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Public probes Dudley tower plan

Affordability, parking, condos discussed

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the Banner’s senior editor. VIEW BIO
Public probes Dudley tower plan
Joao DePina (right) asks a question as (l-r) Lara Merida, Beverly Johnson and Lisa Guscott look on.

Affordability, density and parking have become the three points of contention between real estate developers and residents of Boston neighborhoods. In Dudley Square, where a team of black developers is planning a 26-story office and residential tower, those factors were at the forefront of a meeting with the development’s project review committee.

The July 25 public meeting was held as part of the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s Article 80 process, through which neighborhood residents weigh in on possible effects of a building project on its surrounding community.

Long Bay Management CEO Lisa Guscott makes a point. Looking on are David Lee, Beverly Johnson, Dana Whiteside and Lara Merida.

While the developers of the Guscott Rio Grande project plan to set aside 20 percent of the 219 apartments as affordable — in excess of the 13 percent required by the city — the project would be the tallest building ever in Dudley Square, and includes plans for offsite parking only.

Project architect David Lee gave an overview of the project, showing renderings of the tower, which will incorporate the limestone façade and much of the interior of the existing 1899 Roxbury Institution for Savings and a glass-enclosed atrium that will connect the former bank building with the tower.

Shadows cast by the tower will have a limited effect on the surrounding area, reaching the playing field at nearby Madison Park Technical Vocational High School only during winter months.

Project Review Committee members asked immediately why the development team is not planning to include condominium units.

“The quality of life in Roxbury is dependent on homeownership,” said Project Review Committee member Scotland Willis.

Development Consultant Tom O’Malley, who is investing in the project on behalf of Building America CDE, an AFL-CIO affiliate, said the market would not support condominiums in the building.

“We would not finance condominiums,” he said. “It’s too risky.”

Long Bay Management Co. CEO Lisa Guscott said the project may incorporate condominiums at a later date.

“This project is moving too fast,” she said. “We had to take condos off the table for now.”

Affordability debate

Asked about why the affordable units in the Guscott Rio Grande project were designated for incomes 70 to 80 percent of the HUD-defined Area Median Income, as opposed to lower incomes, Lisa Guscott said many other units in the area are deeply affordable.

“When you look at affordable housing in the Dudley area, the percentage is very high. We’re trying to create a mix of people,” she said.

“Roxbury has the highest percentage of affordable housing in the city,” added Greg Janey, whose construction firm Janey Company is in a joint venture with Gilbane construction to build the tower.

Project Review Committee member Luther Pinkney said bringing more market-rate tenants to the area would be a boost to businesses like the Dudley Dough restaurant he manages.

“We need people who can buy our products so we can better serve our community,” he said. “We need more mixed income. We need more people with higher incomes.”

But Roxbury social entrepreneur Bridgette Wallace argued much of the new housing being built in Roxbury and its surrounding neighborhoods is creating a racial imbalance in the city.

“We’re not seeing a large number of people like us moving in,” she said. “How can we do development without displacement so the people who live here can stay here?”

Development consultant Beverley Johnson pointed out that the project, which is being built on land owned by Long Bay Management, is adding new units to the neighborhood.

“We’re not displacing people,” she said. “We’re building housing for people who live here, and some who don’t.”

Johnson noted that the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, a document developed in the early 2000s by Roxbury residents, expressed a clear preference for mixed-income housing in Roxbury.

BPDA Deputy Director for Community Planning Lara Merida suggested that the Guscott Rio Grande project is part of a larger strategy to ease the pressure on the city’s housing market — including nearby Highland Park, where several homes have listed or sold for more than $1 million .

“The biggest issue here is supply,” she said. “People are selling their home for $1.2 million or $3 million because there’s not a lot of housing available.”

Rents in the Guscott Rio Grande would be competitive with luxury housing in surrounding neighborhoods. A one-bedroom at market rate would rent for $3,350. An affordable one-bedroom in the building would rent for $1,267. The development would include micro units, studios, one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Architect Lee stressed that the project would be considered transit-oriented development, due to its proximity to the Dudley Station bus terminal and Ruggles Station on the Orange Line. He said the team is in discussions with local landowners to build a nearby parking facility for the project.

“The idea is to build parking within a five-minute walk of the building,” he said.

Community activists and District 7 City Council candidate Joao DePina said the lack of onsite parking would be a problem.

The major problem I have is parking and the fact that it’s going to raise property taxes for everyone within a mile of here,” he said, adding that he’s not 100 percent against the project .

The meeting last week was the second in the Article 80 review process. The next meeting will be held Thursday, Aug. 22, and will focus on transportation and parking.