132-Unit McBride Street Development Clears Final Hurdle

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, which passed muster with the Boston Redevelopment Authority this fall, gained approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals on Tuesday.

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 has now received the final city approval it needs.

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.”

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.

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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 away from contaminated land. 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, back in the fall. Williams told resident Fred Vetterlein that the company has hired an environmental clean-up firm.

Community Benefits

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

Among them is a community garden that the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association has asked Boston Natural Areas Network to manage, according to residents Dan Scanlan and Jennifer Uhrhane. BNAN is now part of Trustees of Reservations.

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 November phone conversation, that neighborhood groups were willing to accept a level of affordable units close to the city minimum. However, Scanlan and Uhrhane said the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association’ view “has been and still is that we support the JPNC’s recommended affordability percentages.”

The developer is contributing community benefits worth a total value of $615,000, according to a breakdown Vetterlein emailed Jamaica Plain News on Wednesday. Here’s the list:

  • South West Corridor Extension Design — $25,000
  • SWC Extension Construction — $75,000
  • Boston English Upgrades — $150,000
  • Community Room — $80,000
  • Community Green Space — $80,000
  • Community Mural —$50,000
  • Pedestrian Crosswalk and Signal— $75,000
  • Hubway Station — $80,000

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.

[Editor’s note: We’ve updated paragraphs about Boston Natural Area Networks’ potential partnership and the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association’s view on affordable housing percentages.]