Banner article: Hundreds of units planned for Roxbury’s Townsend St.

Development firm Kensington Investment Co. seeks to turn an unused parcel in Roxbury into a mixed-used residential building with hundreds of units — something for which they will need to secure Boston Planning and Development Agency approval. KIC’s plans call for transforming the former Radius/Jewish Memorial Hospital site at 45–47 Townsend Street into a five-story, 380,000-square-foot structure.

According to Jed Hresko, a Townsend Street resident who has helped organize community discussion, neighbors have mixed responses to the proposal. Many praise the diversity of the development team and the provision of affordable home ownership opportunities, but many also express concern that the influx of new residents could disrupt the neighborhood and further strain an already-challenging parking and traffic situation.

Community survey for abutters and impacted neighbors to weigh in: http://bit.ly/2tFsDst

One point to underscore, Hresko said, is that neighbors do not have a sense of urgency about developing the unused site — it is not largely regarded as an eyesore in critical need of a fix.

“The site’s not the prettiest, but this is not a case where neighbors see this as something that has to happen,” Hresko told the Banner. “A lot of developments are sold on the basis of, We need to improve the neighborhood. Nobody thinks the neighborhood needs fixing. It’s a pretty nice neighborhood and people don’t want it disturbed.”

Apartment tower

Kensington Investment Co. acquired the land in 2015 for $5 million, according to Build Up. More recently, KIC also purchased 33–35 Townsend for about $750,000.

According to a May 2017 letter of intent sent to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, KIC intends to create 322 market rate rental units — including studios and one- and three-bedrooms — on the main site. KIC states that this building would include amenities such as a café, a game room, BBQ grills, a yoga studio, an outdoor pool and co-working spaces. Construction is anticipated to run from 2019 to 2021. Such a building would require zoning exemption as it exceeds what Hresko says is a 45-foot-height limit for the site and for Roxbury in general.

Developers plan to site 45 affordable homeownership units at a separate location within walking distance, likely at Bartlett Yard in Roxbury, according to Beverley Johnson, who is handling government and community relations for the developer, and Connie Kastelnik, communications consultant, who spoke with the Banner. Johnson and Kastelnik said there will be 21 units available to those earning up to 80 percent area median income (that is, earning $57,900 per year for a single-person family or $85,700 per year for a family of four, according to the BPDA). Another 24 units will be for those earning up to 100 percent AMI ($72,000 for a single-person family or $103,400 for a family of four). Hresko said many neighbors supportive of more affordable ownership offerings, but remain uncomfortable about the geographic economic segregation.

Parking

One item of local concern is that the 322 market-rate units would rely on 217 on-site parking spaces, under plans outlined in a KIC’s May letter. While the units are within walking distance of bus service and the Orange Line MBTA, many still assume a significant number of new residents or their guests will use cars.

Parking in the area already can be difficult, with many multi-unit homes on Townsend Street and little in the way of off-street parking. Townsend Street’s status as a one-way street reduces feasibility of side-street parking, Hresko said. Three nearby schools and several 9–12 unit buildings that lack their own parking spaces further spike demand, and as such it is uncommon to find more than five open spaces on the street at a time, he said. Under KIC plans, each new housing unit would be allotted two-thirds of a parking space.

Hresko said most neighbors’ concerns stem from the hefty unit count under current KIC plans. During one meeting of neighbors, attendees voted to say they could stomach about 166 units maximum, Hresko said.

“The one thing everyone really agrees on is the proposal has far too many units and therefore is far too dense,” Hresko said.

Kastelnik and Johnson said the project’s density is necessary to offset steep construction costs, driven up by the high local demand for construction materials. The total project cost, including creation of the 45 affordable units, is pegged at $150 million, Kastelnik said. In response to community concerns, the amount of parking provided was increased from the originally planned 180-space allotment up to the current 217.

Diverse team

The project boasts a team that is more than 50 percent women- or minority-owned firms. The architectural team includes Studio G Architects (a women-owned business enterprise), Ground Inc. (a WBE) and the D/R/E/A/M Collaborative (a minority-owned business enterprise), as well as G-O Logic. Construction is managed by Janey Construction (a MBE), the legacy consultant Alfred Harris is a MBE and BevCo Associations (a WBE and MBE) is handling Article 80 Management and community and government relations. The owner developer is KIC and the Lewis Family Foundation is providing “philanthropy and community investment.”

KIC states in its May 2017 letter to the BPDA that an anticipated 500 temporary construction jobs will be created, along with 14 more permanent KIC employment opportunities in 2021 with $45,000 to $115,000 salaries, as well as two to three full-time café jobs with salaries of at least $40,000 and two full-time co-working space jobs with salaries of at least $40,000.

Next steps

KIC has yet to file a project notification form with the BPDA, and among the next steps will be selection of an Impact Advisory Group. Hresko said community members have submitted to local officials the names of those they would like to see included, and meanwhile he is running an online survey to gather resident viewpoints on the project.


Originally published at baystatebanner.com on July 12, 2017.

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