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Boston Planning and Development Authority Board gives green light to Tremont Crossing project

Supporters, opponents call for more affordability in 728-unit, mixed-use Lower Rox development

Yawu Miller | 3/8/2017, 10:26 a.m.
The dust had hardly settled on demonstrations against the Boston Planning and Development Authority’s Plan JP/Rox initiative when supporters and ...
Mimi Jones speaks in support of the Tremont Crossing project during the BPDA Board meeting. Banner photo

The dust had hardly settled on demonstrations against the Boston Planning and Development Authority’s Plan JP/Rox initiative (see page 1) when supporters and opponents of the Tremont Crossing project crowded into the board room on the 9th floor of City Hall for a vote of approval on the 728-unit, mixed-use development.

The BPDA Board hearing on the project, which will include a 30,000 square-foot new space for the Museum of the National Center for Afro American Artists, brought out the support of artists, abutters and building trades workers, while affordable housing activists and Roxbury residents spoke against it.

State Rep. Byron Rushing invoked the museum’s founder, Elma Lewis, speaking in support of the project.

“One of the amazing things about this project is that this was her dream,” he said. “She wasn’t sure where it would be, but she knew it would be in Roxbury.”

Rushing suggested that disagreements over affordability could be worked out before the BPDA gives a final sign-off on the project.

Speaking in advance of the Tremont Crossing meeting, City Councilor Tito Jackson asked that the BPDA delay approval of the project for another 120 days, citing a lack of affordable units and what he said were irregularities in the approval process that circumvented community process.

“It is unacceptable how this has been railroaded through our community,” he said. “I am disappointed by the lack of affordability and insufficient approval process.”

In addition to housing units and the museum, the project also is slated to include 405,000 square feet of retail space, with the wholesaler BJ’s as an anchor tenant, 108,000 square feet of office space and 1,371 parking spaces.

Many who spoke in support cited the museum as a key feature of the development.

“Tremont Crossing will be an important economic engine and will give the museum its home,” said Candelaria Silva. “It’s recognized nationally, but it’s never had a home.”

Dudley Square Main Streets Director Joyce Stanley said the project would be an “economic engine” of the Lower Roxbury neighborhood.

Like opponents, several supporters of the project called for increased affordability, including BPDA Deputy Director Dana Whiteside, who suggested that the agency could leverage the developers’ lease on the land to increase the percentage of affordable units in the project.

“Given that it is public land owned by the BPDA, we have the opportunity to leverage our land for affordability,” he said.

One man who spoke in support of the project said, “The only problem I have with the beautiful buildings that are going up is that we won’t have a chance to live in them. Not at $3,000 a month.”

Those who spoke against the project criticized the percentage of affordable units as well as the level of affordability proposed by the development team, which includes representatives of the Museum and Feldco Development. The proposal calls for the majority of its affordable units to be priced between 60 and 80 percent of the HUD-defined area median income. An individual earning 60 percent of AMI would earn $41,000 a year. At 80 percent, an individual would earn $51,000.

Jackson noted that the median income in Roxbury is closer to $30,000 a year.

“In a half-mile radius, according to information in BPDA planning study, 75.5 percent of people in that area make $50,000 or less,” he said. “The units that are ‘affordable’ would be used to gentrify the residents out of their own neighborhood on public land.”