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Developer’s grand ambition sparks neighbors’ ire

Yawu Miller | 10/5/2017, 6 a.m.
Officials of the Boston Planning and Development Association and members of the Kensington Investment Company team arrived at the Trotter ...
Brian Beisel describes projected traffic flows around the proposed 300-unit development at 45 Townsend Street. Banner photo

Officials of the Boston Planning and Development Association and members of the Kensington Investment Company team arrived at the Trotter School last week intent on talking about the traffic impacts of the 45 Townsend Street development project, a proposed 300-unit complex Kensington aims to build on the site of the former Radius Hospital in Roxbury.

But neighborhood residents steered the discussion back to the sheer density of the proposal and the impacts on parking in the residential neighborhood.

“This is supposed to be a community meeting,” said Harrishof Street resident Mark Sutherland. “We keep telling you we don’t want 300 units. You keep coming back with the same thing.”

The Kensington team began meeting with abutters earlier this year, originally calling for 322 units and 180 parking spaces. In May, the firm filed a letter of intent with the BPDA outlining plans to build 322 studio, one-, two- and three-bedroom units with the number of parking spaces increased to 217.

Because the project is subject to the BPDA’s Article 80 community review process, neighbors have been given the opportunity to weigh in on the project in a series of meetings that will stretch to Dec. 5. During Thursday’s meeting, Kensington Senior Vice President Charlotte Lewis said the development is now set to have 300 units, which she said would house between 415 and 425 residents.

The development will have a coffee shop, an office co-working space, a gallery for community events and an outdoor plaza. The units at Townsend Street will be market rate, but developers are planning 45 units of affordable housing at the Bartlett Yard site, currently being developed by the Nuestra Comunidad Community Development Corporation.

Brian Beisel, a transportation engineer with Howard Stein Hudson, told neighborhood residents traffic impact from the project would add up to 44 cars to Townsend Street during the peak hour of traffic.

“The majority of the traffic in the area is traveling through the area,” he said.

Although designed as a side street, Townsend Street functions as a major artery, facilitating travel between Roxbury and Jamaica Plain on the west side and Dorchester on the east. With Bridge Boston Charter School now open and the Conservatory Lab Charter School constructing a new building at the corner of Quincy Street and Columbia Road, the traffic on that artery could become even more voluminous.

Traffic jam

Meeting participants pushed back on Beisel’s seemingly optimistic assessment of the project’s impact on the Townsend Street neighborhood.

“We strongly recommend that you do another analysis of the traffic count and the impact of this project,” said Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association President Louis Elisa.

Residents also pushed back on the plan to include 220 parking spaces in a project that is expected to house as many as 425 residents, arguing that with the higher-income renters Kensington is seeking to bring to the site, car ownership will likely exceed the project’s capacity, placing strain on the already-tight street parking on the surrounding blocks.

Parking

While representatives of the development team argued that the city’s guidelines called for only .75 parking spaces per unit of new construction in the area, meeting attendees called that figure unrealistic, given limited public transportation options nearby and the absence of amenities such as supermarkets in the neighborhood.

“The Washington Street bus is not rapid transit,” said Project RIGHT Executive Director Mike Kozu.

A Townsend Street resident called on the developers to cut the number of units by a third.

“Why not just do 200 instead of being greedy and trying to make as much money as you can?” he said. “Why not try to fit into the neighborhood?”

BPDA Deputy Director Dana Whiteside said residents would have more opportunity to weigh in on the density of the project during the Nov. 14 and Dec. 5 meetings.

But City Councilor Tito Jackson noted that the ongoing discussions on parking and traffic are happening in the context of a 300-unit proposal that the community rejects.

“Please listen to the community,” Jackson said. “The frustrating thing about these community meetings is that you come back three or four times, but nothing changes. You’re not listening. Listen to the community. Listen to the impact advisory group and incorporate what they’re saying.”