As the City settles in its new zoning package for the Commercial Triangle, a debate among development professionals is underway as to whether the long-reviled industrial area can actually become the visionary village the City believes it can.
At the moment, the City is implementing zoning for the Triangle that pushes residential, office and retail uses in large developments, similar to what is already going on at the old Harley Davidson building by developer Andy Montelli – a early believer who is finishing up a large mixed-use development.
However, many in the industry said it might be a hard corner to turn for the entire Triangle to go from urban industrial – which has now become valuable and rare territory – to a residential village.
“There are a lot of different dynamics,” said one broker for the area who wished to remain anonymous. “People’s ears are open. Ten years from now, maybe not, but 25 or 30 years, maybe so. It’s not easy because industrial use land is pretty valuable product right now too. Everyone in Boston is pushing, pushing residential, but there isn’t any real industrial land anywhere around Boston – even pushing out west and south of Boston. So, this kind of land in the Triangle is valuable as industrial. It’s tough to change over, especially with that dynamic.”
City Planner Tony Sousa said they are really trying to push the new zoning, and they hope that the possibilities will become apparent soon.
“We’re trying to turn that area into a real urban village,” he said. “The zoning will help. Developers need that confidence. The zoning helps them be confident that area can change. We need to hope the enVision, the Harley building and the new and exciting things there. It’s important the Silver Line is there. That is going to add way more value to the area.”
Montelli agreed, and said the Silver Line is what pushed them over the top in making the move to develop the Harley building only a few years after finishing the Batch Yard on Lower Broadway.
“I absolutely think there is a place for residential uses being in the Triangle district,” he said. “One thing that happened that is going to make this a much more interesting place to be is the opening of the Silver Line in Chelsea. That was a big factor for us and absolutely for Fairfield Residential just next door in Chelsea. Any time you’re near public transportation in the Boston area, you find an active housing market. I think that will spur a lot of investment here. Chelsea also said it doesn’t want a lot of new housing and that will push it over to Everett. I think the Commercial Triangle district has huge potential. The hotel that opened is a tremendous addition to the neighborhood. We’re going to be a tremendous addition…I think this is the growth neighborhood for Everett. I think it’s going to happen.”
At the same time, many buildings and properties that look prime for such new uses aren’t moving quickly.
The broker said many don’t want to be the first to go, so there is some apprehension to sell to the first developer in the area.
“You don’t want to be the first to sell,” he said. “The last thing you want is to get $3 million for your site and find out a little later the guy down the street got $7 million.”
But yet another dynamic that’s harder to break is also at work with the long-time industrial sites. Many of them are family businesses, and if the family sells, the worry is that the business wouldn’t be able to continue. With children who want to carry on the business, the reality is they likely couldn’t find anywhere else to locate nearby.
“If you have a site and you want to keep going, it’s a tough decision because your children probably wouldn’t be able to find any other industrial space to relocate,” said the broker. “You can sell now and go out, or just keep the site and continue on in the family business. A lot of times staying put in that situation makes sense when industrial property is so valuable now.”