Uphams Corner neighbors, developer still at odds over Fox Hall

The most recent version of the Fox Hall restoration and new construction project in Uphams Corner has 71 units of affordable housing paired with three new renovated storefronts.

A Hingham developer and members of the community Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the restoration and new construction of the Fox Hall property in Uphams Corner have yet to reach consensus on concerns over parking and density – a situation that was front-and-center during a May 5 public meeting that featured a snappy exchange just as the meeting concluded.

The project is a joint venture of Hingham’s Mike Rooney of JLCD and Cruz Development to restore the existing Fox Hall building in Uphams Corner (554-562 Columbia Rd.) into artist lofts and complete new residential construction on the back parking lot of the building while retaining the existing three retail spaces at grade.

The project has gone through several changes over the past two years, resting now at 71 units of affordable housing for a variety of income levels, and restoration of the existing Fox Hall building and commercial units.

No existing tenants will be evicted – as they have been offered units in the new building, Rooney said, and the new building has been reduced to six stories with step ups so as not to overwhelm Virginia Street neighbors behind the project.

However, Rooney bristled throughout the meeting when residents brought up longstanding concerns about the overall development situation in Uphams Corner – to include Fox Hall and several others, like the recently filed Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation’s Columbia Crossing project.

In frustration, he harkened back to a previous master plan he had proposed for Fox Hall and the Columbia Crossing parcel that he believed would have resolved neighborhood concerns. However, his plan was not chosen by the community, and he was left to just develop Fox Hall.
With some in the community citing parking concerns, particularly for the Strand Theatre, Rooney said he had a plan, but the community didn’t want it.

“It can be frustrating as a developer when you have a site like this and you proposed a master plan with the contiguous site to produce 200 parking spaces,” he said. “We had a number of homeownership units with that project. Unfortunately, that got turned down by the community. Now we’re pushing forward with this project and hearing those same concerns…It’s frustrating as a developer to propose solutions to the problems, get turned down by the community and then get the same concerns about this one component (Fox Hall).”

Neighboring businesswoman Tina Zaronias, who said her family owns Uphams House of Pizza and the building at 564-566 Columbia Rd., agreed with Rooney. She said the master plan proposal by Rooney would have fixed problems and she indicated the Columbia Crossing selection process “had shady stuff” going on.

Rooney agreed and doubled down on frustrations about being turned down for the Columbia Crossing site.

At that point, IAG member Joan Tighe had heard enough. “Get off it!” she said loudly. “I’m sorry. You weren’t selected for the project next door. Stop harping on it. It’s unbecoming.”

Added IAG member Robert Jones emphatically: “I agree – enough of it.”

With those outbursts, Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) Project Manager Stephen Harvey then grabbed the reins and put a stop to the meeting.

“We’ve had a good meeting so far and we’re over time, so I think we’ll conclude now,” he said.

For IAG members and residents, the key frustration with Fox Hall is about congestion on Columbia Road, in Uphams Corner and at the proposed Fox Hall parking and pedestrian entrance on narrow Arion Street. Such concerns had also been aired a week before in an IAG project meeting. Residents said they are concerned that there is so much development going on at the same time the Strand is being tabbed as a regional theatre destination, and developers aren’t seemingly talking to each other. They’re worried no one is trying to make all the pieces fit together.

Harvey said the agency is aware of the problems and challenges, and they have tried to bring the various development teams together, but they “can’t force it.”

“We can only do so much to make development teams work together to make sure the greater visions are put into place,” he said, noting that they’ve talked to both developers, but “solutions could not be found – or worked out.”

The comment period for the Fox Hall project has been extended to June 1, but the abrupt end to the meeting has only left neighbors and the development team at odds.

The pressure also has increased this month as Dorchester Bay filed its Project Notification Form (PNF) with the BPDA for Columbia Crossing on Mon., (May 9.) Meetings on it are expected later this month and into June – with the first comment period closing on June 30.

That project, located two buildings away from Fox Hall at 572 Columbia Rd., proposes 62 affordable units, 15,000 square feet of civic, arts and below-market commercial space. Some 50 of those units would be affordable to those earning 55 percent or less of the AMI, and 12 units will be designated for artist housing.

The basement would be transformed into several sound-proofed spaces meant to be used for rehearsal space or recording studios.
The project, like Fox Hall, seeks to renovate the old Dorchester Savings Bank building on Columbia Road and add a new six-story residential building on the back of the lot.

Subscribe to the Dorchester Reporter