BOSTON-The Boston Redevelopment Authority has approved the Liberty Place Project, the city’s largest rental project in more than three decades. The 439-unit development, which will be located in Boston’s Chinatown, was hotly debated among local residents over its impact on their neighborhood.

“This was a contentious project but it also had a lot of supporters,” Meredith Baumann, spokesperson for the BRA, tells Part of the project’s controversy is due to its 28 stories, which, notes Baumann, is about twice as high as the area’s zoning allows. The project still has to be approved by the city’s zoning board of appeals but, as Baumann points out, part of the BRA’s approval is a recommendation to the ZBA to also approve the project, a recommendation, which, says Baumann, “carries weight.”

The project has been reduced 5% since it was first proposed and has been set further back on its site in response to local concerns. “There were a lot of Chinatown residents for this project and a lot of residents against it,” says Baumann. “It’s been pretty split throughout this process.” Most recently, the Chinatown Neighborhood Council unanimously approved the project.

“We wanted to bring housing to the neighborhood,” adds Baumann. “What makes this project unique is its level of affordability.” The project, developed by Charles E. Smith Residential and 1025 Hancock St., which is run by local developer Keven Fitzgerald, will include 10% affordable housing with 20 units dedicated to low-income seniors, 14 affordable and 10 Section 8 units. The remaining 315 units will be market rate. The project also includes ground floor community retail space for lease to local businesses.

“People in one building will span the economic spectrum,” says Baumann. According to the latest Housing and Urban Development figures, about 72% of those living in Chinatown are in some kind of subsidized housing. Baumann acknowledges that those numbers are high but she is quick to point out that even if it’s half the neighborhood it’s still not a good mix. “We want a mixed community not just racially but also economically,” she says. “Diversity of all kinds makes for a healthy neighborhood.”

Not only will the new project provide space for all types of residents and give space to local businesses, she says, but it will also serve to eliminate another adult entertainment establishment in the area. The Liberty Tree Bookstore, an adult bookstore, was formerly on this site, along with a parking lot, and with this project this site can never again be used for adult entertainment. “Constitutionally, we need to allow [adult entertainment] but our option is to use the market to steer away from these establishments,” says Baumann.

Bauman admits that there is still dissension surrounding this project which she terms “unfortunate.” It is, she says, “in accordance with Chinatown’s master plan, which called for additional housing and increased levels of affordability.”

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