Developer releases revised and denser Art Park project

Sebastian Mariscal Studio (SMS) held a community meeting to update the community about what its plans are for the Art Park development that will connect 778-796 Parker St. and 77 Terrace St. parcels. Historically, the community has been largely in favor of the project, and is still today, despite the fact that the proposed development will now be denser by 16 additional units.

The March 6 meeting was not an official City review meeting, as the project has not been resubmitted to the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), but rather a way to update residents about the status of the project. The meeting drew about 50 attendees and was held at Mission Church’s Parish Center.

The project had been approved years ago by the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals, but has been held up ever since due to a lawsuit by a local couple. At the meeting, Mariscal said that the lawsuit ended in a settlement, which forbids the couple to talk with their neighbors or the press about the project. Neighbors at the meeting expressed dissatisfaction about this, saying that it would set a precedent for future developments that may be appealed in the neighborhood.

“I understand that it was a painful project, but we thought you had won, not settled,” Pat Flaherty said.

The Gazette reached out to SMS to learn more about the settlement, but did not receive any comment. It is unclear when the settlement occurred and what the stipulations of it were.

The City first began exploring redeveloping the Art Park site in 2012. The site is City-owned land between Parker and Terrace streets that formerly contained murals, mosaic footpath tiles and colorful furniture, and community gardens that were operated by local residents. The City released a request for proposals (RFP) to determine which developer would be able to buy and develop the land, and SMS was chosen. Locals were initially against the City’s plan, but many were eventually won over during a two-year process with the community benefits the project would provide, including a community garden.

The project was approved in 2014 by the then Boston Redevelopment Authority and the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) after a two-year community process. However, it had been held up as Mission Hill residents Kathryn Brookins and her husband Oscar filed a lawsuit against SMS and the ZBA over the variances for the proposal. A judge dismissed that lawsuit in 2016, a decision the Brookinses appealed. In March 2017 the judge ruled in favor of a defendants’ motion to dismiss the appeal on a technicality. The Brookinses did not challenge the judge’s decision, and the City and SMS have been working on the proposal since.

“Unfortunately two residents appealed the ZBA’s decision, contrary to all of the overwhelming community support, but Sebastian stayed through,” John Feuerbach from the City’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) said. “The appeal has been dismissed, and this last year we’ve been working to dust off and pick up where we left off.”

“We are continuing the same vision that we started,” Sebastian Mariscal said. “We feel that we really created a collaborative process with the many community meetings and workshops with the gardeners and artists. We really believe in the project, and we think it will be very good for the neighborhood and we hope that after creation it will create some inspiration for other projects in the neighborhood.”

In Spring 2014, SMS hired an environmental engineer, who found that the site is highly contaminated with lead. At the meeting, Maggie Cohn pointed out that it may be from the old brewery that used to be there and burned down. As such, the area has been fenced off and is not for use for the public, and it will significantly increase costs for developing on the land. The contaminated fill material will have to be taken away and treated. The cost of this treatment, as well as the costs of litigation and the delays in the project, have led to the increased density of the project.

“We don’t want to change the vision, reduce the public space or community gardens, or put a building on Parker Street, so we increased density, but from the outside, the envelope remains exactly the same,” Mariscal said.

Feuerbach also made it clear that the environmental condition of the site will be fully remediated.

The developers had done five months of community outreach including 20 meetings, and ended up with 35 letters of support and the signed support of 115 community members at the end of that process.

The project has not changed much from the original review process to now. It was then, and still is: LEED Platinum, around 50,000 square feet of green space, no massing on Parker Street, does not have parking or a curb cut on Parker Street, contains a Parker to Terrace pedestrian way, and will include art programming. The major difference is in number of units: the project went from 44 units to 60 units. The units have become slightly smaller, since according to Mariscal they were slightly oversized before, and will be mostly one-bedrooms. More units overall means that there will also be two more affordable units, bringing the total of affordable units up to 12. Some storage space has been eliminated, and there will still be room for 30 cars, including at least one Zipcar, and 82 bikes.

The building will contain one-bedrooms at 600 to 700 square feet, two-bedrooms at 800 to 900 square feet, and three-bedrooms at 1,250 square feet. Each unit will include a private 100-square-foot outdoor patio as well.

The existing site has a 35-foot change in grade, so the bottom of the site on Terrace Street will have commercial space and the entrance for parking, and the roof on Parker Street will be about the same height as the street, so it will be experienced as a park, and not a building from that side. Cars will be hidden from view as they will be between a retaining wall and behind the building on Terrace.

The developers also have committed to not renting any units to undergraduate students.

Residents were mostly happy with the project, but asked the developers to address a couple questions. One of which was about the existing retaining wall on the site now, which one resident believed is in poor condition and needs to be fixed. Another resident asked if the units would be all rental, and when the developers said that they may consider selling a couple units, residents expressed concerns that the sale of the units may lead to homeowners who do not keep the same promises as SMS is promising now in terms of maintenance and the promise not to rent to undergraduates. Richard Giordianno asked that the team commit to no corporate short stay or AirBNB in the units.

The City still has ownership of the land, and will until the financing and design have been solidified.

The team still needs to submit the notice of the project change to the Boston Planning and Development Agency and go through two public hearings, one with the BPDA and one with ZBA. The developers are hoping to wrap up by summer and break ground by fall 2020.

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