McBride Street Development Green Lit Over Neighborhood Council Objections

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 mammoth project along the rapidly-changing Washington Street corridor won approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Thursday night.

Neighbors had pushed for and gotten key changes to the design for 132 residential units with retail and a four-story self storage facility at Washington and McBride.

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 that passed the Redevelopment Authority’s board on Thursday night.

The city says the $80 million project will create 242 construction jobs.

How it Changed

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 development:

  • 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

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.

In the most recent Redevelopment Authority public meeting on the project, back in September, attendees nearly all gave the developers credit for changing the project in line with community critiques. But several flash points remained, none bigger than the affordability.

In September, developers said they’d meet city guidelines for affordable housing, but offered few details. The city requires at least 15 percent of market-rate units be priced as “affordable.” Here’s a chart of all the 2014 income limits.

The Redevelopment Authority approved the project with 19 affordable units. That’s 17 percent of the market-rate units, or just over the minimum.

Several residents back in September told developers the city minimum wouldn’t cut it in JP.

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.

[Story continues below rendering.]

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 Association, 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. The developers are kicking in $100,000 for that plan.

Those significant community benefits are one reason, Vetterlein said in a later phone conversation, that neighborhood groups were willing to accept a level of affordable units close to the city minimum.

Neighborhood Council Clashes With BRA, Neighborhood Groups

In October, a committee of the JP Neighborhood Council voted to oppose the Flanagan & Seaton project on the grounds of it not meeting the 25 percent threshold for affordable units, according to Jamey Lionette, chairperson of the elected volunteer board’s Housing and Development Committee.

The Neighborhood Council sent a letter saying it could not support the project at that time.

What Retail?

There would be first-floor retail along Washington and McBride streets. Back in September, Williams said no specific tenants have signed on but that they’d reached out to grocery stores.

Back in September, 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.”

To see details of the project, you can download a PDF here.

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.

  • Richard Heath

    Very good story. Good information

  • Marc Ebuña

    Maybe we’d have gotten more affordable housing and more housing in general to satiate the market if it hadn’t been knocked down from the originally proposed 289 units and the developer weren’t required to include so much parking just steps away from the Orange Line… just saying…

    • Marc, that article you referenced from June 2013 is about the 289-unit project at 3593-3615 Washington St. This article refers to the current development at 3521-3529
      Washington St., adjacent to that site, which is also mentioned in your article, but is a separate project.

      However, I’d love to see more affordable housing units in JP. Since this general area is ideal for locals as well as both T and bike commuters, including a “green building” with a bike cage in future projects, exclusively rented as affordable housing units to commuters that do not require car parking, would take up a lot less room than dozens of parking spaces, and would also reduce the impact of increased population density on the neighborhood. Win-win.

      • Eric Herot

        I might also add that without all of the lost opportunity cost of having more than one parking space per residential unit, the market rate units could actually be a lot more affordable. We should put a moratorium on building new parking spaces within a ten minute walk of every Orange Line station. Sure, some people will stubbornly choose to drive no matter what, but there is no reason to make things any easier for them.

        • ranndino

          Some people stubbornly have jobs they can’t take public transportation to. Imagine that.

          • Eric Herot

            Why would those people choose to pay a premium to live near a train station? And if they are willing to pay a premium, why should we go out of our way to help them bid up the cost of transit-accessible housing?

            People who want to take the train to work *have* to live near the train station. People who want to drive can live just about anywhere else.

          • ranndino

            You really aren’t very good at thinking beyond what’s right in front of your nose, are you?

            How about the simple fact that a job location can change at any time? Today I may work in a location that I have to drive to. Tomorrow right in the city. Haven’t thought of that? Have you, genius?

            I don’t pay any premium & am not required to ask your permission to buy a property that I happened to like anywhere I choose.

          • Eric Herot

            The premium is not a regulation. It’s a market force. And you *will* pay it. Equivalent homes tend to cost more if they are located next to train stations because access to public transit is a valuable amenity.

            What I’m really not getting here is why you’re so against just leaving these choices up to the market. Obviously some people with the means to do so will still choose to have the flexibility of owning a car while also taking the train to work, but those people should have to pay the full market price for storing that car, and the city should not intervene to force developers to build more parking spaces than the market demands.

            Lastly, if you live in a building with no parking, and you decide you want to get a car, you should have to move, just as someone who has a car and wants to switch to using public transit would have to move to live near a train station. Forcing everyone who doesn’t own a car to pay for an empty parking space for the car they *might* one day own is unfair and a waste of money.

