Transit-oriented development provides spark to transform Dorchester
The streets around Dorchester’s MBTA stations are on the cusp of transformation.
Adjacent to the JFK/UMass Red Line station, more than 275 apartments are under construction, and another 184-unit building is planned on nearby Mount Vernon Street. The next southbound stop, Savin Hill, has attracted a proposal for 375 new homes and a 60,000-square-foot cluster of restaurants and stores.
The owner of the South Bay Center, sandwiched between the Red Line and Fairmount commuter rail, is pitching apartments, stores, hotels, and a 65,000-square-foot cinema. And at Ashmont Station, a developer that completed one residential and retail building will add another in 2016.
Transit-oriented development is finally becoming more than just high-minded planning jargon in Dorchester. It is sweeping through the neighborhood, bringing new housing, shopping options, and broader economic growth that promises to revitalize residential and commercial districts.
“This is a huge opportunity,” said Richard Taylor, director of the Center for Real Estate at Suffolk University. “You get a lot of ripple effects from this kind of development. It increases residential density, you have more arts and entertainment, and it injects more income to support local retail.”
The sudden burst of building is the result of a historically strong real estate market that is making it easier for developers to finance large-scale projects in parts of the city that were bypassed in prior booms. Major complexes are planned or underway near transit stops in Mattapan, Dudley Square, Jamaica Plain, and along the East Boston waterfront.
The effort has strong support from Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Governor Charlie Baker, both of whom are hoping development at or near transit stations can help solve some of their most pressing political problems.
For Baker, putting MBTA and other state transportation real estate to good use can help raise money to pay for maintenance of the transit system and better service for riders. For Walsh, transit-oriented development could bring more middle-class housing needed to retain critical municipal workers and prevent the city from becoming a place of the very rich and very poor.
Transit-oriented development became a focus of urban planners in the 1990s, when cities began attracting an influx of new residents and real estate investment. The idea was to concentrate construction of homes and commercial space around transit to limit commuting times and expenses, reduce pollution from automobiles, and spur economic development and jobs.
Massive transit-oriented projects have been built in metropolitan areas from San Francisco to Chicago to Washington. Greater Boston has attracted several such developments in recent years, including Station Landing, a cluster of apartment buildings, restaurants, and stores near Wellington Station in Medford, and Cambridge’s NorthPoint, a complex of housing towers and office buildings near the Lechmere Green Line stop.
The projects in Dorchester fall along a Red Line corridor that Walsh has targeted for higher-density development. Late last year, the mayor said he would allow more building along the Red and Orange lines south of downtown to create cheaper housing and new retail options.
Dorchester needs that investment. Scattered redevelopment has occurred in recent years, but large swaths of the neighborhood suffer from blighted industrial properties, vandalism, and crime.
Over the next few years, developers could add more than 1,400 homes near Dorchester transit stops, including two-bedroom condominiums priced under $450,000 and apartments renting for hundreds of dollars less than comparable units downtown.
“That starts to add up,” said Prataap Patrose, deputy director of urban design for the Boston Redevelopment Authority. He noted that neighborhoods tend to be more supportive of housing complexes near transit lines because they are typically in commercial areas — not next to existing homes — and don’t result in a significant loss of neighborhood parking spaces.
“I think it adds a lot of value,” said Pat O’Neill, who lives near the project in Ashmont Square. “The area needs a whole revamp so it becomes a place people aspire to and want to come to.”
Building near transit also offers financial benefits for developers. They can increase profits because the city allows denser development and requires fewer parking spaces.
Near Savin Hill Station, developer Demetri Dasco has cobbled together a 4-acre site where he wants to construct up to a dozen buildings, a mix of small-scale condo and larger apartment complexes. The project, named DotBlock, could include up to 375 housing units, stores, restaurants, and a parking garage.
Dasco said he hopes to sell two-bedroom condos with a parking spot for just over $400,000, a price that is impossible to find in the downtown area, where such properties would go for at least $600,000.
“We’ll create middle-income housing with a significant retail component that will transform the whole block,” said Dasco, a principal at Boston-based Atlas Investment Group. “I think it can be a catalyst for other projects up and down Dorchester Avenue.”
DotBlock is under review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. Dasco said he hopes to start construction early next year.
Meanwhile, another developer is hoping to add an even larger concentration of housing adjacent to the South Bay shopping complex. The owner of the property, Edens Inc. of Columbia, S.C., has proposed 500 residences, along with a hotel, smaller stores, restaurants, and a new cinema.
Brad Dumont, the company’s senior vice president in charge of development, said Edens has long hoped to acquire additional property at South Bay to build homes that will have easy access to the city on multiple transit lines. The site is less than a half-mile from Andrew Station and adjacent to several bus lines as well as the Newmarket Station on the Fairmount Line.
“With the retail and the transit options,” he said, “it makes the project very attractive for residents who want to have everything at their front door as well as easy access to the city without getting in a car.”
Dumont added that the residences will have features similar to those in the South End, where new buildings include shared roofdecks, swimming pools, and communal kitchens for hosting parties. The price of the homes hasn’t been set, but, Dumont said, “We’re going to be a bit more affordable than the South End.”
Other large projects include 278 apartments next to the JFK/UMass stop as well as an 84-unit condo and apartment building near Ashmont Station. The developer of that Ashmont project, Boston-based Trinity Financial, launched the transit-oriented trend in Dorchester in 2006 with the construction of a 116-unit building and retail space near the Ashmont stop.
That project resulted in the opening of the Italian eatery Tavolo and micro-roaster Flat Black Coffee, and it added foot traffic to the square. Kenan Bigby, a vice president at Trinity, said the new building will include several small retail shops in place of the old Ashmont Tire repair shop.
He said Trinity hopes to attract smaller commercial tenants such as a yoga studio and a specialty food shop, as well as residents who will appreciate the proximity to Ashmont Station.
“In Boston, finding an affordable price point means you might not be right downtown,” Bigby said. “But with the Red Line right there, you can get downtown within 10 or 15 minutes.”