City officials told a crowded room of Southenders on July 11 that the amount of development expected when new zoning was put into place in the Harrison-Albany Corridor in 2012 has far exceeded what they expected – making many of the traffic and infrastructure models in need of a revamp.
The meeting saw the converging of a number of different interests, most of them to discuss how the transportation network of buses, cars, bicycles and pedestrians would keep up with the amount of development constructed or in the works. The meeting boasted a great deal of information as an update from the zoning changes, and was at times contentious as there was also a great deal of skepticism and disappointment – with a few applause mixed in at times.
One of the biggest revelations was that the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) had been surprised by the amounts of development in at least two of the four sections of Harrison-Albany.
Marie Mercurio and Jim Fitzgerald of the BPDA both said that 7.3 million square-feet were assumed to be in play during planning, but to this point, 9.6 million square-feet has been constructed, planned or approved. That was particularly the case in the New York Streets area where 2.8 million was assumed and 3.7 million has come, while in the Back Streets area 1.9 million was assumed and 3.1 million has come.
“We didn’t think we would see so much development here,” said Mercurio. “Ink Block was coming towards the end of the zoning changes, but we didn’t expect everything else that’s come.”
In particular, the Quinzani’s project, the Harrison Albany Project and the 345 Harrison project were things that weren’t anticipated at all. In fact, the BPDA said they anticipated more commercial/office buildings in the Back Streets, and found Harrison Albany to be a real surprise.
“There is a lot more residential than we expected,” said Fitzgerald. “We didn’t anticipate the intensity of Exchange South End or Harrison Albany Block.”
Fitzgerald said they are planning to use mitigation money from the Harrison Albany project to conduct a new study using the new numbers with consultant Howard Stein Hudson. That was a point of contention as many in the community have asked that a different consultant be used due to the fact that Howard Stein Hudson has conducted all of the other traffic studies in the area.
Fitzgerald said that some of the early numbers show that improvements – such as the new traffic light at Malden and Albany Streets – and a proposed extension of East Canton Street to the Expressway connector road – would upgrade the function of all of the intersections on the corridor so that they are not failing.
Neighbors disputed those numbers vigorously.
“It doesn’t reflect reality,” said Andy Brand. “Most of it doesn’t reflect reality. Maybe you did this study on a Sunday in August…There’s no way Albany Street looks like that in peak periods.”
John Connelly of the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) said he didn’t feel like the connector road would help with the intensity that is coming if Exchange South End is constructed.
“The reality is we have yet to see some very large developments built,” he said. “I don’t think that connector will address everything we’ll see at Exchange South End and what could be built next door (at Jacobson’s).”
A key disappointment was when it was announced that the Harrison Albany redesign would be pushed back to 2020 – upsetting neighbors and developers as well.
The re-development looks to create protected 5-foot bike lanes, the removal of the old median, lighting improvements and new turning lanes. However, Fitzgerald said they plan to wait until after the Quinzani’s project is done so that they don’t cause inconvenience during construction.
“We look to have that done by 2020,” he said. “We’re kind of waiting a little for 370 Harrison – the Quinzani’s…We didn’t anticipate the rapid sequence of development here. Now we think it’s wise to wait until the developments do their final sidewalks before the finish that re-design.”
Ted Tye of National Development said that was an extremely disappointing announcement for his development – Ink Block.
“On Harrison Avenue, the timing of construction continues to be disappointing,” he said. “Ink Block funded the Harrison Avenue design and the original plan was to have the improvements completed when we opened in 2016. While we understand that other new projects are coming along behind us, perhaps those projects should be responsible for any pavement or curbing modifications when they open. We have made a huge investment in the area and are working with an old industrial street plan with an obsolete island, old lighting and lack of bike and turning lanes.”
Meanwhile, the waiting game is also ongoing for two-way Washington Street, which Fitzgerald said would be completed in the spring of 2019 – a change that many have been waiting on for five years.
“It is at full design and we hope to get that done in the fall and be done by late spring 2019 at the very latest,” he said.
Two-way Washington Street will stretch from Herald Street to East Berkeley Street.