Resounding pushback on Smith Street development

By Michael Coughlin Jr.

       Many Mission Hill residents voiced their disapproval Tuesday, Nov. 29, at a Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) meeting regarding a proposed development at 80 and 100 Smith Street that is 17 years in the making.

       On Tuesday, members of the development team presented their project changes to Mission Hill residents for a development that would demolish the buildings at 80 and 100 Smith Street – the sites of St. Alphonsus Hall and the historic Convent building  – to build new residential buildings.

       This project was initially approved in 2005 but was then delayed due to economic uncertainties in 2007 and 2008. Over a decade and a half later, as part of an NPC Project, the proposed development is on track to becoming a reality – with some tweaks. 

       At 80 Smith Street, the new development would remain eight stories tall; however, it would include 86 units instead of 85. Whereas at 100 Smith Street, the new residential building would go from 14 stories to 13; however, units would increase from 116 to 132.

       Originally 90 Smith Street was included in the project’s scope; however, due to renovations to the property back in 2010 and its use as office space, it is no longer included in the development.

       Other changes include improvements to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, as well as decreasing the number of parking spots from 221 to 87, among others.

       Also, the team proposed a four-story, 45-unit income-restricted homeownership building on Delle Avenue to coincide with the NPC project at the site of the old Nuns’ field. This development would also include a 9,375-square-foot community open space park.

       “We took the initiative to come up with a concept – for discussion purposes – as to how we think we could further improve the approved project with a greater amount of IDP but also to dedicate it as homeownership with real open space and a quality environment,” said Zoning and Permitting Attorney Joe Hanley regarding the Delle Avenue proposal.

       Although the project has seen some changes since 2005, an overwhelming majority of Mission Hill residents were dissatisfied and even outright opposed the plans for several reasons.

       One of the biggest concerns for residents was the proposed size of units contributing to more renters and increasing the transient population, which is already significant in the area. Of the 218 total units between the two proposed Smith Street residential buildings, 164 would range from studio to one-bedroom plus units.

       “I don’t know about anybody here, but I’m going to guess that none of our developers or attorneys live in a one-bedroom with their families,” said Community Alliance of Mission Hill (CAMH) Board Member Cindy Walling

       “This project brings nothing to this neighborhood but more transient population,” she added.

       Another resident and CAMH board member, Luanne Witkowski, echoed Walling saying, “I just don’t see the benefit to our community that this project brings. I see like hundreds of rental units that are only small enough for one or two people.”

       “We feel overrun with a student population and a transient population in this neighborhood,” she added.

       Other significant concerns include the project’s effect on abutters, namely the Mission Grammar School. Jenna Clark mentioned safety concerns such as increased traffic at pick-up and drop-off areas, construction, and more.

       “I keep hearing you say – the Mission Grammar School – safety is so important – and I totally agree, but I’m not hearing how you actually plan on ensuring safety,” said Clark.

       The development team emphasized their commitment to ensuring the safety of students and families in the Mission Grammar School community, especially in terms of pick-up and drop-off areas.

       “What we’re proposing is to work with a true transportation consultant like VHB and put them at the disposal of the school so they can come up with us collaboratively – with a plan that works for everybody,” said Sean Curran, a member of the project’s team dealing with community outreach from Waterville Consulting.

       Furthermore, the proposal on Delle Avenue did not go over that well either, as residents felt that if there was going to be an opportunity for homeownership, it ought to be on Smith Street, not elsewhere.

       “People have been more and more recognizing that homeownership is important, and it needs to be here on Smith Street. If you want to build it elsewhere on the Hill, I think you can have the discussion with that, but it needs to be built here,” said CAMH’s Membership Secretary, Gary Walling.

       Patricia Flaherty also emphasized the need for homeownership on Smith Street, citing an increase in gentrification and transient developments in the area.

       “When Sean Curran came out to meetings, people did talk about the need for homeownership – we didn’t talk about the need for homeownership on Delle Avenue; we talked about the need for homeownership right here on Smith Street,” said Flaherty.

       Overall, Gary Walling probably summarized the opinions of Mission Hill residents best in that it seems like, for many, the clock struck midnight on this project years ago.

            “This is not the right project for Mission Hill. We keep talking about how everything was accepted – that was 17 years ago – things change in 17 years. I know the sun and the shadows don’t change, as you brought up in the last meeting, but the needs of the neighborhood do,” said Gary Walling.

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