A group of Charlestown homeowners are suing Boston Mayor Michelle Wu and the city’s real estate arm to block a 100-unit permanently affordable apartment development in the Charlestown Navy Yard, nearly half of which would be supportive housing for formerly homeless women and veterans.
It’s the second time in as many months that the Boston Planning and Development Agency has faced a legal action from neighbors with complaints of how the agency approved a project.
The Planning Office of Urban Affairs, a nonprofit affordable housing developer affiliated with the Archdiocese of Boston, and co-developer the Saint Francis House in December won approval from the BPDA board to renovate a portion of the former Constitution Inn in Charlestown to a fully affordable apartment building. The six-story property, which also includes the Charlestown branch of the YMCA, operated as a hotel until 2020. It also had 12 emergency shelter units funded in part by the YMCA.
“We are in an affordable housing crisis, and the need for the development of affordable housing is greater than ever,” said William H. Grogan, president of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs, at the December BPDA board meeting.
The lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court on Tuesday, alleges the BPDA did not take opposition of the project into account and did not take certain testimony or “chat comments” in an October meeting held virtually. The plaintiffs argue the BPDA violated their First Amendment rights of assembly, speech, and petitioning activity when it “bypassed and waived the public review requirement and failed to allow the assembly of an Impact Advisory Group,” according to the lawsuit.
When the project was first proposed in October 2022, its developers asked to waive the BPDA’s large development project review, a process referred to as Article 80. But after complaints from neighbors and pushback from City Councilor Gabriela Coletta, the project went through the standard process, including public meetings and public comments. But, Coletta said at the December BPDA meeting, an Impact Advisory Group was not convened.
The project also threatens to overburden the local medical system in a neighborhood that has had ongoing issues with access to ambulances and other emergency care, the complaint states.
“Charlestown does not have the requisite resources or services to support the homeless population, the majority of which have complex health problems — both mental and physical — and are often dealing with substance abuse,” the complaint states. “Studies have demonstrated that, while the permanent supportive housing model for the homeless ... increases the availability of housing, it does not decrease the number of overdoses or deaths.”
The complaint also states that “significant adverse harms” will come to Charlestown if the project moves forward, including “an increase in traffic, lack of parking,” and “lack of amenities in the area (i.e. supermarket and pharmacy).” A Whole Foods Market is located nine-tenths of a mile from the Constitution Inn project, in the Bunker Hill Mall, a shopping center that also includes a CVS pharmacy.
In the December BPDA meeting, Grogan outlined how the development team reduced the total number of units in the project from a proposed 126 to 100 units, and also added a security detail to assuage community concerns.
“We made significant transformation of our original plan to address and respond to community feedback,” Grogan said then. “At the core of our mission is a belief that housing is a human right, and we have a moral obligation to ensure that everyone has a roof over their heads.”
Representatives from the Planning Office of Urban Affairs and the attorneys representing the plaintiffs did not return requests for comment. The BPDA declined to comment.