Civic Groups Unite to Voice Concerns over Proposed Redevelopment of the Government Center Garage

March 10, 2014
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The Beacon Hill Civic Association, the West End Civic Association and the North End/Waterfront Residents’ Association joined together last month to weigh in on the proposed redevelopment of the Government Center Garage.

Boston-based developer HYM Investment Group LLC intends to raze major portions of the existing 11-story garage to clear the way for six new buildings, including a 528-foot office tower and two residential high-rises – standing 480 and 300 feet tall, respectively – on the western side of Congress Street near Government Center. The plan also proposes a 157-foot hotel and condominium building and additional retail and office space on the eastern side of Congress Street that would form a new public plaza and pedestrian promenade along the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway.

The fully developed complex will consist of 812 residential units, 196 hotel rooms, 1.2 million gross square-feet of office space and several new stores and restaurants, while the garage’s parking capacity would be reduced from 2,300 to 1,159 spaces.

In an 11-page letter to Richard K. Sullivan, secretary of the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, dated Feb. 6, the three civic groups outlined their concerns with the project, including the assertion that the volume of proposed office space is “out-of-scale” with its surroundings.

The letter states that no city or state plan has addressed the “additional traffic, public transportation and infrastructure demands, which cannot be accommodated by existing systems.”According to the letter, the heights of the proposed buildings could also adversely affect air quality, as well as have negative wind and shadow impacts, in addition to creating a visual and structural barrier in the “West Parcel.”

Other overarching concerns cited in the letter include the apparent lack of comprehensive traffic and transit planning, and that a previous study neglected to take into account other major development proposals for the area, including the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary’s plans to a construct a 1,065-space, underground garage within the Charles River Esplanade.

“Most important,” the letter states, “the study area defined in [the Expanded Environmental Notification Form filed with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation] only extends to the intersection of Cambridge and Staniford streets rather than all the way to Charles Circle, and does not include North Washington Street across the Charlestown Bridge.”

After the letter was filed, the developer agreed to submit a Draft Impact Report, as well as an Environmental Impact Report. (The developer had requested a single Environmental Impact Report, but has since agreed to file two reports for the project).

Despite this apparent concession on the developer’s part, Jeanette Herman, past president of the Beacon Hill Civic Association, wrote in an e-mail to the Times, “Our streets, our subways, our sewers—all frequently saturated already—may be totally overwhelmed if this project proceeds without comprehensive planning and collaborative problem-solving.”

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