Trinity Financial’s Vision for the Curtis Apartments Redevelopment

By Jesse Johnson

The Worcester Housing Authority (WHA) currently owns and operates the Curtis Apartments public housing complex in the Great Brook Valley neighborhood. Built in the early 1950s, the complex includes multiple outdated concrete and masonry buildings which have outlived their usefulness.

Trinity Financial and its affiliates have proposed a full redevelopment of the Curtis Apartments neighborhood over the course of eight years and four phases of construction, creating 529 new apartments at various affordable income levels to suit the community’s diverse population. Construction of Phase 1, involving the demolition of three existing buildings and the design and construction of two new mid-rise buildings, is due to begin this April. These two residential buildings are 4-story, wood frame structures and will provide a total of 129 apartments including a mix of one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom units.

Phase 2 of the project, which will include five new buildings, is currently in design and going through the local planning and zoning process. This phase of the project will create a new WHA Economic Opportunity Center (EOC), a mixed-use facility with office space on the first and second floors and a municipal library on the first floor, plus 24 residential units on two upper levels of one of the buildings. The remaining scope of Phase 2 will include the construction of two new mid-rise buildings and two new multi-unit townhouse cluster buildings, providing a total of 150 new units. Construction on these structures is scheduled to begin in late 2025.

Trinity is working with a team of consultants to transition the entire site into the 21st century. Weston & Sampson is providing site civil and traffic engineering and environmental design services, bringing all their experience to the creation of an efficient and welcoming new neighborhood that reduces pavement and increases green space. DHK Architects is designing new state-of-the-art apartment and multi-use buildings to provide a sense of neighborhood and community, and all of the structures will exceed today’s sustainability standards. Each of the buildings within each phase will be distinct, while there will be an overarching design theme for all phases of the project. Copley Wolff Design Group is the landscape architect, designing a series of dynamic open spaces, including a green, a park, and a town square, all interlinked with greenways and bike and pedestrian paths to tie together all project phases.

The existing outdated buildings, landscaping, infrastructure, and roadways all reflect an antiquated approach to urban design and planning, with inefficient parking and access layouts with sprawling pavement and facilities that are in poor condition.  Landscaping and tree shading are deficient with no dedicated green spaces, and infrastructure is undersized and at the end of its useful life.

The master plan for the neighborhood involves implementing modern planning and design principles and the latest in energy efficient and climate resilient construction to serve the current residents and welcome new residents far into the future. Ample parks and greenspace will be provided with roadways being realigned and fully reconstructed using “Complete Streets” principles. Complete Streets is an approach to planning, designing, and building streets that enables safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. The concept also emphasizes the needs of those who have experienced systemic underinvestment, like the Great Brook Valley neighborhood.

The new buildings will be surrounded by new landscaping features and outdoor amenity areas, and all buildings, pathways, and public amenities will be handicap accessible with improved safety features and access to nearby public transit. Options for parking will be increased and improved with upgraded on-street parking areas and off-street parking lots.

Even with an increase in the number of buildings and parking spaces, the efficient design approach will result in a net reduction in impervious surface, helping to reduce stormwater runoff and the urban heat island effect. Low impact development techniques and other nature-based solutions will be incorporated into the stormwater design to capture and mitigate runoff from hardscape areas, and each phase will facilitate the use of environmentally responsible amenities like electric vehicle charging stations, bicycle storage, and ride sharing.

Keep an eye on this space for a description of the phases as they’re completed over the coming years. The plans for the Curtis Apartments and the Great Brook Valley area establish a commitment and vision on the part of the city and developer to provide the project residents and other city residents with an attractive, safe, and accessible neighborhood. It will also represent a significant net improvement to the environmental and living conditions for all.

Jesse Johnson, PE is a civil engineering team leader at Weston & Sampson in Reading, Mass.

Published in High Profile, March 2024

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