same time, however, there are concerns from residents about how effective this outreach has been in certain parts of the community, as well as the extent to which their involvement in this process is meaningful. These criticisms are not unique to the development at Suffolk Downs, but rather are systemic issues which numerous public processes in East Boston have faced. As they continue through the public process, HYM has the opportunity to enhance their community outreach, engaging with a wide cross-section of the community in thoughtful, productive dialogue.”
Madaro said HYM should continue to foster public discourse through equal and collaborative partnerships with community-based organizations whose members and leaders reflect the underrepresented sectors of our community.
“These groups and organizations have unique insight into the most meaningful ways to diversify discussions around important issues, including housing affordability and matters affecting our quality of life,” he wrote. “By forging substantive connections with entities that have established themselves firmly in underrepresented communities, HYM will be better able to make informed and innovative decisions about the way it engages in public dialogue.”