Frequently Asked Questions
What is Suffolk Downs and what is proposed for the site?
Suffolk Downs is a site located in East Boston and Revere. The City of Boston is reviewing a proposal to develop 109 acres, or roughly the size of 82 American Football fields, on the Boston portion of the site. A developer, HYM Investment Group, purchased the property in 2017 for about $155 million and is proposing to build housing and commercial buildings, also including privately-owned, publicly accessible open spaces. The Boston portion could have 7000 units of housing as well as offices, a hotel, shops & 27 acres of open space.
Where can I read the proposal and get updates on the city’s review?
You can read the proposal in several ways. First, the city’s website for the project is at http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/suffolk-downs. You can also view the project files at http://bit.ly/suffolkdownspda. Contact HYM, the Boston Redevelopment Authority / Boston Planning and Development Agency (BRA/BPDA) or Councilor Edwards for a print copy.
Can I comment on Suffolk Downs’ proposal? When is the deadline?
To file an official comment on Suffolk Downs, you can email the project manager, email@example.com, send a letter to Tim Czerwienski, Boston Planning & Development Agency, One City Hall Sqaure, Boston, MA 02201 or visit http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/suffolk-downs#comment_Form
DEADLINE: May 6, 2019
I’m no expert. Is my opinion worth sharing? How can I make my comment most useful?
Yes, your opinion is essential! This project will shape decades of development, but the most critical public approvals are happening this year. You may want to focus on the topic you care about most and the associated "public benefit" or commitment from HYM. For example, in the Master Plan document, you can read about Housing (ages 9 and 10), Transportation (pages 8 and 9), Open Space (pages 3, 4, and Ehibit F), Climate Resiliency (spread across sections), and Public Benefits (page 10-12 and Exhibit J). Exhibit H shows the phases of development.
What if there is no information or not enough information about an issue I care about?
If you can’t find what you need, that alone is enough for a comment, and you should comment as soon as possible and also notify the Office of Councilor Edwards.
What kind of public benefit will this project create, according to the proposal?
The proponent claims the project will generate $170 million in public benefit through roadways, sidewalks, bicycle paths, and pedestrian paths, water, sewer and storm drainage facilities, and open space areas, as well as property tax revenue and a limited amount of deed-restricted (price controlled) and senior housing, and a small community room. The current public benefit package is the result of HYM’s conversation with city and state agencies and city policy, but has not been fully vetted by community or residents groups. It is not clear from the proposal what benefits are in Boston or East Boston, but approximately $50m are for off-site roadway changes.
What is a Planned Development Area (PDA)? What does the PDA document do?
A planned development area is a special set of zoning rules for large areas of at least one acre, with a master plan required for projects over five acres. The PDA filing is a regulatory document that locks into place rules and requirements for development in a specific (large) area.
Specifically, the PDA addresses:
- What can be built and how;
- Information about the site itself and plan for the physical area;
- Public and community benefits the developer commits to; and
- The process going forward.
What is Zoning?
Zoning is a form of law and regulation that guides development and planning, protects public health, ensures community benefits and sets expectations for how our city should change and grow. In Boston, zoning is proposed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Boston Zoning Commission. Inspectional Services enforces the zoning code itself, but in some cases, the BRA staff may be charged with enforcing the rules our city sets in place.
What should I know about the Planned Development Area (PDA) process?
Developers initiate the process by proposing their own regulations, consistent with city zoning. The BRA and city staff review the proposal and take public input on it. Planned development areas trigger a mandatory comment deadline of at least 45 days (Suffolk Downs’ is 90 days). To approve a PDA, the Director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority must issue a “Certification of Consistency.”
After the comment period, the BRA has three options: approve the plan, conditionally approve the plan, or disapprove the plan. If the BRA’s Director is supportive, the PDA goes for a vote at the BRA board and the Zoning Commission. Inspectional Services cannot issue building permits until all this, and the project’s design review, is approved. If substantial changes are proposed later, they go back to the BRA board and zoning commission. The whole Planned Development Area process is governed by Section 80-C of the zoning code and by a 2014 BRA policy.
