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Housing hypocrisy is alive and well in South Boston

An architect’s rendering of the main entrance to the 15-acre multi-building 776 Summer Street complex, site of a shuttered Boston Edison plant in South Boston.STANTEC

Rarely has there been so much justifiable gnashing of teeth over the shortage of housing in the region – and the shortage of affordable housing in particular.

A recent national survey of mayors done by Boston University confirms that lack of affordable housing is their number one concern. Members of the Boston City Council are looking to raise taxes on real estate sales to fund more affordable housing, and the mayor is hoping for some more flexibility on linkage programs with the same aim.

So you’d think that a development that would provide more than 1,300 units of new housing and clean up a decaying old power plant to boot would be a good thing, right? Ah, but that development site sits on the edge of the South Boston waterfront – and, well, who would have thought the NIMBY world of Southie politics would apply to housing.

To wit: City Councilors Michael Flaherty and Ed Flynn are demanding a halt to the city’s approval process, which has been underway for the past two years. And Senator Nick Collins and Representative David Biele are supporting legislation that would stop the redevelopment of the old Boston Edison plant virtually in its tracks — or at least force developers to abandon much of the housing component that makes it so desirable. Their bill would require a full review of the project by the Legislature and the inspector general.


The level of housing hypocrisy here is mind boggling — not to mention the concept of putting development of a 15-acre parcel of Boston land in the hands of lawmakers from Barnstable to the Berkshires.

The redevelopment of the Edison site, a joint project of Redgate Real Estate and Hilco Global, has been subject to at least six meetings of the area’s Impact Advisory Group and an additional six public meetings. During that time, the mixed-use complex has undergone a number of revisions. It has already been cut by 250 units of housing.


According to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, the project will create 101 affordable rental units and 74 affordable on-site home ownership opportunities and contribute $4.75 million in linkage to fund even more affordable housing.

The project will also include office and retail space, two hotels, and the rehab of a turbine building into a great hall that could be performance space, market space, galleries, or whatever the BPDA, in conjunction with the South Boston neighborhood, might approve. The entire project is expected to be spaced out over the next 12 to 15 years.

Of course, one complaint is that more people living on the waterfront will compound the area’s traffic and transit woes. True enough. And the developer’s one concrete transit proposal — a designated shuttle bus available to anyone with a Charlie Card — is hardly trailblazing.

But concerns about the impact of having people living near the working port — just across a bridge from the Conley Terminal — are less well founded. Seriously: People do know where they are buying property, right? And the developer’s pledge that residential units will be on the farthest most side from the haul road leading to the terminal would certainly make sense.

What doesn’t make sense is the mindless opposition to housing.


“Thirteen-hundred residential units next to . . . the expanded Conley Terminal makes zero sense,” Flaherty told the Globe.

Added Collins: “There’s no appetite to build luxury housing at this site.”

And Conservation Law Foundation President Bradley Campbell, who has already expressed his concern over the project to Massport, which runs the terminal, insists it would be better if Redgate dropped the housing entirely.

Yes, people living and working in the city — creating its prosperity — are just such a bother.

Boston needs more housing – market rate and affordable. Obstructionism just doesn’t cut it in what is supposed to be the New Boston.