As plans to redevelop the former B&M Baked Beans property in East Deering inch forward, neighbors say their concerns about traffic and the size of the project still aren’t being addressed.
They planned to express those concerns in a March 23 roundtable discussion with the developers.
The plan for the Roux Institute includes several new buildings on the oceanside property over a period of 10 years: a 17-story residential building, a hotel with dining and retail space, research and administrative space for the graduate-level technology and research hub of Northeastern University, and more.
The project is spearheaded by the nonprofit Institute for Digital Engineering and Life Sciences, which helped create the Roux Institute at Northeastern in 2020, and acquired the 13.5-acre B&M property from B&G Foods last September. Funding for the project includes a $100 million donation from benefactor and tech entrepreneur David Roux, and $100 million from the Harold Alfond Foundation.
Allison Brown, a resident of nearby Lennox Street, said the biggest concerns neighbors have had in the past still remain: the impact of increased traffic and how the size of some of the buildings fit with the area.
Brown said a group of more than 40 residents has been meeting and sharing thoughts on an email list. A smaller group recently met with the city Planning department, where they had some of their questions answered about the upcoming process.
“They were surprised we were as well organized as we were,” Brown said.
Kevin Kraft, deputy director of the Department of Planning and Urban Development, said the developers have submitted their Institutional Overlay Zone application, which is under staff review.
Kraft said the Planning Board will hold a series of workshops to discuss the application before it can schedule a public hearing and vote on a recommendation to the City Council. He said the first workshop will be “later this year.”
As part of the overlay zone process, Kraft said the applicant is required to hold at least two neighborhood meetings. A neighborhood meeting was held last November, and the March 23 roundtable follows two others that were held in December and February.
Brown said she hopes the upcoming discussions aren’t just PowerPoint presentations, and that neighbors will be allowed to ask questions, specifically about traffic and the building sizes, but also about transparency – she said the developers have not been as transparent as they should have been.
The developers of the project, however, said they have been and continue to engage the community as best they can.
Sam Reiche, chief operating officer for IDEALS, said they have gone beyond the city’s threshold for neighborhood outreach, which requires the developer to notify residents within 500 feet of the property for a formal neighborhood meeting, or in this case, Reiche said, only about 100 people.
He said they’ve reached out to more than 2,000 people for the March 23 roundtable. After each meeting, Reiche said they reach out to anyone who speaks either for or against the project to try and schedule follow-up meetings.
“We’re trying to do everything we can to follow up, to include people and let people know what we’re up to,” he said.
Traffic concerns center around Sherwood Street, which provides the only access to the property. The eastern section of Sherwood intersects with Veranda Street near Veranda’s busy intersection with Washington Avenue. The western end of Sherwood Street is often used as a cut-through to Presumpscot Street, although it is a narrow residential street that ends at the entrance to Presumpscot Elementary School.
“These are things people in the neighborhood are concerned about, what’s it going to do to a quiet little neighborhood here?” Brown said.
The size of the project, specifically the height of the buildings and some of the proposed structures also trouble neighbors, she said, along with a concern there will be an added tax burden on the neighborhood if the educational campus is not required to pay property taxes.
“Our goal is to be at the table when some of those decisions are made,” Brown said.
Reiche said IDEALS has heard and respects the concerns about traffic and they fully recognize this is a large project and unique project. He said they are continuing to work with the city and state on traffic mitigation efforts and there will be efforts to ease traffic flow, such as increased bicycle and pedestrian access, and some new traffic patterns.
“We have solutions, and we think the impact will be pretty minimal,” Reiche said.
Phil Hoose, who lives on Watson Street, said the process has, strangely enough, helped bring the neighborhood closer together. He said Windsor Terrace – the area east of Veranda at the mouth of the Presumpscot River – was already a close community before, but the group that has come together to question the Roux plan is “a much bigger group than I had known,” Hoose said, and has a “unanimity of purpose.”
“We all recognize that if that monster hotel especially were allowed to go through at that size, it would change the character of the neighborhood,” he said. “We’re determined to find an acceptable outcome.”
Hoose echoed some of Brown’s concerns about traffic and the size of the proposed redevelopment. He said the neighborhood is not opposed to an educational campus replacing the factory, but the proposal is “out of scale of what we can accept.”
“It’s something that would shadow just about everything,” he said.