A new mix-use retail and residential tower slated to fill in the hole looking down to the Massachusetts Turnpike along Boylston Street in the Back Bay got a key approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board, despite not having on-site affordable housing.
The decision was made during the monthly BPDA board meeting on Thursday, March 15. The approved project includes a 484 foot residential building with 108 units, which will sit on top of a five-story podium of retail, restaurants and 175 parking spaces.
The board decision comes after seven years of public meetings with the community. Throughout that time the project has involved based off of community feedback. Major changes have included filling in the gap over the Turnpike and reducing the residential towers from two to one.
But, the Community Advisory Committee (CAC) and neighborhood residents still have some concerns regarding affordable housing that will be located off-site.
“We have a very strong view amongst the CAC members that the affordable housing should be as close as possible to the site,” said Fritz Casselman, co-chair to CAC. “The BPDA staff seems to be doing hard work to do it within the half mile but, I feel we can all work this through.”
The 1000 Boylston Street project will create or preserve affordable housing units in compliance with the Mayor’s Executive Order on Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP). The total square footage of the off-site IDP units will be 18 percent of the sellable or rentable residential square footage of the development.
The final location of the off-site 51,000 square feet of affordable housing units will be approved by the BPDA board.
“We do not need more luxury condos,” said Martyn Roetter, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB). “Especially in a building like this the majority of owners who will buy or occupy these units will be by people where Boston would not be their primary residence. What we need is housing and not only affordable housing but, accessible housing to middle and upper middle income residents who will be a part of the neighborhood.”
Marvin Wool, a member of NABB asked the board defer it’s consideration in order to negotiate an affordable housing agreement with the developers Weiner Ventures, which does not include a single one of the 14 IDP mandated units on site.
Wool argues that this is in clear violation of the spirit, if not the letter of IDP regulations.
“We do have a tremendous dearth of affordable housing in the Back Bay,” said Wool. “Although they are not yet built the conclusion of off-site housing does not seem to be an efficient use of IDP, especially since it was originally conceived precisely to encourage affordable units to be built on site.”
Wool encouraged the BPDA board to consider at least a handful or some of the units be made to work on-site.
Tim Davis, Housing Policy Manager for the BPDA said that the best outcome for the city, especially with a downtown luxury condominiums, was to allow the developer to do a payment or off-site affordable units.
The revision policy dating back to Mayor Martin Walsh’s changes in 2015, made this an as of right option for developers.
“The policy looks at a half mile radius to place the affordable housing units,” said Davis. “But, because of the constraints and timing we are allowing the developers to go three-fourths of a mile from the site.”
In addition, the size of the units as condominiums on-site would have given only 14 units of affordable housing but, because of the square footage it could mean 60 units or more in an off-site location or in another location.
“We are looking very diligently for a good location,” said Davis.
The 1000 Boylston Street site is located on the Huntington Avenue and Prudential Center District. It is made up of the following four parcels: the Prudential parcel; a parcel owned by MassDOT located above the Turnpike between the Prudential Parcel and Cambria Street; a parcel composed of above-grade air rights spanning Cambria Street between Parcel 15 and the Scotia Parcel; and a grass-covered parcel located across Cambria Street from Parcel 15, formerly used by the St. Cecilia Parish.
The project hopes to contribute to the cohesiveness of the City, improve the street and pedestrian environment, and develop new retail and services to revitalize the local area.
“It makes the biggest contribution in terms of repair to the damage the Turnpike did to the city,” said David Manfredi, architect. “It’s really not a good public realm on all sides of the site and this gives us the opportunity to really be transformative.”
Roetter, chair of NABB also asked that the BPDA consider buildings in the future that do no increase the natural gas supply in Boston, especially in a time when the City is trying to reduce the amount used. He urges the BPDA to consider buildings that can easily switch to renewable energies in the future.
The shadow study shows that the tower will cast new shadows throughout the nearby neighborhoods, from the Fenway Victory Gardens, to the Esplanade, down the Commonwealth Avenue Mall to even the Boston Public Garden and Boston Common during certain times of the year. But, the shadows fit within the Shadow Laws that govern the open spaces in the area.
“While we support the goals of eliminating a hole in the urban fabric caused by the turnpike, linking neieghborsboods, and activating Boylston Street, we have a number of concerns about the shadows from 1000 Boylston,” said Liz Vizza, executive director of Friends of the Public Garden. “Shadows cast by the proposed project will impact Commonwealth Avenue Mall, public parkland which is enjoyed by many throughout the year. We hope that the project can provide value for the community while being well integrated into its surroundings and causing no adverse impact to the Commonwealth Avenue Mall.”
At the hearing Commissioner Theodore Landsmark asked if this was the maximum height the developers could build to, saying the initial renderings he saw were fine and now that he sees the changes he wishes it was taller. Other board members agreed with his comment.
“Our height is the function of the PDA (Planned Development Area),” said Adam Weiner the developer. “It’s the height that we propose. There’s not a desire to build any taller.”
The project still needs approval of Minor Modification to Urban Renewal Plan creating Parcel 27 and the Boston Zoning Commission approval of the Planned Development Area (PDA) and Map Amendment.