Planning Board Approves Suffolk Downs Project

The Revere Planning Board gave its unanimous approval to the McClellan Highway Development Company and the HYM Investment Group’s sub-division plan for Phase 1R of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project at its Jan. 12 meeting.

The initial phase of the project is located closest to the Beachmont MBTA station. The Phase 1R parcel of land will be sub-divided into lots where new buildings will be built, along with roadways that will support the infrastructure for those buildings.

HYM, headed by Founding Partner and Managing Director Thomas N. O’Brien, plans to turn the site of the Suffolk Downs racecourse into a mixed-used development with commercial office space, housing, retail stores, restaurants, a hotel, and open recreational space.

Among the other plans displayed in the renderings on screen at the Zoom meeting was an amazing outdoor theater/entertainment area that is believed to be unprecedented in the region.

Michael Barowsky, HYM vice president of development, with the assistance of civil engineer Jeff Heidelberg, manager of urban development at Beals and Thomas, gave a brief overview of the Suffolk Downs project.

 Barowsky said HYM acquired the Suffolk Downs site in May, 2017.

“We do have master plan approval from the City of Revere, the City of Boston, and at the state level,” said Barowski. “Part of the site is in Boston and part of the site is in Revere. In total we were approved for 16.2 million square feet. This is a very large project that’s going to take 20-30 years to build out. However, we are starting the first stage of the development on the Revere side.”

Barowski said that Revere has already approved special permits for 5.6 million square feet of land.

“The way that breaks down is approximately 50 percent is residential and 50 percent commercial (office, retail, and hotel),” said Barowski. [The residential portion of the project] will be a mix of apartments, senior housing, and condominiums.”

Planning Board member and former Ward 2 Councilor Cathy Belinfante Penn asked about the expected groundbreaking date for the first phase of the project in Revere.

Barowsky responded, “We’re planning on breaking ground this summer, probably around June or July.”

Barowsky said the entire site consists of approximately 160 acres, with about 40 acres reserved for open space. The open space system will consist of a large central common, an outdoor theater, and generously sized plazas (one is adjacent to the Beachmont ‘T’ station).

Penn, Jaramillo Ask Further About Height Restrictions, Transportation

New members Catherine Penn and Juan Pablo Jaramillo raised some other pertinent questions about the project.

Penn requested information about the height restrictions for the buildings that will be a part of the first phase of the project.

“There will be some shorter buildings, if you will, that are seven to eight stories in our initial phase and there will also be some taller buildings up to about 170 feet,” responded Barowsky. “The building that’s closest to the ‘T’ station is a three-story building that will be a boutique-office building with ground-floor retail and residents.”

“So one hundred seventy feet which would be about 17 floors. Would that be an apartment building?” asked Penn.

“Yes, that would be a residential apartment building with ground-floor retail and restaurants,” responded Barowsky. “Our goal is to bring in very exciting, new retailers and restaurants because we want people to visit the site, we want people to live here, and we want people to work here. We are also setting aside 10 percent of our retail for local establishments in Revere and East Boston.”

Jaramillo asked about the potential for employees and residents to rely mostly on buses for transportation within the Suffolk Downs property.

“In the main roads, has there been planning around how we encourage public transportation access to the site – has there been planning around expanding into bus lanes which will make the project more accessible and make it easier for the working people that are going to be living there?” asked Jaramillo. “

Barowsky replied that “the development will be starting at the ‘T’ stations (Beachmont and Suffolk) with the idea that we want the ‘T’ stations to be the front door to the site.”

Further responding, Barowsky said, “As the site gets built out over time, we’re going to have an on-site shuttle system [in the other phases of the project that are farther away from the ‘T’ stations].”

Barowsky also anticipates that there will be shuttles from the Suffolk Downs site to North Station, South Station “and three to four other key transportation hubs in the area.”

Deveau Concerned About Traffic Exiting from Site at Suffolk Downs

Ed Deveau said his primary concern from the very beginning of the plans for the development of Suffolk Downs has been and still is “the traffic impact in Beachmont (Donnelly) Square.”

“I think every step of the way I’ve pointed out the fact that whatever can be done in terms of the engineering and the strategy of traffic flow, it needs to be designed so it leads away from Donnelly Square rather than into it,” said Deveau.

Deveau reasoned that “given the way Route 1A currently is,” people exiting the Suffolk Down site will most likely try to go through Donnelly Square and head toward Boston, rather than going left toward Route 1A.

“What’s being done at Route 1A that’s going to incentivize people from this project to go that way rather than through Donnelly Square?” asked Deveau, adding that he wanted to see actual projected numbers for the potential increase in traffic.

Barowsky responded to Deveau’s concerns, stating that “We are putting a lot of work into the Phase 1 traffic mitigation.”

“There’s a lot of work being done up and down the Winthrop Avenue corridor,” said Barowsky. “We’re also doing a lot of work at Donnelly Square up to Harris Street and we’re also making some improvements on Route 1A North and [Route 1A] South, too. So there’s a lot of work we’re doing, all of which, of course, costs a lot of money.”

 Deveau seemed to infer that he would like a traffic study done by the developer, HYM Investment Group, to determine the projected number of vehicles that will be traveling to and from the Suffolk Downs site each day “given the current design and strategy.”

“Those [traffic] numbers need to be out there,” advised Deveau.

McKenna Talks About Traffic Mitigation Efforts

In an interview separate from the Planning Board meeting, Ward 1 Councilor Joanne McKenna, whose district houses the entire Revere portion of the Suffolk Downs redevelopment project, addressed HYM’s planning and community process which she said included numerous discussions with HYM officials about traffic in Beachmont Square.

“The HYM Investment Group has run an extensive planning and community process at Suffolk Downs over the past three years with more than 450 community and stakeholder meetings,” said McKenna. “As a result, they are making significant investments in the early phases of the redevelopment and have worked with Revere and MassDOT to mitigate any concerns about Donnelly Square traffic. 

“In fact, HYM is investing over $41 million into offsite traffic mitigation and upgrading 30 intersections over the lifespan of this monumental redevelopment. Suffolk Downs is an incredibly important project to the city of Revere, as it is creating much needed jobs and commercial tax revenue, and I look forward to continuing to work closely with HYM on these improvements,” concluded McKenna.

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