Planning Board Rejects Forbes Extension Request

The Planning Board unanimously rejected a request for a one-year extension of the site plan for the massive Forbes Development project at its meeting last week.

A similar request to extend the special permits for a planned 590-unit project on the 17 acre site was rejected by the Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this year.

The rejections will likely lead to further legal action according to Shawn McCormack, the attorney representing YIHE Forbes, LLC. The original special permits and site plan for the project were approved by the city in 2019.

McCormack noted that the site plan lapsed last December, but that there are legal precedents to extend lapsed approvals.

“This is a 700,000-square-foot, 590-unit project with housing units, restaurant space, and office space,” said McCormack. “It’s a significant development on the waterfront and it has been sort of waylaid by Covid.”

According to McCormack, there have been several economic factors that have resulted in the project not moving forward for over three years, including supply chain issues and soaring labor and material costs, as well as instability in the capital markets that would finance such a large project.

“It’s really been stalled, and we are hoping in the next year that things will stabilize,” said McCormack. “Right now, getting investment is very difficult because there is a lot of uncertainty in the housing market. You have interest rates going up, which means there are fewer people in the market to buy new housing.”

McCormack was asked what would happen if the extension was denied. As a practical matter, he said there would likely be continued litigation.

“As a legal matter, it’s a little bit of a gray area,” he said. “There is no mechanism for an automatic revocation, probably what would happen if they went to pull a building permit, the building department would say no, sorry, your permits lapsed.”

Karl Allen, the city’s economic development planner, said the office of housing and community development was opposed to granting the extension for the site plan review.

“Much has changed since this was first approved,” said Allen. “Our zoning has changed for this parcel. What was approved is no longer feasible under our current zoning.”

The zoning changes included a change in the definition of lot area, and in the case of the Forbes parcel, the buildable lot area dropped from more than 17 acres to under 12 acres of buildable land.

“The number of units that could be permitted on this site is now much lower,” Allen said.

Allen also noted that while the capital markets may currently be in flux, that has not been the case for the entire 31/2 years that the Chinese-based YIHE, Forbes has held the permits.

“Anyone who has driven around Boston and has seen all of the cranes knows that all through the pandemic, construction kept going and didn’t really slow at all,” said Allen. “We understand that the current owner sees value in the permits and wants to sell the property to someone who can exploit that value.”

However, Allen said the city would like to see anyone who purchases the property to propose a new project.

“We don’t think this is the correct project for that site at this time,” said Allen.

Last year, a group of local and regional nonprofits, along with affordable housing developers and the city were working on plans to attempt to purchase the dormant 17.7-acre Forbes waterfront site to create affordable housing and a public, environmentally resilient waterfront area for residents.

GreenRoots, The Neighborhood Developers, Mystic River Watershed Association, and the Mass Audubon Society were among the groups working together when it appeared the site might go up for auction late last year.

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