City Sponsors IAG Meeting To Provide Update on Proposed Flower Exchange Redevelopment

 The city sponsored a virtual Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 7, to provide a long anticipated update on the proposed redevelopment of the Flower Exchange site, which is poised to become the biggest development project in the South End’s history.

​The Abbey Group – the Boston developer also behind the transformation of the Landmark Center in the Fenway – intends to redevelop a 5.6-acre warehouse facility at Albany and East Canton streets into 1.6 million square feet of office, lab, biotech, and biomedical space, with a 1.1-acre publicly accessible open space; ground-floor retail; and 30,000 square feet of civic and/or cultural space.

​Sarah Peck, Boston Planning & Development Agency senior project manager, provided a timeline since June of 2021, when she assumed the reins of this project, known as ‘Exchange South End,’ from her predecessor.

A cooperation agreement was sent to the IAG in July of 2021, she said, followed by two IAG meetings to discuss the document the next month.

On Sept. 23, 2021, a revised cooperation agreement was sent to the IAG showing “two, substantial redline edits” based on input from the meetings, said Peck, which included language surrounding the draft Transportation Access Plan Agreement (TAPA) to be approved by the Boston Transportation Department that would ensure all mitigation measures are followed. The second edit added language surrounding the cultural center planned for the site, she added, but besides these two edits, the two cooperation agreements were otherwise identical.

On Aug. 4, of last year, the version of the cooperative agreement sent to IAG members on Sept. 22, 2021, was executed by both parties.

​Steve Fox, an IAG member since 2017 when the city’s process for this project commenced, said there was “some dispute” as to whether the proposed community space would help fulfill the developer’s community benefits requirement. “Our understanding was that was not the fulfillment of the community benefits piece, and that that needed to get discussed in great detail further on,” he said.

​Fox said the creation of an access route to 93 would be essential to make himself and others comfortable that the transportation plan for Albany Street and this project would work.

“It remains a huge element in the entire development process,” said Fox, “and if it doesn’t happen, it’s probably the lynchpin in terms of our concerns about transportation on this project.”

Additionally, Fox encouraged the city to hold at least one ‘working session’ with IAG members, BPDA representatives, and the proponent “to workshop various elements of the project,” including ‘public-versus-private street access’; access and egress to the site; drop-off and pickup locations; and the TAPA.

“I think a working session is the best place to begin to create a better dialogue so we’re better informed, and the project can move forward,” said Fox.

​Fox also said he thinks amendments to the cooperative agreement might be in order, although he didn’t offer any specific suggestions at this time as to what they might entail.

​But despite his concerns, Fox said he and everyone else on the IAG wants the project to move forward. “But we want it to be done right and consistent with issues we’ve talked about in the IAG for years now,” he added.

​“We need to understand the IAG is the community voice. This is the biggest project to hit the South End ever, so it’s huge. It’s really important, and it’s going to have a major impact,” said Fox, adding that he hopes the community process surrounding this project could help set an example for the planned overhaul of the BPDA’s current Article 80 review process for large-scale development projects.

​Sue Sullivan, another IAG member and veteran participant in the city’s development and planning process as a member of 14 different IAG for other projects and three area planning processes over 30 years, said, “This is the first time in an IAG where we’ve reached this point, and I’ve felt that things had gone sideways.”

​Sullivan questioned the transparency of the process and suggested since “things have changed, and the community wasn’t aware of them,” the applicant should file a new PNF (Project Notification Form) for the proposed development.

​Caroline Foscato, an IAG member and direct abutter, asked that additional IAG members from the community be added, especially given the departure of several former members of the group who have moved out of the area.

​Rep. John Moran, who was on hand for the meeting, requested that no further documents related to the project, including the TAPA, be executed until after a thorough process involving both the IAG and the community, or until his constituency is “comfortable” with the documents.

​(Besides finalizing the TAPA, a certificate of compliance, as well as a design review with stamped plans, still need to be approved for the project, said Peck.)

​Additionally, Rep. Moran requested that no further demolition or construction work be undertaken without the community being notified beforehand.

​Arthur Jemison, the city’s chief of planning and director of the BPDA, responded that the city would likely be able to accommodate Rep. Moran’s requests.

​Jemison said the BPDA had scheduled this week’s IAG meeting in response to requests from elected officials, including Sen. Nick Collins and District 3 City Councilor John Fitzgerald, to talk about project, which was initially approved in 2018, and make sure “clear understanding about where we’ve been over the last couple of years.”

​Moreover, Jemison committed to the city hosting a meeting dedicated to the TAPA process “in the next few months.”

​Councilor Fitzgerald asked whether the Abbey Group could include additional community to address transportation concerns, perhaps by executing a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding).

​As the largest construction project in the South End, Councilor Fitzgerald added, “There should be pretty significant community benefit package beyond what’s required in the zoning.”

​Tom Tinlin, a transportation consultant for the applicant, responded that the project’s mitigation package already amounts to $63 million, “a lot of which is transportation related.” (Some at the meeting, including Councilor Fitzgerald, disputed this figure, though, drawing a clear distinction between mitigation and community benefits for the project.)

​In response to transportation concerns with the project, Tinlin said, “If people can’t get in and out of the site, it doesn’t work for anybody….which is why it’s a phased project.”

​Furthermore, Tinlin added that he believes the applicant had done due diligence with its cooperative agreement, and that they don’t want to see the process reopened. “I think it sets a bad example for the city,” he said.

​Tinlin said the applicant would be willing to speak with any stakeholders in an effort to address their concerns with the project, however.

​“This is the first concrete step of a much-larger process,” said Tinlin. “This is far from over, and we’re going to continue to be together talking about this.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.