Residents’ Concerns Plague First Street Development Project

Screen Shot 2013-01-03 at 4.48.51 PMIn the December 13 issue of South Boston Today, an article appeared “Questions Abound on First Street Project” that cited residents concerns at being kept in the dark as to what was being built at 401 First Street and the apparent lack of a transparent community process. The history of this project, briefly, is that, after numerous community meetings, a building of just 49 feet containing 45 units and 68 parking spaces, including artist lofts, was agreed to between developer and community and approved through city hearings. The First Street side would include some commercial use, as well as a central glassed in entry way that would double as a gallery to display the artist residents’ artwork. The gallery was to be named after Edward M. Sullivan, a US Marine Combat photographer who was killed in action in Vietnam.  “Sully” grew up a block away at Dorchester and Second Street.

On the Dresser Street side, the project would rise one story then “step back” from Dresser St., creating a plaza or rear patio on that side, admitting sunlight and removing the ”canyon wall” effect on that side. Since that time, the zoning on First Street has changed. The 49 feet has been reduced to 45 feet on that side of First Street. However, even though no construction has commenced, the original permit issued under the old zoning would continue to be valid as long as it was renewed every two years. Also, only the original plans are valid. The zoning law allows changes in the original approved plans without further community review ONLY IF the changes are not substantial.

This past summer, a new developer purchased the property. The developer refused offers for community meetings, claiming there were no plans to go forward. Since the December 13 issue was printed, the developer admits construction has begun, going so far as to visit Patrick and Romeo, two Dresser Street residents directly abutting the project site, and stating he was there “to inform them what was going to be built, not answer questions or listen to opinions.”

South Boston Today has learned that, contrary to assertions made in the summer, as early as July, architect Arthur Choo was in fact hired to draw up news plans. South Boston Today has obtained plans and documents that show four buildings instead of the community approved single building. No artists’ lofts or memorial display gallery appears in these plans. The parking has been reduced from 68 down to 60 in these plans. These plans appear to show roof deck heights of up to 60 feet, while the allowed height is 45 feet on First Street. The original plans showed a ten foot elevation at the sidewalk on Dresser Street. The new plan height approaches 60 feet on Dresser Street.

Any one of these changes would fit the description of “significant changes” and require “normal community process” by the BRA’s own standards, as well as the view of many area residents that were interviewed. That view would seem to be corroborated by a document South Boston Today has publicly obtainedfrom the Inspectional Services DepartmentPlanning and Zoning Division dated November 1, 2012.

In the block for comments the City Plan Reviewer has written:

“Plans submitted are entirely different from what was previously approved.“  Further on the plan Examiner asks: “Does new proposed project require Zoning Code relief from the Zoning Board of Appeals?” A seemingly rhetorical question to which the answer is, obviously, yes.  There are other documents that raise the question of whether the BRA Director, Peter Meade, was fully informed, when he signed off on this project on November 15, 2012. In particular, why was the Inspectional Services Department report, dated 2 weeks earlier, discounted?

Inquiries at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, including a conversation between the aforementioned Dresser St. residents and BRA planner, Heather Campisano, have led to an, as yet unnamed, architect, who allegedly made the decision to disregard the ISD report. In a curious coincidence, the investigation resulting in the original December 13 story began with phone calls and conversations at least two weeks earlier. Strangely, two days before the article appeared, on December 11, the developer applied for an amended permit. Simple translation – a permit now exists for what had been going on all along.  Citizen members of the First Street Re-Zoning team, who worked with the BRA officials, have expressed feelings of being “used” as part of a “shell game”, since the First Street approved project, under the new zoning, violates the principles put forth and the spirit under which they labored over for a year or more.

On December 22, a Saturday, neighbors called police to complain of work spilling on to Dresser Street.  Police Investigation revealed no permit to work on Saturday had ever existed, as far as they could determine. Residents have finally reached their limit and have asked the St. Vincent’s Lower End Neighborhood Association to host an emergency meeting to have their questions answered. All abutters and residents concerned are urged to attend.

South Boston Today will continue to follow this story to its conclusion and hopefully the residents, the City and the developer can come to an amiable, respectful resolution even at this late date. All elected officials or their representatives are invited to attend, as well as the developer and his representatives.


Meeting Date: Wednesday January 9

Meeting Time: 6:30pm

Meeting Place: Lithuanian Club West Broadway


For questions and concerns, residents are encouraged to contact your local elect officials.