Proposed Mitigation for Redevelopment of BFIT Campus in South End Discussed at Public Meeting

Proposed mitigation for the planned redevelopment of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) campus in the South End was the topic at hand on Wednesday, Nov. 30, during a virtual working session of the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and public meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency.

A rendering of the project proposed for the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology campus at 41 Berkeley St. in the South End.

Boston-based developer Related Beal is proposing  a project for 41 Berkeley St. comprising three components: a 193-unit senior care facility, which would be operated by a national provider, Atria Senior Living, Inc; the adaptive reuse of the Franklin Union building  into condominiums; and the renovation and expansion of 4 Appleton St. into approximately 13,950 square feet of income-restricted, age-restricted residential use, as well as 11,550 square feet of retail space, which includes 3,450 square feet of non-profit affordable community space.

Among the public benefits of the proposed project is new greenspace, with 24 percent of the project site devoted to open space, including the creation of a 12,750 square-foot courtyard and passageway, said Alex Provost, vice president of development for Related Beal, while 9 precent of the site would be open covered, including a 4,500 square-foot weather-protected arcade.

Additionally, the project proposes the creation of a new “parklet,” as well as new buffered and parking-protected cycle tracks on Berkeley and Appleton streets, said Provost.

Related Beal is also pledging a $250,000 contribution to the Boston Center for the Arts, located at 539 Tremont St., right next to the project site, to support the Comprehensive Racial Equity Initiative, including a Comprehensive Racial Equity Audit, EDAI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Accessibility) training, pay equity, and professional development; facility deferred maintenance and preserve capacity for mission-driven activities; and master planning/deferred capital projects, said Provost.

The developer, added Provost, would also contribute $50,000 to the Ellis Early Education Center for a teacher-stipend to keep up with raising wages and inflation; support Square Tech Computer Programming to address the ongoing needs and training for the Castle Square Tenants Organization program for software and hardware repair; and create and pay for an annual performance series at 41 Berkeley St. involving students from Boston City Lights, a free performing arts school based in the South End.

Provost said the developer is also working with Atria and the city’s Age Strong Commission to offer indoor and outdoor programming for seniors, which could include yoga and stretching, holiday and farmers markets, wellness lecture series, and a music and art series. These on-site offerings would target not only seniors living there, but also the broader senior community. Transportation would be provided to the site for these activities, added Provost.

Cornerstone Church, a longtime user of the multi-purpose community apace, is being considered as a candidate to operate the space full time, but the timeline for finding someone to maintain the space is still two or three years down the line, said Provost.

Proposed contributions from the developer would aim to enhance open space, the public realm, and community facilities, said Provost, such as $15,000 to Berkeley Community Gardens for “the schematic design and design development of the renovations required after fence replacement and alley restoration of Alley 705”; $10,000 to Peters Park for dog park maintenance; and an undetermined sum to the Ellis Neighborhood Association for tree development, maintenance, and seasonal lighting and decorations.

Cheryl Dickenson, president of the Friends of Crite Park, asked the developer to consider donating to her group’s ongoing effort to rehabilitate the park located at the intersection of Columbus Avenue and West Canton and Clarendon streets in the South End. She added that the Friends group has already raised $710,000 towards this cause, and is planning a partial groundbreaking of the park in the near future “to hopefully increase contributions.”

A total of $1,324,000 in linkage funds allocated to the Neighborhood Housing Trust from the senior care and retail components of the project would be specifically “earmarked and codified for the exclusive use of the development of income-restricted housing creation in the South End,” said Provost.

Moreover, 16 units in the Appleton Building, which would all be studios or one-bedrooms, and one of the 35 condo units in the Union Building would be affordable, while 33 percent of the project’s units would be income restricted, and 22 percent would be designated under the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP).

But Julie Arnheiter, chair of the Ellis South End Neighborhood Association, as well as a South End resident, said she doesn’t believe that designating one of 35 units as affordable is sufficient. She instead asked the developer to consider donating the buildings at 6 and 6A Appleton St. for use as affordable housing as a “Christmas present” to the South End community.

“We’d be happy to accept it,” said Arnheiter, “and we could build a better project here.”

Likewise, Ben Siegel, who, along with his wife, Jane, has called the South End home for more than 50 years, echoed this sentiment. “This project is really bereft of adequate affordable housing,” he said.

Courtney Roy-Branigan, fundraising director for BFIT, countered that the project as proposed already has more than fulfilled its affordable housing requirement with the city.

“We understand it’s not as transformative as some of us would like, but we believe progress happens more incrementally,” said Roy-Branigan, who added that the developer has “not only done their due diligence but gone above and beyond here.”

Jackie Cornog, dean of students, said BFIT is now in a “vulnerable spot” and needs for this project to move forward to allow the school to move to its new campus now under construction in Roxbury’s Nubian Square.

IAG member Stephen Fox said that he believes that the IAG process has been “flawed” as it didn’t allow for a proper dialogue between the IAG, the developer, and the community regarding “what the community needs.”

“Some basic questions about the project have yet to be answered,” said Fox, adding that he hoped the public comment period could be extended beyond Dec. 9 to allow for two or three more IAG meetings.

“There are a lot of outstanding questions among the IAG members who are waiting for a dialogue about the senior-care facility,” he said. “We had asked that this meeting be a dialogue with the IAG, but we’re continuing with the same format that hasn’t served us well.”

Nupoor Monani, deputy director of master policy and planning for the BPDA, said the project is being considered for the BPDA’s December board meeting, since “its success is tied to BFIT.”

The city’s supplemental public comment period for this project is open through Friday, Dec. 9; comments can be submitted at the BPDA’s website for the project at http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/41-berkeley-street, or via email to Camille Platt of the BPDA at [email protected]

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