A huge and long-planned housing development in South Boston’s Andrew Square could break ground by the summer, with a bit of a new look.
The developers of Washington Village, which would put nearly 750 apartments in seven buildings along Old Colony Ave. and Damrell Street, presented their latest plans to the city’s Zoning Commission Tuesday. While the zoning board didn’t vote, because too few members were present — they likely will next month, which would position developers soon start work on the project’s first phase.
The project, pitched by Core Investments and among the biggest for South Boston in this development boom, was first approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency in 2016, though it never moved forward to construction. In 2018, veteran Boston developers Samuels & Associates joined the project and have been pushing ahead with an updated plan it says reflects the city’s quickly-changing housing market.
Their new vision includes reducing retail square footage, moving a sizable green space so it connects with Old Colony Avenue, and adding 90 apartments in the first phase, though the one-million-square-foot development will only grow by about 21,000 square feet.
It will do that, in part, by making the units smaller. One-bedroom apartments that were initially designed to be about 700 square feet will instead be 600 to 650 square feet, said architect David Chilinski. Two-bedrooms also will be made smaller.
The shift comes amid a growing debate over the best size to build new housing units in Boston. City officials have adopted a pilot program to approve “compact living” units — which Chilinski notes will be far smaller than these — as a way to help add housing at lower costs. At the same time, some neighborhood groups are pushing for larger units that are designed to house families. A report last month from the Metropolitan Area Planning Council found that a majority of three-bedroom homes in Greater Boston do not house families with children. Instead, they are occupied by either empty-nesters or groups of roommates.
Regardless, Chilinski said, changing tastes are reducing demand for larger one- and two-bedroom apartments. Big kitchens are often little-used, and people are more likely to eat meals at a kitchen island, or on the couch, than a space-gobbling dining room table.
“People just aren’t cooking as much as they used to, so you can make kitchens a little smaller,” he said. “And they don’t own dining room tables. They’ve got a big TV instead.”
That means architects can trim a few dozen square feet out of their apartments, without losing much functional space. And over a project this size, that extra space can mean room for more apartments, and for common amenities — such as gyms, lounges, and work spaces — that are used by the entire building.
That’s the plan at Washington Village, he said. It was one of three projects that on Wednesday were tabled to next month’s Zoning Commission meeting. The nine-member board, which rules on zoning for large projects, currently has two open seats. A third member had a family emergency and missed the meeting, leaving the board one short of a quorum, a BPDA spokeswoman said.