From Classrooms to Residences

by Suzanne Besser

Residents and neighbors of Temple Street had their first look at plans for the mega-redevelopment project proposed for their short one-block street when they met with its developers at a special meeting called last week by the Beacon Hill Civic Association’s zoning and licensing committee.

About forty attendees listened, questioned and commented as JDMD Owner LLC partners David Ridini, David Raftery and Mathew Snyder, who purchased the Archer Building and Donahue Building from Suffolk University last July, described their plans to convert the two six-story academic buildings to a 75-unit residential condominium development with sixty parking spaces in the existing basement and two recessed glass penthouses, roof decks and enclosed utilities on the top.

The owners expect to begin construction in July when the buildings are vacated by the university, which is renting the space for the duration of the school year before moving to the 110,000 square-foot campus building it is constructing at 20 Somerset Street. Interior demolition and construction is expected to take sixteen months.

The largest redevelopment project Beacon Hill has seen in years, the two connecting buildings total 174,759 square feet, front on one-quarter the length of Temple Street, and extend back to Ridgeway Lane. Because of the project’s size, it is subject to a Large Project Review by the Boston Redevelopment Authority under Article 80 B of the Boston Zoning Code. A citizen task force will be formed to work with the BRA and builders throughout the process.

There will also be a liaison committee formed by the zoning and licensing committee, according to Chairman Tom Clemens who invited neighbors to participate. BHCA board members Ania Camargo and Rob Whitney will co-chair that committee, which will serve as a liaison between the residents, BHCA and the developers, and deal with the short and long term plans, processes and impacts.

At last week’s meeting, the owners’ team of nearly twenty professional experts on every aspect from traffic to architecture to construction were on hand to describe their vision for the project and field questions about it. Raftery said they hope to align the buildings with what they believe the neighborhood wants, including providing more housing for families and seniors, both aspirations set by the community in its 2013 Plan for the Neighborhood. Of the 75 upscale condominium units, 31 will have one and 12 will have two bedrooms, some with dens, and 32 will have three bedrooms. They range in size from a one-bedroom unit at 700 square feet to a three-bedroom unit at 2700 square feet.

The level of finishes and amenities, including a gym, pool and function rooms, will be “what one would expect on Beacon Hill,” said Raftrey, who did not give an estimate of the units’ purchase prices. “Going forward, we will be working with our sales team to set the pricing to reflect market conditions for this top quality product in Boston’s premier neighborhood,” he said.

The number of affordable units to be included is still under discussion, he said. While the BRA requires that on-site affordable units in housing developments be not less than 15% of the market rate units, developers have the option to achieve that obligation by acquiring or constructing affordable units off-site. “It is our position that we would like to maintain the diverse nature of Beacon Hill by keeping the affordable units here,” said Clemens. “Having everything be ultra lux is not the way we want to go.”

Although located within the Beacon Hill Architectural District, the two buildings have not been subject to its guidelines. “But they will be when Suffolk leaves,” said BHCA President Mark Kiefer and former BHAC commissioner. “We would welcome the opportunity to work with you, review the plans, understand the thinking behind the design you pick. This is of central importance to us and to the community.”

Most neighbors appeared to welcome the conversion of the buildings to residential and reacted favorably to the proposed architectural designs. The most controversial issues were the proposal to install sixty tandem and stacked parking spaces in the basement of the Donahue building and the addition of two floors of recessed glass penthouses which would not be visible from a public way but would add at least 16 feet to the already massive building.

In 1970, Temple Street was converted to a ‘shared street’ with no separation between cars and pedestrians. It has no parking spaces and a low traffic volume, which some residents worry will change with the addition of sixty parking spaces. “Cities are moving away from cars and instead promoting public transportation, bikes and shared cars,” said Camarago. “Be creative. If you put in three Zip Cars, you can do with a lot less parking spaces.”

Becky Mulzer, who lives directly across from the Donahue Building, looks forward to having more families on the street. “These are unique buildings that give us an opportunity to become a great residential neighborhood,” she said. “Now we have the State House on one side and Suffolk across the street,” she said. “When they are closed, it becomes a dead zone. Residents will bring vibrancy during the daytime, evening and weekends.”

She does worry, though, about the potential traffic impacts and questions whether sixty spaces are too many. “We need to learn more about the traffic patterns. What are the logistics for multiple loading and unloading? Will the cars line up waiting for the valet? There are many answers we still need to hear.”

“Overall the development will be a very nice improvement to Beacon Hill, something we are going to be very proud of,” said Clemens. “It’s just getting there that will be disruptive to the neighbors. But hopefully with the professional team the owners have assembled and the liaison committee working together, we can minimize that.”

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