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Committee pushes back on student housing plan

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Committee pushes back on student housing plan

Two weeks ago members of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee grilled developers over two controversial plans: one calling for Northeastern University student housing on Parcel 3 and another calling for a new Conservatory Lab Charter School building at Bartlett Yard.

This past Monday, committee members underscored their opposition to the respective plans, with City Councilor Tito Jackson calling for the de-designation of Feldco Development as a partner on the P3 project.

“You were brought in by the BRA and you haven’t built anything,” Jackson said. “I think you’ve overstayed your welcome.”

The Feldco Development team’s plan for Parcel 3 includes 800 units of Northeastern student housing, 300 units of market-rate housing, a 175-room hotel, a mix of retailers including a BJ’s Wholesale Club and a new museum and cultural center for the Museum of the National Center for Afro American Artists.

Feldco made the controversial proposal during the committee’s Oct. 5 meeting, telling committee members they were considering it. Monday, Vice President Jeffrey Feldman defended the proposal, telling the committee the plan was in keeping with plans introduced by the administration of Mayor Martin Walsh to create new students housing. Jackson reacted angrily.

“At no time have I heard people in the community say ‘We want Northeastern to come across Columbus Avenue and build 800 units of student housing,’” he said.

Feldman countered that students already are moving into Boston neighborhoods, pointing to a Boston Globe article detailing an increase of students moving into East Boston. Building student housing would better enable Northeastern to manage the students, he said.

“What we’re saying is the students are coming into the neighborhood, no matter what.”

“We’re saying we don’t want student housing across Columbus Ave.,” said committee member Charlotte Nelson.

Past attempts

The student housing proposal was not the first time Northeastern dorms were considered for Roxbury. In the late 1990s, Northeastern teamed up with the Madison Park Development Corporation on a plan to build a student housing complex between Columbus Avenue and Tremont Street in Lower Roxbury, reversing a pledge the university made to the community to stay west of Columbus Avenue. That proposal drew protests from black elected officials, who ultimately filed a federal complaint against the city for approving the project.

The stakes may be higher on Parcel 3, which the museum has sought to develop over the last eight years. The project was delayed by the economic downturn in 2008 as well as the withdrawal of two prospective anchor tenants — Partners HealthCare and Mass Department of Transportation. Jackson said the parcel is too important to be given over to student housing.

“This is the second-largest parcel of vacant land we have in Roxbury,” he noted.

Bartlett Yard

Jackson also was critical of the Nuestra Comunidad Development Corporation’s continued push to site a new building for the Conservatory Lab Charter School at the Bartlett Yard site, despite complaints from the project review committee — a group of neighbors appointed to voice community support or opposition to the development.

“I don’t understand the rationale of moving forward,” Jackson said, calling Nuestra “tone deaf” to neighborhood opposition.

Nuestra Real Estate Project Development Manager Mark Matel suggested that community voice on the project would come as it goes through the BRA-mandated community review process.

“With the Article 80 process, the community will have an opportunity,” he said.

“The school is asking us to allow them to finish the community process,” added Marcia Thornhill, director of Real Estate Development. “They understand that the school may not be approved.”

Jackson said Nuestra Comunidad is wasting the school’s time.

“It’s not okay to encourage them over the strong objections of the neighbors,” he said.