Rep. Jay Livingstone and City Councilor Kenzie Bok were on hand via Zoom for the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s April 12 board meeting to discuss proposed mitigation, including plans for more affordable housing and to bring a much-desired community center to the West End, for Mass General Hospital’s planned $1 billion expansion of its Cambridge Street campus.
Councilor Bok said the hospital is committing to move its current operations out of a maintenance garage at 12 Garden St. and into its new development in the next few years, at which time it would make that building available to the city for an acquisition fee of “$0” for income-restricted redevelopment purposes.
In the meantime, the hospital would be willing to work with the community to develop a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the affordable housing project, which, said Councilor Bok, could take one of many forms, such as artist housing or housing for seniors who don’t now qualify for assistance, but still have trouble making ends meet.
“Right now, it’s a blank piece of paper where every part of it needs to be filled in,” Rep. Livingstone said of the flexibility that the RFP process would allow for the project.
While the hospital won’t devote any additional funding to making the affordable housing project a reality, it’s paying $10 million into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, Councilor Bok said, and in an unusual move, the city has pledged to allocate part or all of those funds specifically to the garage project.
Rep. Livingstone said the “pretty comprehensive” mitigation package is a “huge win” for the community and would resolve many local issues.
Rep. Livingstone and Councilor Bok are in the process of finalizing with the hospital also includes plans to open a community center in the West End to accommodate senior groups, the West End Community Center, and Hill House, among other organizations.
Councilor Bok added that the mitigation also aims to address anticipated traffic congestion, especially at the intersection of Cambridge and Grove streets, and said that the Boston Planning and Development Agency has asked the hospital to put $250,000 aside for such purposes.
The mitigation package came about from multiple conversations with myriad stakeholders, said Rep. Livingstone, including the BHCA; ABCD North End/West End Neighborhood Service Center (NE/WE NSC); the West End Civic Association; the West End Museum, the Esplanade Association; and the Museum of African American History, among other groups, over several months to address as many of their concerns as possible.
Rajan Nanda, a Civic Association board member, as well as a Garden Street resident, said the hospital hadn’t notified abutters of the plans for the Garden Street garage.
“It’s not so much the potential uses [that I have an issue with,]” Nanda said. “It’s that the process hasn’t been transparent.”
Rep. Livingstone replied, “The conversation happened very quickly in March…but we want to continue the discussion with you, and to get everyone more involved.” Rep. Livingstone also said he and Councilor Bok held a meeting with residents of Garden Street, including Nanda, last week to update them on the situation.
Moreover, Rep. Livingstone said the hospital has committed to preserving some portion of the 1884 Winchell Elementary School (a.k.a. Ruth Sleeper Hall) at 24 Blossom St., the 1910 West End Tenement House at 23-25 North Anderson St. and the West End Settlement House at 16-18 Blossom St. – three of about a dozen historically significant buildings in the neighborhood to have survived the Urban Renewal efforts that began in the 1950s.
This decision comes in response to backlash against the proposal to demolish the buildings the hospital faced from civic groups and West End residents, as well as from Rep. Livingstone and Councilor Bok, particularly during an at-times passionate public meeting last August.
MGH’s expansion plans include the construction of two connected, 12-story towers located entirely within the campus, with the facade facing Cambridge Street, as well as for six levels of below-grade parking that would provide more than 1,000 spaces beneath the new building.