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Highland Park development plans approved

City names three developers for mixed-income housing projects

Catherine McGloin
Highland Park development plans approved
Rees-Larkin Development’s designs, approved for the 16,354 square-foot lot on Highland Street that will be home to 23 new units. photo: Courtesy of Rees-Larkin Development

City officials have announced the three developers who will build 38 mixed-income, energy-efficient housing units on 25 parcels of public land in Highland Park.

Following two-and-a-half years of extensive discussions between the Department of Neighborhood Development (DND), the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) and the Highland Park Project Review Committee (HPPRC), the three-member Public Facilities Commission voted unanimously Oct. 24 in favor of building proposals submitted by three developers: Rees-Larkin Development; New Urban Collaborative Limited; and Marcella 120 LLC, also known as Urbanica. These developers plan to build 23 affordable housing units and 15 market rate units, with a mix of tenure options, all of which will be sustainably designed and energy-positive.

“This has been a very productive planning process,” said DND Director Sheila Dillon, “and in the end you’re going to find that people are very happy.”

The first land package, 118 and 120 Marcella St., Roxbury, tentatively awarded to Urbanica, is 5,281 square feet and will be the site of three market-rate condominiums and a sustainable garden for residents. As with all of the proposed designs, the homes will meet the highest energy-efficiency rating and be energy-positive, meaning they consume less energy than they produce through solar power panels and other innovative design features.

The second block also along Marcella Street, 47,013 square feet of vacant city-owned parcels, was awarded to New Urban Collaborative Ltd., whose development will comprise eight affordable units, two of which will be priced for households earning 60 percent or less of the area’s median income (AMI), three for 80 percent AMI, and three homes for 100 percent AMI. The site will also include four market-rate homes. All 12 units will be available to purchase.

The third package Highland Street, designated to Rees-Larkin Development, is 16,354 square feet and will be the location for 23 new units in one building. Fifteen affordable homes three at 30 percent AMI, seven at 60 percent and five at 100 percent as well as eight market-rate units will be built. Unlike those in the other two projects, these homes will be part of a limited equity housing cooperative, managed by an agent who has not yet been chosen.

“We’re very excited that the HPPRC is supportive of this type of [cooperative] housing,” said Dillon. “We’re not seeing a lot of this type of development in Boston, so this is very exciting.”

There are still two packages of land that the selection committee has not chosen a developer for. When asked why these have not moved forward, John Feuerbach, manager of the Highland and Marcella streets project responded, “Residents have jobs and lives, so we don’t want to pound them with too many things at one time.” Feuerbach said the DND team is pushing forward with approved plans and making sure construction on those sites starts problem-free.

“It’s a good list,” said HPPRC Co-chair Rodney Singleton, who had only praise for the development companies that submitted plans for the Highland Park project. “We had good respondents who are committed to engaging with folks in the community and it was a good process,” he added.

Dillon said that the request for proposal (RFP) process had been much longer than usual due to the amount of time invested in engaging with the HPPRC and residents.

“There was a high level of coordination right down to the nitty-gritty,” said Feuerbach, who told the Banner that they engaged with the Highland Park community on details small and large, including where to host community meetings to ensure maximum turnout, and sponsored focus groups so that city officials and residents formed a shared vision for the land.

“We were in the driver’s seat,” said Singleton, “particularly around community input and asking the city to put the brakes on because we wanted a larger swath of people to chime in.” The city slowed down the process to allow the HPPRC to go door-knocking and to get more residents involved in the planning process, said Singleton. Canvassing and issuing a survey for feedback were two tactics Singleton said were particularly effective and helped foster greater communication between city officials and residents.

“If you compare this to all of the processes before this one, I think we did a better job,” Singleton told the Banner.

While there were difficult conversations about parking facilities, affordability and design, common to many construction projects across the city, Singleton said he felt “pretty good that these conversations were healthy, and developers seemed willing to continue to talk even after the bids were won.”

There are some challenges still to be resolved, especially concerning aesthetics, said Singleton. According to the HPPRC co-chair, some residents opposed the modern designs because they felt they were incongruent with the neighborhood’s historic character. “We hope we can engage with developers on this going forward,” said Singleton, but he does not expect the community to halt construction over this issue.

With all parties seemingly satisfied with the process and level of community engagement, Singleton said he believes theirs is a model that the city should follow on any future projects.

“We believe we checked all the boxes,” he said. “Our test case is a model for how the city and the community can work together to get work done.”

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