EBNA Hears Updates on Mass/Cass, Restaurants, and Life Science Proposal

The East Berkeley Neighborhood Association (EBNA) had a packed agenda for its April 5 virtual meeting—speakers included Boston Police D4 Capt. Steven Sweeney, Rockland Trust Bank, Jeff Gates of SoWa Hospitality Group, Senior Advisor to Mayor Wu Dr. Monica Bharel, and Aimee Coolidge from Pinee Street Inn.

BPD Neighborhood Update

D4 Capt. Steven Sweeney spoke about crime rates, saying that there has been an increase in property crime compared with this time last year, and auto theft is up 36 percent. He also said that larceny from motor vehicles is up, with 90 so far this year compared with 61 this time last year.

Residential burglaries, however, are down from this time last year—there have been 10 compared with 28 last year. Additionally, he said that there has been a “little increase in commercial breaks district-wide,” and non-domestic aggravated assaults like stabbings have also been up.

Business Spotlight: Rockland Trust Bank

Jonathan Towslee, who manages the nearby Rockland Trust Bank branch, was on hand to present information about the bank along with Dan Johnson as well as address comments and questions form residents.

He said that the bank is “very involved with the community and they like to support organizations.” Last year, Rockland Trust donated more than $3 million to different charities, he added.

Towslee said that something Rockland Trust is proud to offer is a fixed rate home equity line of credit, along with the variable rate line of credit as well. People can apply for the line of credit online and securely upload any required documents, so they don’t even have to leave home.

Johnson said that Rockland Trust is a “full service community bank” that boasts about 125 locations, and is the 16 largest investment advisor in the state of Massachusetts as well as was voted the number one bank in Forbes Magazine last year.

“We are very much a local bank who works with local efforts,” Johnson said. The bank also handles things like investment management, estate planning, retirement planning, and more. For more information, visit rocklandtrust.com.

Restaurant Update

Jeff Gates of SoWa Hospitality Group came before the EBNA to talk about the reconstruction of the former Cinquecento restaurant that was located at 500 Harrison Ave. He said that construction has begun on the new restaurant, which will be called Roma.

He said that despite many challenges with the supply chain and “getting people in to do construction work,” the restaurant is on track to open this summer.

He said that Brasserie, which he also operates, is “going great; we had a great winter.” He said that the vaccination requirement might have put a slight damper on things like business meals, but “everybody was very supportive” in general.

Overall, Gates said that the “wage story for our community is very good,” and spoke about the challenges that some restaurants faced when it came to receiving money from the government during the pandemic,

Mass/Cass Update

Dr. Monica Bharel, Senior Advisor to Mayor Michelle Wu, spoke about some of the work the city has been doing to address the opioid and homelessness crisis at Mass Ave. and Melnea Cass Blvd.

She said that beginning in December, the city conducted a survey of folks living in encampments in the area and then set up several low threshold shelters and places to stay at 112 Southampton, Woods Mullen, and other places like the EnVision Hotel and the Shattuck in Jamaica Plain.

“People can come in or out if they need to,” Bharel said, and are offered things like mental health and addiction services as well as “enhanced care” and “enhanced harm reduction” services.

She said that currently, 183 people are living in those sites and there is also a waitlist.

Since Jan. 12, Bharel said that there have been “some individuals putting up structures or tents in a scattered way across the city,” but “many of them have moved along,” finding other places to go or finding shelter. She said outreach work will continue throughout the spring and the summer, as will “daily meetings and coordination at the city level to ensure there are no more tents or encampments.” The city will also continue to work with all its partners to provide shelter, housing, and services to those who need it.

Pine Street Inn Program Update

Aimee Coolidge, Vice President of Community & Government Relations at Pine Street Inn (PSI), provided an update on the organization’s efforts during the pandemic. She said that PSI has also been helping with the situation at Mass/Cass, and has been “tremendously challenged by COVID.”

Coolidge said that about 35 percent of the people PSI serves caught the virus, and “people needed a place to isolate and recover,” so several college dorms and hotels were leased out to give sick people a place to get better. She said that because of this, there have been less people at PSI’s Harrison Ave. location.

“What we’ve decided is we’d very much like to keep it that way,” as it’s “nice for the staff; nice for the guests.”

She said that PSI remains committed to getting as many people into housing as possible and has been “working very, very closely with the City of Boston” on this effort. PSI has a goal of creating about 1000 units of housing, which she said they are “on track to surpass” with projects like the one in Jamaica Plain that’s being developed in conjunction with The Community Builders.

South End resident Jen Grella praised PSI staff for keeping their property on Harrison Ave. clean, and asked if they will be taking volunteers again, since they had stopped during the pandemic for safety reasons.

Coolidge said that it’s on the table, though with cases rising, that is to be determined. “We would very much like to,” she said.

65 Wareham Street: Life Science Development Proposal

Attorney Marc LaCasse came before the EBNA to discuss a very preliminary proposal for a life science building at 675 Wareham St.

“We are in the very preliminary stages of this project,” LaCasse said, and “have yet to file a Letter of Intent with the Boston Planning and Development Agency to initiate the Article 80 process.” He said the goal right now is to meet with community groups and organizations prior to filing so people are aware of the project.

He said that the new building will occupy the footprint of the group of existing buildings on the site, including the three facades on Wareham St. The project proponents are in discussion with the South End Landmark District Commission about preserving the historic nature of the buildings, LaCasse said. The building will also feature below grade parking and will have tenants with biosafety levels of one or two only, as anything beyond that would require more regulation.

More information on this proposal is forthcoming as the city and community process continues.

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