EBNA Likely Not to Support Shawmut Street Development

The East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) will issue a comment letter with major concerns and no support for the 112 Shawmut Ave. development project between The Davis Companies, the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CCBA) and the Boston Chinese Evangelical Church (BCEC).

After a presentation at Tuesday’s EBNA meeting, neighbors deliberated about the project and there was unanimous opposition to the parts and the sum of the project, which will be reflected in a comment letter before a presumed hearing on the project at the June Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board meeting.

“Having the three developed together is a bit dodgy,” said one neighbor. “I don’t understand why they can’t do it separately. I think it would be a better project that way.”

Some neighbors postulated that the combined effort is brought together simply to allow Davis not to have to put affordable housing in their building – which will be built first.

The open space component, which sits in the middle of the high rises with landscaped corridors, was also not popular with neighbors – who said it was walled off from the neighborhood, not activated and wasn’t a real space that people would feel comfortable using.

“It’s really just for people who live there or who come from outside of the neighborhood to go to church or to the store,” said one neighbor. “There is no reason for anyone here to go there.”

Other concerns were the building height being over 11 stories, the parking plan (including egresses), and the subsidized unit numbers.

More than a few neighbors felt that the CCBA plan for the site where the C-Mart Asian Market is located was “questionable.” Another neighbor said the parking plan under the building for the new market was not realistic given the amount of traffic generated by the store now.

Neighbors for the most part did not believe that CCBA had the capacity or the wherewithal to complete the project.

A spokesperson for the project said the CCBA is well-funded and ready to start working on the project once the approvals come in.

“The CCBA is a 100-plus year-old Chinatown institution public charity with an accomplished track record developing and owning affordable housing projects in the neighborhood, including Tai Tung Village and Waterford Place,” said Pam McDermott. “It had also developed a 20-unit turnkey public housing project for the Department of Housing and Community Development. CCBA currently has a net asset value of $27 million, and $3 million in escrow set aside for pre-development costs for the new project. CCBA owns the property at 50 Herald St. free and clear and, if necessary, can re-invest the land value into the new development. In addition, $15-16 million of linkage payments will flow from the Davis building to CCBA. They are currently working with Boston Department of Neighborhood Development on this project and are ready to begin work on this project immediately after receipt of the city’s approval.”

Davis and their two non-profit development partners have proposed 537 units spread out between three separate buildings on about a half-city block in a Planned Development Area (PDA).

The church (BCEC) will construct a church building on two floors with 10 floors of residential above. The CCBA plans to build a 14-story building that will include most of the affordable housing for the project, including all of the Davis Company’s affordable housing requirements. Davis will put their $15 to $16 million payment into escrow to be used when CCBA gets around to developing their portion of the project.

Paul Barrett from Davis led off the presentation to EBNA on Tuesday night at its meeting by going over the project and answering questions. He said that the project is not on hold, but was delayed from going to the BPDA board this week.

“The project was put on hold after the last Monday (April 30) meeting in terms of the scheduled public hearing on Thursday,” said Barrett. “There were additional filings that went with that, and it was taken off the (BPDA) agenda.”

Deb Backus, director of the Castle Square Tenants Organization (CSTO), did attend the meeting and has been one of the most vocal critics of the project – in alliance with owners of units at the recently-completed Lucas on Shawmut Avenue.

“We are very concerned about the PDA encompassing all three projects,” she said. “It should not be a PDA. It should be separate.”

Davis and their partners also defended the criticism of their open space plan, saying they have 27 percent open space when only 20 percent is required. They said that is also 30 percent above what is minimally required under the BPDA regulations for a PDA, and a higher percentage than most other South End projects.

“An East/West pedestrian connector was included as part of the 2.5-year formal neighborhood zoning and planning process for development of the Economic Development Area (EDA) bounded by Herald Street to the north, Albany Street to the south and Shawmut Avenue to the west,” said McDermott.

“This project accomplishes this goal. This connector will provide residents of the South End and Castle Square housing with a safe, well-lit, 24/7 pathway which does not exist today. In addition, BCEC has plans for a public coffee shop which will be located next to the courtyard, to create a quiet urban oasis with landscaping and benches.”

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