On Monday night, developers of the Shawmut Avenue project made up of the Davis Companies and two non-profits were clearly at odds with the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) over the timeline of the development.
Davis’s Brian Fallon said he was ready to have the matter go to the Boston Planning and Development (BPDA) Board this month.
Neighbors and IAG members – literally in shock after the 2+ hour contentious meeting – were nowhere near ready for that step in a project that until this week has been absent from the public discourse since last fall.
Reading the tea leaves, however, Fallon and the Davis Companies announced Tuesday that they were backing off from their aggressive timeline.
“We recognize that more time is needed to allow the community to review our proposal and allow us to respond to issues that have been raised by the IAG and the broader community,” said spokesperson Pam McDermott. “We look forward to continuing to meet with our neighbors and other community groups and to ultimately build a project we can all be proud of.”
This project represents a unique collaboration between The Davis Companies and two well-respected Chinatown community organizations, the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England,” she continued. “We want the neighborhood to welcome and support this project, which will not only provide much-needed affordable housing but also provide Chinatown organizations the funding necessary to support their individual missions.”
On Monday night, rather than support, there was a good helping of contempt as neighbors from the Lucas and the Castle Square Tenants Organization (CSTO) – and others on the IAG – clashed with the developers in what was often a meeting where insults were traded.
CSTO Director Deb Backus started off the meeting saying that the Davis Companies had yet to meet with them.
“The full Davis team has yet to meet with the CSTO,” she said. “There was a meeting scheduled for March 29, but because CSTO wanted the Lucas residents to attend, Davis decided to cancel.”
That led Fallon to kick off his comments by intimating that a small number of people were trying to sink the project with misinformation.
“I’ve seen many times where a small number of people try to take down a project,” he said. “Sometimes they do it through misinformation…Not that long ago, there was this re-zoning process and there was consensus in the neighborhood. That was three years before Davis Companies bought this project. That was the process (developers) bought into.”
Backus interjected, “I wouldn’t say 100 percent consensus on that zoning.”
Fallon fired back, “Can I please finish my presentation? That a basic courtesy.”
And pretty much that was the tone of the meeting the entire evening, which stretched from 6 to 8:30 p.m. and featured some pointed questions and comments at the end from Lucas residents. Many in the Lucas, who have only moved there within the last six months, were not aware of the project next door, apparently.
The project calls for 537 units spread out between three buildings that will each be constructed separately by the three entities, but the approvals will come all at once in the next few months via a Planned Development Area (PDA). The church (BCEC) will construct a church building on two floors with 10 floors of residential above. The Benevolent Association (CCBA) plans to build a 14-story building that will include most of the affordable housing for the project, including all of the Davis Company’s affordable housing requirements. Davis will put their payment into escrow to be used when CCBA gets around to developing their portion of the project.
While the Davis is ready to go, and the BCEC has progressed significantly in their design phase, many last fall questioned the CCBA’s ability to produce its project – which was crucial since it contains most of the affordable housing and sits on land long-ago designated for affordable housing.
Paul Chan of CCBA indicated that his company has started talks with the current tenant, C-Mart about ending their lease early, and he said they are ready to roll when the approvals come through from the City.
“As soon as the PDA is approved, we will go full blast with the plans,” he said, noting that they would complete their project by 2023 or earlier.
Nevertheless, the project seemed to have several sticking points, from parking for the CCBA proposal to pedestrian access to the basic design of the project. That left many to understand after the meeting that a lot more time is needed before the process can move ahead.
Steve Fox of the South End Forum, and a member of the IAG, said after the meeting at the IAG got together and agreed unanimously that they would call for more time to work out the concerns.
Apparently, Davis also heard that message the next day.
A public meeting for the general public was scheduled for Weds., May 2, but it came after deadlines for the Sun.
BPDA Project Manager Raul Duverge said at the meeting that the agenda for the May Board meeting hadn’t been set, and the Shawmut project wasn’t a definite for May.