BOSTON-The city and developers Charles E. Smith and W. Kevin Fitzgerald have finally reached an agreement with the Chinatown community over the development of Liberty Place, a 439-unit, 28-story building proposed to be built at 660 Washington St. on the edge of Chinatown. The project is the largest rental housing project in downtown Boston in nearly 20 years. Local activist groups have battled the project for years over its height, density and lack of affordable housing component.

In the final agreement, 66 of the units in the project will be affordable and the developer will provide $650,000 to develop 25 to 30 units of single room occupancy units in the Chinatown community. It is not yet clear what site will be used to develop this housing.

But perhaps most significantly, the Chinatown Resident Association will be recognized as one of the official representatives of the neighborhood. “This is a major victory for the residents,” Lydia Lowe, director of the Chinese Progressive Association, tells The Chinese Progressive Association helped establish the Chinatown Resident Association. “We tried to find a voice in other projects but we couldn’t,” notes Lowe. Until now, the Chinatown Neighborhood Council was seen by the city as the official voice of the neighborhood. The group was very supportive of the Liberty Place project but residents contended that the group, which is made up largely of people with businesses in the community, did not represent their interests. Five of the 21 seats on the Council are designated for local residents.

“Do we feel we got everything we wanted?” asks Lowe. “No, but we feel we got significant concessions from the city and the developer.” As Lowe points out, Liberty Place started life as an office project. After local residents insisted that the area needed more residential units, the project shifted gears. Lowe notes that initially developers proposed developing 5% affordable housing but after local residents objected, that figure went up to 20%. “We would have liked to see a scaling back of the project but we are satisfied that concrete gains were made,” says Lowe.

Those gains, in the form of formal recognition of the resident’s group, will continue to be used to monitor other projects proposed for the neighborhood, insists Lowe. She points to the Kensington Place proposal, a 31-story luxury housing project proposed for the parcel across the street from the Liberty Place project. “We are watching the project very carefully,” she says. “We are hopeful with the resident council more weight will be given to what the residents want.”

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