CHARLESTOWN – The Boston Planning and Development Agency voted Thursday night to approve a plan that could increase the population of Charlestown by 80% over the next three decades.
The plan, called PLAN: Charlestown, has been in the works since 2019 and has been through a series of revisions over the course of public meetings and feedback from residents. According to the BPDA, PLAN: Charlestown is "a comprehensive planning initiative that will produce a framework to shape the future of the entire neighborhood of Charlestown predictably." It "seeks to determine how to accommodate new contextually appropriate growth along the Rutherford Avenue Corridor and in Sullivan Square while preserving the character of its existing residential areas."
Much of the plan, which goes 30 years into the future, involves redeveloping industrial and overrun land around the Sullivan Square area into high-rise apartment complexes, lab space, office and retail locations.
Despite opposition to the plan from State Representative Dan Ryan, City Councilor Erin Murphy, and more elected officials at Thursday's meeting, the BPDA voted to move forward with the plan.
"As with the other neighborhood plans that are approaching completion and the new Squares + Streets citywide rezoning initiative, PLAN: Charlestown solidifies our commitment to shaping Boston's growth to meet urgent citywide needs for more housing and more affordability, open space and climate resiliency, and economic opportunity," said Mayor Michelle Wu in a press release. "Through extensive feedback from community members, this plan has refined a clear framework for future community building in Boston's oldest neighborhood, including stronger protections for the historic heart of residential Charlestown and the Bunker Hill Mall. Our teams will continue to engage residents and all stakeholders as we look to create consistent and predictable parameters for Boston's future growth."
According to the BPDA, PLAN: Charlestown could provide enough housing to increase the neighborhood's population by 80% over the next 30 years.
That reality doesn't sit well with some longtime Charlestown residents and business owners, who have witnessed the historic neighborhood change due to development and skyrocketing prices over the decades.
Patty Kelley has lived in the neighborhood her whole life, and her family's home was bought out by the city when she was a kid.
"At that point, [it] displaced so many people and broke up a neighborhood, many neighborhoods, and some of those people never got a chance to come back and that was really sad," she told WBZ-TV. "I ask people what do they love about this town. You know what they love? That it's not the city, and more and more, the city is getting closer and closer."
She – and other neighbors and business owners – are concerned there are not enough resources in Charlestown for a big population increase over the decades and fear a charming neighborhood that's fortressed by skyscrapers of luxury condominiums.
"We are not anti-development. We are pro smart development," explained Amanda Mitchell, who owns the boutique Junebug on Charlestown's Main Street. "It's terrifying to think of giant buildings coming in with very large businesses that could easily swallow up our tiny businesses."
The Charlestown Preservation Society has been working with the BPDA to tweak PLAN: Charlestown to more adequately fit residents' concerns but feels in recent months, the project has sped up after years of careful planning and community feedback.
"As a preservationist, I think that there are limits," said Amanda Zettel from the Preservation Society. "There are limits as to what we can support, and that's not just for, you know, the current community. But, you know, future residents as well."
The BPDA says the plan accounts for increased and improving public transit, and is "a pathway to add thousands of new housing units near transit in underutilized areas of Charlestown over the course of the next 15-30 years," which "is important both to Charlestown's future and the future of Boston and our region."
The first two proposals up for a vote in line with PLAN: Charlestown include a 22-story high rise in Sullivan Square, and a lab and commercial space complex with some housing as well on the other side of I-93.
BPDA board members emphasized in their meeting Thursday that PLAN: Charlestown would be a long term plan to help fight the city's affordable housing crisis by building in underutilized areas.
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