Nearly 150 families at the Old Colony public housing development have been relocated in preparation for a project that will break ground later this month to replace 1940s-era buildings with 116 new units and a 10,000 square-foot community center.
The project is part of a larger redevelopment plan for the complex that still faces several layers of approval to qualify for $22 million from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The larger Master Plan for Old Colony must get the go-ahead from both the Boston Redevelopment Authority and the Boston Civic Design Commission (BCDC) to meet a November 22nd deadline for the federal grant.
Kate Bennett, of Boston Housing Authority, called the HUD grant "pretty much the only game in town" to pay for big public housing improvement projects. "While the Old Colony site will be built out over a long period of time, probably 10 or 15 years, the timing is actually quite critical tonight," she told the Civic Design Commission at its monthly meeting Tuesday.
The master plan would rebuild the housing complex in five phases, with the purpose of changing "the large scaled super blocks and repetitive, inward looking buildings to block patterns and diverse housing typologies that address public streets and are consistent with the scale and feel of the neighborhood," according to a draft of the master plan proposal.
The tallest (and probably most controversial) aspect of the plan has already been approved as part of Phase I, and won $22 million in federal stimulus funding last September. That's the portion that will start later this month, with a completion date of summer 2012.
The second phase of construction would consist of three-story townhouses and three- and four-story multi-family housing. The existing units have been deemed too small, and density and height concerns meant designers couldn't build out much. As a result, the Master Plan proposes 90 to 190 fewer units than the complex's existing 840 units.
The Master Plan proposal also involves changing street geography, by extending Knowlton Street and Gates Street to connect with Columbia Road, closing off Mercer Street where it slants eastward, and replacing it with a new Mercer Street extension that continues south. Three new streets on the west end of the complex would also connect to main drags like Old Colony Avenue and Paterson Way, with the intention of opening Old Colony to the neighborhood.
The Civic Design Commission members praised the new street layout, but had concerns about the project's design, because all of the tallest buildings were placed on the periphery of the development.
BCDC Vice Chair Michael Davis said after the hearing that they would schedule a subcommittee meeting later this month, so the project could be approved at the Commission's October meeting, and go before the Boston Redevelopment Authority in November.
"When we have to move quickly, we can move quickly," Davis said.