What are the city’s criteria for approval of Planned Development Areas?
There are five basic criteria for approval of PDAs, which can be summarized as:
- The PDA matches the base or underlying requirements, for example, density of development, PDAs are allowed in the area and geographically conform with their district or neighborhood
- The PDA meets the public benefits & other criteria required by the underlying zoning
- Finally, the PDA as a whole must “not be injurious to the neighborhood or otherwise detrimental to the public welfare, weighing all the benefits and burdens”.
Can changes to be made after the PDA is approved?
Yes. Substantial amendments to the PDA need to be approved by two quasi-public entities, the Boston Redevelopment Authority board and the Zoning Commission, and these changes do require public meetings and a public vote. In most cases, these changes are minor, such as allowing office space in an ground floor unit zoned for retail. However, changes could potentially be made to public benefits that are not secured in separate agreements. Additionally, some changes specific to individual buildings, such as adjustment of unit mix or affordability levels, can be made by the BRA board without the zoning commission.
Is there a precedent for PDAs of this scale? What about significant changes to PDAs?
Yes, although Suffolk Downs is larger. The Seaport Square development in South Boston is a relevant learning opportunity both due to size and because of changes over time. Unfortunately, public benefits such as large open space and civic space were later removed via amendment. A graphic from Fort Point resident Steve Hollinger encapsulates the shift.
Are there ways to ensure benefits I care about cannot be amended or removed?
Yes, there are several. First, the PDA filing itself establishes certain ground rules and indicates a process for amendment. Currently, these are specified on page 13 of the Master Plan. Beyond that, the development review process will involve several other binding agreements between the City of Boston and HYM. Additionally, certain restrictions may be put onto the deeds of some or all properties in Suffolk Downs. For example, deed restrictions could guarantee affordability or ensure open space is conserved. At 5-6 Necco Court, the site General Electric has put up for sale, a deed restriction is ensuring open space will remain for 95 years regardless of who owns the site. Public or private entities can “hold” the restriction.
What other processes will follow if the PDA is approved?
Individual buildings on-site must go through Article 80 Review as they are proposed, and the Suffolk Downs site also goes through design review at the Boston Civic Design Commission.
Can you clarify the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s role in this process?
The Boston Redevelopment Authority plays multiple functions: neighborhood planning, promoting development, negotiating benefits, writing zoning and ensuring compliance with areas like the Boston Residents Jobs Policy. Because the BRA board must ultimately vote on the PDA, the agency holds a level of regulatory authority and is ultimately responsible for ensuring the project is good for Boston. A plan that goes forward should support other city goals, such as preventing displacement and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
What kind of agreements will Boston make with Suffolk Downs’ Developer?
There are several agreements that City agencies, the Boston Redevelopment Authority and Developer must make to comply with the current zoning code. The city may make other agreements, which could include anything from public benefits to a schedule of tax payments. Some items that go to the BRA/BPDA board are presented with a detailed memo for a vote and are then included in separate legal commitments.
Agreements through the development process include:
Cooperation Agreement (with BRA, may include other agencies) - The Cooperation Agreement is a legal agreement entered into by the BPDA and a developer after the completion of the Article 80 review process. The Cooperation Agreement details public benefits and mitigation to be provided by the project. If the usual process is held, the project’s Impact Advisory Group is given a 15-day review period of the final draft.
Affordable Housing Agreement (with BRA) - These agreements clarify how the project will comply with city affordability guidelines (1) across the site and (2) within each development.
Boston Residents Jobs Policy (with BRA) - This agreement clarifies that the project agrees to city policy to employ certain percentages of residents, women and people of color in construction jobs.
Development Impact Project (DIP/linkage, with BRA) - Clarifies how the project will pay into city housing and jobs funds. In some cases, these agreements may seek to match jobs funds to actual employment created on-site.
Transportation Access Plan, Master Transportation Improvement Agreement (with Boston Transportation Department) - These agreements deal with traffic management; parking; construction management and monitoring and associated public benefit commitments.