Roughly 150 people logged on to a virtual meeting on Monday as the principals from Accordia Partners LLC laid out the plans for their massive Dorchester Bay City development along the Columbia Point waterfront.
Hosted by the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA), the session was the first in a series planned for the coming weeks that will review elements of the plan to transform the 34-acre waterfront site into a new community with a mix of housing, retail, and public space.
The Accordia team signed a 99-year lease with UMass Boston last year and will manage the build out of the former Bayside Expo Center land in a deal that could net the university up to $235 million over the coming years. Accordia also controls the land at 2 Morrissey Blvd, now home to Santander Bank, across Mount Vernon Street from the Bayside site.
“We’re excited to kick off a process that for us began about three years ago,” said Kirk Sykes, co-owner of Accordia Partners, which filed a Project Notification Form (PNF) with the BPDA in late September. It showed that the project would include 1,740 units of residential housing, along with retail shops, restaurants, and public space next to the Dorchester Harborwalk.
Sykes said that the team has focused on what he called a “three-legged stool of public benefits” that would include job training and economic development, a comprehensive affordable housing model, and critical on and off site infrastructure improvements.
“This would unlock the potential of the site for all of you and the surrounding communities, and we hope you’ll help us define further how we can make this project benefit the community,” said Skyes.
Richard Galvin, Sykes’s partner at Accordia, added that economic development would “start with” providing 25,000 construction jobs and 15,000 permanent jobs. All told, their plan covers approximately 5.9 million square feet of gross floor area containing a mix of uses in buildings that would include housing and 155,000 square feet of retail space laid out over 17 city blocks.
Galvin said that usage would be split between residential, commercial, retail and civic space, and multimodal streets would be created to include bike lanes and the “broadest possible pedestrian experience” possible.
“I think we’ve heard consistently from folks about whether this can be the project that can help get [Kosciuzko] Circle and [JFK-UMass station] fixed and our goal is to be part of that solution,” said Galvin.
“Another is protecting Dorchester from sea level rise. That’s a tall order, but it’s extremely important and we’ve been working collaboratively with the City of Boston, the Parks Department, and various state agencies to come up with a game plan.”
Added Sykes: “One of the big ideas that Dick and I and the team wanted to see come to fruition in this project is the idea of the T to the sea and this is generated by the fact that there is nowhere that we’re aware of that has mass transit access to such an amazing open spaces,” said Sykes. “So everything we’ve done is built around this concept.”
Said Galvin: “We hope many if not all will come here by virtue of a mode other than a vehicle,” adding that the project will include a long “boardwalk” leading through the land to the water’s edge, and “facilities of public accommodation” at each block, which could be occupied by restaurants or coffee shops, in addition to areas designed for publicly accessible open space.
The team plans to deliver affordable housing— both on site and off site— at a rate equivalent to 20 percent of the overall number of units.
A few attendees spoke up in full support of the project, emphasizing the affordable units of housing it would bring to Dorchester.
“I want to commend Accordia for going above and beyond the minimum requirement for affordable housing and off-site homeownership,” said Eileen Hutchins. “For me that will go some measure to stabilize the community and offset some of the problems and issues with building such a large development. There’s going to be a substantial amount of affordable housing so we have to celebrate that aspect of this project and I do hope that there can be lots of diversity in every aspect so that we can celebrate the roots of Dorchester.”
Jared Hicks, a Dorchester resident, cautioned against creating “another Seaport situation” that he said mainly catered to “white, wealthier people from the suburbs.” He asked the Accordia team to commit to anti-racism by reaching out to organizations like the Black Economic Council of Massachusetts (BECMA).
His comments prompted District 3 Councillor Frank Baker, who introduced himself earlier on the call, to challenge Hicks. Baker asked: “Where is this kid from? I want to know where this kid is from. He’s going to say this project isn’t welcoming to white people. That’s irresponsible. How is he able to say that?”
Hicks told Baker: “Good luck in a couple of years,” seemingly referring to future election cycles.
Sykes explained that he had spoken to Segun Idowu, executive Director at BECMA, and that the team has commissioned “three masters in business students who are working with three diverse businesses on our project. They’re helping them build capacity and working on capitalization so that they will succeed.”
Added Skyes: “And we imagine doing that even more for local and diverse businesses as we prepare for this site. We are very happy to work with anyone to make this the most inclusive it can be locally and ethnically and that is really the cornerstone of the project. So always open to any suggestions.”
The BPDA has scheduled a series of community engagement virtual events on specific topics during DBC’s review process. The following are listed:
Oct. 28: Public Meeting (Urban Design);
Nov. 4: Public Meeting (Open Space, Public Realm & Resiliency
Nov. 16: Public Meeting (Transportation & Infrastructure)
Dec. 2: Public Meeting (Topic TBD)
Next steps after that will include a scoping determination from the BPDA and the project team’s filing of a Draft Project Impact Report.
“There will be plenty of opportunity going forward to dive into all of these topics at a deeper level,” said Aisling Kerr, BPDA project manager. “The purpose of tonight’s conversation was to provide a project overview and begin to address some of the biggest areas of discussion and concern.”