Art Park project will likely go before BPDA board this month

The revised Art Park project will likely go before the Boston Planning and Development Authority (BPDA) board this month, according to BPDA spokesperson Bonnie McGilpin.

If the BPDA board reviews the project during its monthly meeting, it will likely approve it. The BPDA staff only submits projects to the board when they consider the plans ready for approval.

It has been a long road for the project. A version of project was approved by the then Boston Redevelopment Authority and the City’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) in 2014, but was held up by a lawsuit. That has led to the notice of project change (NPC) because the project needs to be denser to pay for the litigation and other unexpected issues, according to the developer. The project had significant community support in 2014, and still does today.

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 Sebastian Mariscal Studios (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.

Prior to the project approval in 2014, the developer 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. However, the project was 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. The litigation ended in a settlement that SMS paid to the Brookinses of $20,000, information publicly shared for the first time at the BPDA meeting on April 23.

SMS submitted its NPC on April 6. 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 and gardening 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. Three parking spaces were also added since the most recent public meeting, bringing the total up to 33. There will still be parking for 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, to the satisfaction of many community members.

In Spring 2014, SMS hired an environmental engineer, who found that the site is highly contaminated with lead. 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.

The City still has ownership of the land, and will until the financing and design have been solidified. SMS will be the owner of the development, and would maintain the property in terms of snow removal and other things.

SMS is hoping to break ground by fall 2020.

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