          • ranndino

            Where did I suggest that the premium is a regulation?

            I’m all for the market deciding. That’s why I did not ask you where and what to buy.

            The main point I disagreed with was your assertion that people who drive to work should not buy houses near a train station. That point stands. I didn’t buy a place for a year or two. If that’s what I wanted I would have rented. My name is also not Nostradamus so I have no idea whether I’ll be able to take public transportation to my next job. That was actually the plan when I bought, but it didn’t work out that way. I got a really good offer from a company that I have no option to take pub trans to. Lastly, I have my own off street parking spot that wasn’t subsidized by anyone.

            What would happen if the new condo isn’t required to have a decent number of parking spots is that the adjacent streets are going to get overwhelmed with an influx of cars once the condo occupants move in. Whether you like it or not the government is not able to force people to not buy or sell a car just because they moved into a building that is close to pub trans.

            Also, the way pub trans is in Boston just being next to a train station doesn’t mean you have it as an option to get anywhere in the city. A simple Google Maps directions search will show you that it takes 3/4 changes & up to 2 hours one way to travel on pub trans between many locations. I’d be the first one to ditch my car if our pub trans was as good as that of most large European cities. Unfortunately, it’s barely passable & completely failed on all counts this winter.

          • Eric Herot

            When the government requires that a developer build more parking spaces than the market demands, that is a form of indirect subsidy. You realize that, right?

            The reason developers do not build more parking spaces on their own is that those extra spaces tend to lose money. The cost of covering that loss is paid for by the people who buy the units, raising the overall cost of housing for everyone, and providing a subsidy to the people who actually buy a parking space.

            On average, across Boston, about 66 percent of households own cars (as of 2012 — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._cities_with_most_households_without_a_car), with some neighborhoods (such as Beacon Hill) having much lower numbers, but almost all having less than 1 per household. Zoning codes across Boston ALL require between 1 and 2 spaces per unit, and it is very rare for buildings to be built with parking rates lower than about 80% spaces per unit. Since 80% is much higher than 66%, this creates a glut of unused, off-street parking spaces in almost all new developments. Many buildings sell these spaces to MBTA customers who park there to take the T, and who would otherwise park in lots further outside of the city. This creates additional traffic on city streets and really does nothing to alleviate any parking problems supposedly caused by new development.

            And here’s the final ultra-stupid thing about all of these newly built private spaces: Because they cost money while parking on the street in Boston is basically free for residents, even some people who buy in the building and DO own a car will choose not to park there because it is so much cheaper to park on the street.

            All of these are roughly the same distortions that occur in any industry when the government gets involved and mandates supply or tries to regulate prices. We don’t tend to tolerate it anywhere else. I don’t see why parking should be treated any differently.

          • Peppy

            Your Google Finger must be worn to a nub.

  • Frederick Vetterlein

    I just want to elaborate on my comment to Chris Helms about affordable housing. The question of affordable housing is both important but more complex. I explained to Chris that when the developers first arrived 3 years ago, their plan seemed like an urban design nightmare which stressed parking lots over pedestrians. The plan had only 44 units of housing and the emphasis was on a 4 story storage facility and a 2 story commercial office building. The design screamed suburban office park. Currently the Washington St corridor feels empty and lost. It is defined by a busyard, car wash, auto repair shops, auto rentals, and tow yards. What the Stonybrook Neighborhood wanted was an urban street, one that would combine residential and retail and we wanted a project that didn’t become continue the sense that it was a barrier to pedestrian connectivity with the rest of JP.

    Our efforts of negotiation with the developers weren’t against affordable housing. Our energy went toward changing a project so that it would link our community to the whole JP fabric. Perhaps the city needs stronger guidelines on affordability. And that should be part of a discussion about planning for the whole Washington St corridor.

    • JamaicaPlainNews

      Thanks for amplifying your comments, Frederick!

  • Guest

    Who the fuck wants a four-story storage facility right on the SW corridor???

  • Hey everyone, this is Chris Helms of Jamaica Plain News. I’m glad there’s spirited discussion here, but let’s lay off the curse words. I’ve removed an otherwise fine comment that included one.

  • FartFace

    Just what I wanted – another self-storage facility!!!

    I generally support the Washington St. construction projects, but seriously…there’s already a giant ugly useless storage facility on Washington St., about four blocks north.

    P.S.: who the hell uses self-storage facilities? I guess I just don’t get the point.