New Boston Ventures Files Plans With BPDA for Tubman House

The South End development company New Boston Ventures filed its Article 80 documents with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) within the week for the re-development of the United South End Settlements (USES) Tubman House property (566 Columbus Ave.).

A first BPDA public meeting has already been scheduled for Aug. 19 at 6 p.m.

The project has been parlayed through the neighborhood by developers David Goldman and Dennis Kanin for some time, so the renderings and ideas behind the 66-unit, mixed-use project won’t be new to the neighborhood in many respects. They began rolling it out shortly after being designated as the preferred developer by USES – which will be taking the proceeds from the sale of the Tubman and using it to consolidate their operations and properties on Rutland Street, which they already own and use.

That, in fact, was listed as one of the largest community benefits in the filing.

“By purchasing the Project Site, the Proponent will enable the United South End Settlements to establish a new permanent home for the organization at its enlarged campus on Rutland Street and to continue to offer its wide array of vital services to the community,” read the filing. “The revenue from the sale of 566 Columbus Avenue will support the revitalization of the 48 Rutland Street Campus, while also offering even more vital programs and services to hundreds of families and children. The new building at the expanded campus will be named the Harriet Tubman House.”

That, of course, is a point of contention for a good many in the neighborhood who oppose the idea of tearing down the Tubman and re-selling it for residential and commercial uses. Many, such as the newly-formed group ‘I am Harriet’ have doubted that USES truly needed the money for its operations to continue, and has called for a more creative approach to re-using the Tubman for non-profits.

The filing did also address the non-profits in the building, with it noting that four of the six that are there have been assisted in finding a new location.

“There are six non-profit tenant organizations currently located in the building,” read the filing. “The Proponent has offered to help each of the non-profit tenants find affordable alternative space so that the services they contribute to the surrounding community will continue. The Proponent is providing the tenants with relocation assistance, rental subsidies and buildout reimbursement and has found acceptable space for five of the six non-profits, four of which have signed new leases. It is continuing its efforts to find acceptable space for the remaining tenant.”

That remaining tenant, Tenants Development Corporation (TDC), is probably the oldest and most well-known of the non-profits in USES – and they have been key in leading the opposition against tearing down the Tubman. They are expected to be active in the public meeting process starting this month.

They will be buttressed, however, by a number of key supporters in the neighborhood who have signed on to NBV’s project as of July 29. The filings included 111 names of local people on the list. They include:

•Vanessa Calderon-Rosado, CEO, IBA.

•Jason Webb and Tony Hernandez, Directors, Dudley Neighbors, Inc.

•Nia Grace, owner, Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen.

•Deb Backus, Director, Castle Square.

•Lyndia Downie, president, Pine Street Inn.

•Rebecca Roth Gullo, Banyan/Blackbird Donuts/Gallow’s.

•Al Desti, South End Food Emporium.

Beyond the controversy there, however, is a rare project that requires no zoning relief beyond the Article 80 BPDA review.

That means, Goldman has said, no trips to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) and no added time for gaining such permits. It also means a very expedited process within the pre-construction period. That was echoed in the filing, where NBV stated they would like to begin construction by the end of 2019, and deliver a product to the market in early 2021.

“As previously described, the Project has been proactively designed to comply with the dimensional regulation requirements under the Zoning Code,” read the filing. “It is anticipated that construction will begin in the fourth quarter of 2019. Once begun, construction is expected to last approximately 18 months.”

The first floor of the building is likely to be the most interesting for those looking onto the structure, and that’s because it will contain a number of amenities.

NBV has pledged to gift significant space there to USES for a community gathering area, and for the Harriet Tubman Gallery. Another interesting piece will be the social enterprise café on the ground floor, which will be dubbed The Hi-Hat after the famed jazz club that once stood on that corner. Social enterprise businesses, such as More than Words on East Berkeley Street, seek to provide social services within the context of an actual business model – meaning they make money for the most part, but serve a need within the community as well.

Goldman has been mum on what that will look like in the Hi-Hat, but has indicated in private conversations that there could be some very high-profile and exciting partnerships for that space.

NBV’s filing indicated that it pledged to dedicate 50 percent of the commercial space to affordable non-profit rental rates.

The project documents also indicated there would be 17 percent affordable housing, which is 6 percent above the mandated 11 percent required by the City. Those units would be affordable artist/live work spaces, designed to capture the artist community that is being displaced from buildings like The Piano Factory on Tremont Street. The remaining 55 market-rate units would be a mix of one-, two-, and three-bedroom for sale condo units. There would be no rentals within the building. The building would also come with 42 below-ground parking spaces under the building, and a private, U-shaped courtyard in back of the new building.

Traffic studies indicated about 280 new trips per day as a result of the construction, which is fairly low in the grand scheme of the area, and none of the key intersections around the property were pegged to get any worse or any better with construction. Most of the trips are expected to come leave on Massachusetts Avenue towards Huntington Avenue. There was no one dominant entry point for incoming traffic, though.

The meeting will take place on Monday, Aug. 19, in 566 Columbus Ave. at 6 p.m.

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