By Alex Eng, deputy city editor
Roxbury Crossing residents raised concerns regarding the proposed multimillion-dollar Tremont Crossing complex on the southwest corner of Tremont and Whittier streets at a public feedback meeting on Monday.
At the meeting hosted by the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee in the Boston Public Library’s Dudley Branch, approximately one hundred residents raised a variety of concerns about housing and economic inequality.
Currently under review by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), the proposed mixed-use retail, residential, office, art and parking space complex would include 728 housing units, miscellaneous office space, ground-level retail space for a BJ’s Wholesale Club and a large museum space for a proposed National Center of Afro-American Artists.
The more than 1 million square-foot complex would cost an estimated $319 million. It would lie on the edges of Roxbury’s borders just across the street from the Boston Police Department headquarters and Northeastern’s International Village residence hall.
City Councilor and mayoral candidate Tito Jackson (D-7), who represents Roxbury, said the Tremont Crossing project’s housing options were unaffordable to residents and would contribute to gentrification.
“The question then becomes, ‘Are we using public land, even in the affordable units, to gentrify people out of our own community?’” Jackson said. “What we’re saying is, based on how much people in Roxbury actually make, the people in our neighborhood can’t even afford the affordable units in this [project].”
BPDA Deputy Director for Community Planning Lara Merida said the development project would keep community fairness in mind throughout its planning stages, which include multiple opportunities for community feedback.
“Whenever we are talking about housing and development […] equity is the overarching goal,” Merida said. “That’s been coming out loud and clear in our conversations, and we’re willing to work on that together.”
The project developers designated 14 percent of the complex’s housing units, located in two residential towers, as affordable based on rents that in one year total 60 to 80 percent of the average median income of the area.
It also seeks to minimize student-caused housing displacement by following Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s executive order on inclusionary development. The complex would curb marketing to students and prohibit short-term leases under 12 months as well as more than four unrelated people living in one apartment.
Others were concerned about the project’s community benefits, which are a form of compensation developers pay back to the neighborhoods in which they build.
The proposal grants one-time contributions totalling $14.6 million and annual benefit payments totalling $230,000 to be managed by the Office of Collaboration and Partnerships. Those yearly payments may increase in the future depending on community needs, said Jeff Feldman, vice president of Feldco Development, who is also working with the project developers.
“One of the documents that we will be entering into is called the cooperation agreement, which is going to codify all of our community benefits,” Feldman said. “The appropriate escalations will be made […] so that future decisions of that office can be made robust.”
In addition to these payments, the project is proposed to bring money into the community through employment in its various business spaces. Two thousand construction jobs with Boston-based Janey Construction Management & Consulting, Inc. are proposed to be brought to the area. In addition, the complex would create 1,159 permanent jobs, including opportunities for both union and nonunion workers, according to the proposal presentation.
Roxbury resident and project committee member Dorothea Jones expressed discontent with the duration of the project’s planning stages.
“Everyone complains about the fact that this project has been going on for a long length of time,” Jones said. “I think there has to be some key decisions made, and there has to be either a final designation or call the whole thing off.”
A multi-use Roxbury project has been discussed since 2007, and the current developers of the complex submitted an official project notification form of their version of the plan to the BPDA in 2012. All of the proposed plans can be viewed online, and the Roxbury project review committee will hold another community meeting with the BPDA on Feb. 27.
Roxbury resident and UA Local 12 union member Travis White said the developers’ and committee members’ concerns were too focused on specific money details and not focused enough on construction.
“I’ve seen the redevelopment of that area, and it looks the same as it did in 1992,” White said. “They’re talking about bringing some money into our community. No matter what it is, build it. Don’t play with the money.”
Roxbury resident Bridget Wallace said she understood the desire for quick construction. However, Wallace, a business owner and Roxbury Neighborhood Council member, still believes that an equitable conclusion between the community and the developers must be met.
“We want to make sure that things are equitable in this community, that the people who live here are able to participate in what happens here,” Wallace said. “You can’t just rush across the finish line.”
Photo by Boston Planning & Development Agency