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Massive renovation of Bunker Hill public housing wins a key approval

The BPDA signs off on zoning for the long-awaited $1.4b project, which includes 2,700 apartments and condos.

An artist's rendering of a building planned for first phase of the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill public housing complex in Charlestown.
An artist's rendering of a building planned for first phase of the redevelopment of the Bunker Hill public housing complex in Charlestown.Stantec

The long-planned remake of Charlestown’s Bunker Hill public housing complex could start later this year after the Boston Planning & Development Agency board approved zoning for a 2,700-unit mixed-income apartment and condominium development to replace 1,100 aging low-income apartments.

The $1.4 billion project, which has been in the works since 2015, is the most ambitious effort yet by the Boston Housing Authority to leverage the city’s hot real estate market to refresh decades-old public housing. Under a deal with the city, developers Joseph J. Corcoran Co. and Leggat McCall Properties would overhaul the 26-acre site on the northern edge of Charlestown, gradually demolishing some 41 low-rise apartment blocks to make way for 15 larger buildings, along with open space, retail, and other amenities.

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The plan approved Thursday requires the developers to replace about 1,010 of the 1,110 low-income units on the site — the other 100 would be built elsewhere in Charlestown — while adding nearly 1,700 market-rate apartments and condos. In the absence of federal funds for public housing, it’s a way to pay for badly-needed upgrades to the 80-year-old complex, while bringing new investment to what is now one of the poorest pockets of the city.

“We remain committed to creating a new, mixed-income community in Charlestown,” said Addie Grady, an executive at Leggat McCall who is leading the project. “We look forward to working with residents, the community, our partners, and the city as we continue our work on design and future phases.”

Thursday’s approval of the project — which will also need the OK of the Boston Zoning Commission next month — sets a general framework for the work, but a variety of details remain to be hashed out. Among them are transportation, design, and ― crucially to some ― how many of the units for the lowest-income residents will be in buildings of their own, as opposed to mixed across the project as a whole. Those issues will continue to be negotiated even as the project’s first phase — two buildings with 358 units in all — gets underway.

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Residents of the complex — who have been promised the right to return after the redevelopment is complete — have worked closely with the developers and Housing Authority to design the project, which has undergone numerous iterations over the last few years.

“The Charlestown Resident Alliance is thrilled to support the project that is going before the BPDA board today,” said Nancy Martinez, president of the group which represents the complex’s roughly 2,500 residents. “We can look forward to continuing our robust public process with an explicit framework for ensuring that our historic and ambitious redevelopment project succeeds.”

The BPDA approved an array of other projects as well on Thursday night, including a master plan for the long-studied redevelopment of the L Street Power Station in South Boston. That project will include 1.7 million square feet of research and office space, housing, retail and a hotel on the 15-acre site. It still needs various state approvals, including an agreement with the Massachusetts Port Authority to allow housing on the site, which sits next door to the busy Conley shipping terminal.

The BPDA board also OK’d large apartment buildings in Brighton — at 1515 Commonwealth Ave. and 1500 Soldiers Field Road — and at 780 Morrissey Blvd. in Dorchester. Smaller residential projects won approval in Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, and East Boston.

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Tim Logan can be reached at timothy.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.