BRA Postpones Vote on Trinity Place Project

February 26, 2016
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By Jordan Frias

The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) board has been asked to postpone a vote on a project slated for 40 Trinity Place in the Back Bay at the request of Bay Village residents.

The 33-story hotel and residential development project has been criticized for its affordable housing component, without the community’s consent, that was recently proposed offsite in the Bay Village neighborhood instead of onsite.

A notice of change was filed last December by the developer Trinity Stuart LLC, which states that the affordable housing units will be offsite, “in the same neighborhood as the project,” to allow for the creation of 39 affordable housing units instead of 17, which the project can accommodate onsite.

“Bay Village has historically supported affordable housing. The concern is you have to involve the community in that decision,” said Sarah Herlihy, president of the Bay Village Neighborhood Association. “[On Cortes Street] you’re really creating a density that doesn’t mesh with this neighborhood or the mayor’s affordable housing plan.”

BRA project manager Phil Cohen and housing policy manager Tim Davis said that the BRA board will not act on this proposal until community members have had their say, but feel that the offsite location for the units meet the requirements set forth by the City’s revised inclusionary development policy for affordable housing.

“The new policy is more stringent than the old one that didn’t require anything offsite be located 1.5 miles from the project,” Cohen said.

“We’re trying to be more consistent with the policy in tying [the affordable housing component] to vicinity,” Davis said. “But we do acknowledge completely that it is in another neighborhood in that respect.”

Herlihy had asked for more public process following a Feb. 18 special meeting which drew a large crowd of area residents and elected officials, during which the developer stated that a broker had confused the boundary lines of the Back Bay and Bay Village.

“Anytime you are confusing the lines of where any neighborhood begins and ends it gets very frustrating for all members of the involved neighborhood associations,” said State Rep. Aaron Michlewitz, who attended the meeting. “I appreciate [the developer’s] willingness and approach for more affordable housing, especially downtown. That just shows you how badly the process was handled.”

Days after the meeting, Herlihy penned a letter to Cohen asking that several issues be resolved, among them the reasoning behind the proposed changes.

“The process of deciding to move these units off-site appears to have been made behind closed doors without any input from the Impact Advisory Group and without any public process,” she said in her letter. “Second, it was clear at the special meeting that the developer’s plan for the development of 1, 3, 5 Cortes Street and 143 Arlington Street is inchoate.”

Nick Martin, spokesperson for the BRA, said a financial analysis was done by the BRA to determine that the proposal to move the affordable units offsite was sound from a feasible and financial standpoint at the request of the developer.

“We think that it was important to meet with the community and we’re glad to get feedback from [its members],” Cohen said. “We’re having talks internally about the next steps. Although we are not mandated to have a community process, we’re going to be in communication with the developer. The board is not scheduled to vote on the proposal until this is resolved.”

If approved, Herlihy argues that Cortes Street would essentially become a row of affordable housing in an already dense neighborhood.

Other changes laid out in the proposal include shaving two levels off of the project by moving onsite parking to the Dartmouth Street Garage and having the units on the last two levels be for residential use rather than hotel use.

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