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Boston backs an apartment project that divided a Dorchester neighborhood

The Boston Planning & Development agency approved 72 units of affordable housing near the Red Line’s Shawmut Station in Dorchester.ICON Architecture

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The Boston Planning & Development Agency has given the green light to a divisive plan to build 72 apartments on a compact parcel next to an MBTA station in Dorchester.

All the units will be reserved for low- and middle-income tenants in Boston’s most populous neighborhood at a time when the city is struggling with a housing shortage.

A group of abutters and neighbors vociferously opposed the development for years, saying it is too big for the site. They also argued the development would choke traffic, add to parking problems, and violate city zoning guidelines for the district.

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Supporters said, “Yes in my backyard,” arguing that the desperate need for affordable apartments outweighs the project’s shortcomings.

The details

The four-member BPDA board voted unanimously during a virtual public hearing on Thursday to approve Trinity Financial’s proposal for 150 Centre St., which will sit on a two-thirds-acre plot adjacent to the Red Line’s Shawmut Station, between Fields Corner and Codman Square. An auto repair shop has operated there for decades, surrounded by the neighborhood’s array of Victorian homes and triple-deckers.

The Boston developer plans a mix of 12 studio apartments, 37 one-bedrooms units, 21 two-bedroom units, and two three-bedroom apartments. Income eligibility will range from 30 percent to 120 percent of area median income.

At 60 percent of median income, rent would be $1,325 for a one-bedroom and $1,499 for a two-bedroom, based on the BPDA’s Inclusionary Development Policy. Half of the units will be for tenants earnings 60 percent or less of area median income.

Trinity revised its plan several times to appease neighborhood critics and win BPDA approval, ultimately failing with the former but succeeding with the latter.

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Trinity’s reaction

“There is a group that was going to oppose us no matter what, short of us dropping dead, but there was a broad coalition of Dorchester-based housing and environmental activists who get it about the housing and environmental crisis we are faced with,” said James Keefe, Trinity’s cofounder and a longtime Dorchester resident. “They offered comments and suggestions that significantly shaped the final project. It’s a better project as a result.”

Opponents’ reaction

“We have presented multiple serious concerns in great detail multiple times, but the BPDA has not once directly addressed or shown concern about any of them,” said Arlene Simon, a neighborhood resident who was a member of the BPDA advisory group for 150 Centre St. “They do not listen. They do not care.”

BPDA responds

“BPDA staff worked closely with community members and the developer to incorporate public feedback,” agency spokesperson Lacey Rose said in a statement. “In direct response to community input, the project added parking, increased the amount of open space, altered the composition of units to include more 2- and 3-bedroom opportunities for families, and increased the percentage of income-restricted units from 60 percent to 100 percent of the project.”

Stepping back

Last December I wrote about the standoff between Trinity and the neighborhood, then entering its seventh year. (Disclosure: For 22 years, until June 2020, my wife and I owned a home located a short walk from Shawmut Station. I was never active in any of the neighborhood associations that have opposed Trinity’s efforts.)

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I argued that 150 Centre St. was a textbook case of how the city’s high land and construction costs can push developers to overreach with aggressive plans for a site, then ask the BPDA — which is under pressure to deliver more housing — for a variance from zoning regulations. Residents take sides, and no one ever really knows how much leeway the city might allow.

This dynamic favors a savvy developer like Keefe, who understands that these days it’s next to impossible for the BPDA to stand in the way of transit-oriented housing with a big slug of below-market units. He pitched his project as a solution to the city’s housing crisis, lined up support from affordable housing advocates, and made the concessions needed to seal the deal.

Opponents learned the hard way that their leverage was limited to participating on the project’s advisory group, a panel of mostly neighborhood residents, business owners, and community organization representatives. The so-called Impact Advisory Group can only make suggestions to the BPDA staff about how to balance out the pros and cons of a large-scale development.

Final thought

The long fight over 150 Centre St. isn’t necessarily over.

“There will be lawsuits brought to prevent this from moving forward,” said Joe Levinger, a resident who worked to block the project.

I love my old neighborhood and the people, including Trinity’s opponents, who make it a great place to live. But it’s time to let Keefe build.

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His plan isn’t perfect, but it’s good enough.


Larry Edelman can be reached at larry.edelman@globe.com. Follow him @GlobeNewsEd.