Residents Still Concerned Over Traffic Impacts of Exchange South End

As development projects continue to pop up along the Harrison Avenue corridor in the South End, residents concerns continue to grow on how the traffic will continue to increase in the area. New construction already causes major delays during rush hour, and more construction coming down the pipeline has residents believing it can only get worse.

Getting ready to begin construction this upcoming year are two large projects along Harrison Avenue. At 660 Harrison Ave., the Leggat McCall development is a complex of four buildings made up of mix-use and residential buildings and at 380 Harrison Ave., the Related Beal project at the former Quinzani’s Bakery site will have a 14-story residential building.

Now, the planning for Exchange South End at 540 Albany Street is gaining traction.

“We need an independent transportation plan…because there are some questions that are consistent with this project but it’s also bigger than this project,” said Sue Sullivan, Newmarket Business Association, at an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on the Exchange South End development on Thursday, Feb. 15. “My independent view is that the BPDA and everyone involved needs to take a look at the larger context.”

According to Howard Stein Hudson, transportation and planning agency representative, a Harrison Corridor Transportation Study is already happening at the city level.

Steve Fox, moderator of the South End Forum and member of the Rutland Square Association, said the neighborhood would like to see more details and an independent study done.

“The issue of transportation is at the forefront and the center of the hearts and minds of South End resident,” said Fox. “With the Leggat McCall property and the pre-implications of that, along with what is being looked at here – don’t we want a new set of eyes?”

Questions arose over the set-standards used to make the transportation study, which are set by the Boston Transportation Department (BTD), which they believe are skewing the results, making it appear that the impact won’t be as bad as they believe it will be.

The Howard Stein Hudson representative said that his transportation studies used the standards set by the city and regardless of who does the study, it would fall back to the BTD data.

He said that the BTD is currently working on re-doing the methodology not just in the South End, but also across all the neighborhoods of Boston.

“There is a huge area that is not the same characterization anymore,” the Howard Stein Hudson representative said. “There are areas that used to be industrial areas that now are not.”

Fox asked if it was possible to look at the standard assumptions made by the BTD for not only this project, but also across the South End. That way there will be reliable data to go off of and have a fresh set of eyes looking at it.

Fox suggested that they bring this topic up to the BTD representative at the next South End Forum community meeting happening on March 6.

In addition IAG members made a point of continuing discussions with BPDA transportation planners, BTD representatives, and federal and state transportation representatives following the Forum regarding the Exchange South End project.

“The transportation future of the neighborhood is a key concern for the South End,” said Fox. “We’ve pushed very hard on this topic, and we still have the opportunity to do it right.”

The Howard Stein Hudson representative said that a complete overhaul of the base data by the city would not meet the timeline of the Flower Exchange development.

“Regardless of how long it takes, there are elements found in the developmental picture and a lot of other discussions can be had on transportation,” said Fox. “We don’t want to halt everything up to figure out where to plant a traffic light, but we want to do it right.”

It is expected that this project will go to the BPDA board hearing for a vote in March.

The purpose of the IAG meeting on Feb. 15 was to discuss the changes made after listening to feedback from community members and city agencies.

The Abby Group acquired the former Flower Exchange site in 2016, which currently consists of a warehouse facility with an accessory surface parking lot. The site will be redeveloped into a life science and technology office campus, complemented by local retail, restaurants, bike trails, and open spaces.

Major changes were made to the overall massing of the four buildings comprising the site, labeled A, B, C and D. Building B, which sites on Albany Street side, was reduced in size. Two, full stories were removed from the upper portion of the building, and the massing was modified to better respond to Albany Street. A screening element made up of terracotta baguettes is located above the entry on the angled wall, helping with controlling sunlight and highlighting the buildings main entry.

The area removed from Building B was relocated into Building C, adding three stories to the overall height. Building C, which lines the highway, will have an angled back top three floors, providing a slender top to the building.

The 30,000 square-foot community and or cultural spaces will now be distributed and located proportionally in all the buildings to be implemented in phases as the project progresses.

Instead of having allocated community or cultural space in Building C, it was moved into Buildings A and B, which are slated to be constructed first. It displaces a portion of retail that was initially planned for the ground floor of Buildings A and B, but allows for the community to have benefits as construction continues.

The total FAR (Floor Area Ratio) square footage has not changed.

The project site design and access plan no longer anticipates the East Concord Street connection to the Massachusetts Avenue Connector being in place prior to occupancy since it is not being pursued at this time.

But the Biosquare Drive connection to the Southbound Frontage Road will be completed prior to full-project occupancy. A design for the connection of Biosquare Drive to the Southbound Frontage Road is currently being prepared. This plan has preliminary support from the landowners, the City, and MassDOT. Once finalized, the plan will be submitted to the Federal Highway Administration.

In addition, the developers will fund the signalization of the intersections of Albany Street/East Canton Street/ East Canton Street Extension and Albany Street/East Dedham Street/ Albany Green.

This signalization, installed concurrently, with the implementation of coordinated timings at the intersections along Albany Street will improve travel times through the Albany Street corridor.

“I already call 311 and say to the traffic room if they can look at Albany Street and adjust the lights,” said Sullivan. “It is over capacity and even with the signalization of Albany Street (improved travel times) won’t happen.”

In addition, IAG members asked if the developers would provide a shuttle service to workers at the new buildings, stating that the current public transportation will not meet the growing demand in the area.

William Keravuori, manager partner of The Abbey Group, said if they provide a shuttle service, it would undermine the service of the MBTA, eventually crippling it into the ground because no one would use it.

“That is a very notable concern, but the MBTA is reactive,” said Eric Huang, president of Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association. “We need to start with the private shuttle, proving the large demand, and then go the MBTA and ask, ‘Hey do you want to buy this route?’”

Keravuari said they plan on doing whatever makes the most sense.

There is a 90-day comment period on the Draft Impact Report, which was released on Feb. 13. The next IAG meeting will take place on March 8 at the D-4 police station at 6:30p.m.

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