Neighbors Praise Big McBride Street Project, Push For More Affordable Units

A view of the proposed 3521-3529 Washington St. project looking west along Washington (to the left) from the corner of McBride and Washington.

SSG Development and New Boston Ventures

A view of the proposed 3521-3529 Washington St. project looking west along Washington (to the left) from the corner of McBride and Washington.

A project for 132 residential units with retail and a four-story self storage facility at Washington and McBride took a step forward Monday. Neighbors have pushed for and gotten key changes to the design.

The development at the former Flanagan & Seaton Motor Car Co. has been in the works since 2010, when it looked quite different from the proposal floated Monday to neighbors during a meeting at English High School.

Instead of parking out front along Washington, the project now hides the parking in and under a central lot. Instead of three separate chunks of housing, a more dense design leaves room for a community garden and other outdoor space.

Here’s an overview of the plan presented Monday:

  • 132 residential units, with 88 in a five-story mixed-use building at the corner of Washington and McBride streets and 44 in a block lining the train tracks off Burnett Street.
  • A four-story, 132,000 square-foot self-storage facility
  • 25,000 square feet of retail on the first floor of the mixed-use building
  • 166 parking spaces both above and below ground
A couple walks their dogs past the Flanagan & Seaton site at the corner of Washington and McBride streets on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014.

Chris Helms

A couple walks their dogs past the Flanagan & Seaton site at the corner of Washington and McBride streets on Monday, Sept. 22, 2014.

Since 2010, neighborhood groups including the Stonybrook Neighborhood Assoc. and Washington Street Business Assoc. have pushed developers SSG Development and New Boston Ventures for improvements to the plan.

About 15 people attended Monday’s meeting, which was hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Many of those in those in the crowd were veterans of all four years of the project’s evolution.

In questions to the development team, nearly all gave the developers credit for changing the project in line with community critiques. But several flash points remain, none bigger than the affordability.

Developers say they’ll meet city guidelines for affordable housing, but offered few details. The city requires at least 13.5 percent of rental units be priced so that someone making 70 percent of the Average Median Income could live there. For ownership units, the minimum mandate is a price point reachable by families making mix of either 80, 100 or 120 percent of the Average Median Income.

For instance, the rent on a two-bedroom for someone making the Average Median Income would be $1,985, according to 2014 figures. Here’s a chart of all the 2014 income limits.

Several residents told developers the city minimum won’t cut it in JP.

“Who are you building this for?” asked longtime resident and affordable housing advocate Richard Heath. Heath pushed developers to price 45 of the units at 30 percent of Average Median Income.

Tim Reardon of the Egleston Square Neighborhood Assoc. echoed Heath.

“There’s an expectation among this community that you’re going to do more than the basic 13.5 percent [of rental units set aside as affordable],” Reardon said.

The JP Neighborhood Council, an elected advisory board, urges developers to price at least 25 percent of their units as affordable in larger projects on subway and light rail lines.

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Overall site plan for 3521-3529 Washington St. as of Aug. 25, 2014.

SSG Development and New Boston Ventures

Overall site plan for 3521-3529 Washington St. as of Aug. 25, 2014.

Contamination an issue

One big change from the developer’s initial plans was moving what is now a 44-unit residential block as far away from contaminated land as they could. Soil testing, according to architect Andy Graves, showed contamination from the area’s previous industrial uses is concentrated under what would be the self-storage facility.

Much of the soil in the corner by the train tracks and McBride Street will have to be dug out and shipped off, said David Williams, director of market development for SSG. The developers are still working out with the Department of Environmental Protection what exactly has to happen at the site.

Community Benefits

Developers touted several aspects of the project that provide amenities to the neighborhood.

Among them is a community garden that, according to Fred Vetterlein of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Assoc., would be managed by Boston Natural Areas Network.

One wall at the self-storage building would be for a community mural, Graves said. And there’s a community meeting space planned for a back corner of the self-storage building.

Eventually, a connector from the Southwest Corridor Park bike trail would pass through the back of the property along the railroad tracks.

What Retail?

There would be first-floor retail along Washington and McBride streets. Williams said no specific tenants have signed on, since the project hasn’t even been approved yet, but that they’ve reached out to grocery stores.

Jennifer Uhrhane of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Assoc. urged the developer to choose retailers that provide practical benefits to neighbors. The project has 25,000 square feet of retail space.

“Transit-oriented development only works if, along with being next to T stations, it also has basic amenities,” she said. “We could certainly use more restaurants, but there are a lot more people who will need a grocery store and other basic retailers.”

Window for Comments Extended

Neighbors won a small but important victory Monday as the developer agreed to extend a Boston Redevelopment Authority comment period from a deadline of Oct. 10 to Oct. 24. As Uhrhane pointed out, the project has been in the works a long time, but the new revisions have only been public since Aug. 25.

To see details of the project, you can download a PDF here. Once you’ve taken a look, comments can be mailed or emailed to the Boston Redevelopment Authority. The project is officially known as 3521-3529 Washington St.:

Tyler Norod
Senior Project Manager
Boston Redevelopment Authority
One City Hall Plaza
Boston, MA 02201
(work) 617-918-4349
(fax) 617-742-7783
tyler.norod@boston.gov

Comments must be received by 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 24.

McBride streets. The project includes 44 residential units seen here between the train tracks and Burnett Street.

SSG Development and New Boston Ventures

The Flanagan & Seaton site occupies a long block at the corner of Washington and McBride streets. The project includes 44 residential units seen here between the train tracks and Burnett Street.