The BPDA board yesterday approved a 660-unit "mid-market" development on the old St. Gabriel's site off Washington Street and behind St. Elizabeth Medical Center in a move that could also lead to the creation of a new, privately funded Allston/Brighton bus line.
BPDA board members said they appreciated efforts by developer Cabot, Cabot and Forbes to include 105 condos in the project, in a neighborhood that has seen home-ownership rates drop dramatically in recent years, although some residents said that was not enough.
But BPDA officials and City Councilor Mark Ciommo blasted St. Elizabeth's Hospital and owner Steward Health Care for stonewalling the city and residents on the issue of what to do with the 300 cars its employees now park on the St. Gabriel's site once that parking is removed to make way for the St. Gabriel project.
Noting that St. E's needs BPDA approval for an upcoming renewal of its "institutional master plan," board member Ted Landsmark said "I won't forget that disappointment."
"I don't want anyone to walk out of here thinking that we're impotent to deal with these issues," because of St. E's need for BPDA approval of its new plan, BPDA Director Brian Golden said.
Ciommo was so pissed off at St. Elizabeth's that he actually spoke during the "opponent" period of the meeting - the first time he's ever formally risen to voice opposition to BPDA approval of a project in his ten years in office. He said he didn't want the board to reject the St. Gabriel plan outright, but to give CCF and the community more time to try to get St. Elizabeth to deal with them on the issue. Doherty also expressed frustration in just trying to get St. Elizabeth and Steward to talk.
Nobody from the hospital or the health-care chain attended the hearing, or at least, would admit it when Landsmark asked for them to show themselves.
Part of CCF's proposal includes funding to help plan and start up an Allston/Brighton shuttle bus service to ferry neighborhood residents to and from local employers and shops. Renters in the new project would have a $20 monthly fee added to their rent should the bus line get up and running. CCF CEO Jay Doherty said similar private shuttles have worked well in other areas, such as along Rte. 128.
Under the plan approved by the BPDA, CCF will build four new residential buildings on the site. Roughly 98, or about 15%, of the units will be marketed as affordable, Doherty said. The city required 13%.
The company will also restore the monastery and church at the center of the 11.6-acre parcel, at a cost of roughly $25 million. The monastery will become housing, while the church will be turned into a community center. The St. Fatima shrine on the site will be kept. A three-acre open space along the Washington Street side of the property will be restored.
The company will build 510 parking spaces for residents.
Opponents said that in addition to the St. E's issue, they were also concerned about density - in addition to the St. Gabriel's project, more than 300 additional units are either under construction or planned for Washington Street next to the property.
And while the 105 condos is up from the zero CCF originally proposed, it's still less than the percentage of owner-occupied homes in Brighton today, they said. They worried about increased numbers of "transient" tenants, such as college students, messing up the neighborhood.
Board member Michael Monahan said he sympathized with the concern, but added that the city is in desperate need of new housing. And Monahan, also business agent for the IBEW Local 103, said even the 105 condos CCF proposed might be a stretch because banks would rather finance apartments than condos. "Rentals are red hot" for financing, he said.
And, he added, home ownership isn't everything. "It doesn't mean you're not successful if you don't own a home," he said.