City Releases Revised Working Draft of RFP for West End Branch Library Redevelopment

The city has released a revised working draft of the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the redevelopment of the West End Branch Library site to include an affordable housing component, along with a new library branch.

“The core goal of the community vision is to strongly encourage development proposals for a mixed-use development that includes a world-class public library as well as affordable rental housing above the library,” according to the draft.

Proponents “must include a community core and shell space of approximately 17,500 to 19,000 usable square feet on either the ground floor or the first two floors of the development” at 151 Cambridge St., according to the document, with the space provided to the Boston Public Library at cost via a long-term lease. (The city will maintain ownership of the land itself, however.)

The BPL commissioned a comprehensive Programming Study for the West End Branch Library in October of 2021, which proponents are strongly encouraged to reference when conceiving their proposals for the site.

The document states that input from neighborhood residents and neighborhood civic associations has consistently underscored a desire to see housing across a range of unit sizes and income levels, particularly housing targeted towards seniors and families.

“This site may be a particularly good fit for families, as children will greatly benefit from the resources offered at the library branch, and only 9.8 [percent] of households in the immediate area currently have children under age 18, as compared to 22.4 [percent] citywide,” according to the document.

Proposals should include a mix in unit sizes, ranging from studios to three-bedrooms to meet the needs of the targeted households, according to the document.

Likewise, proponents are also encouraged to file proposals that exceed the minimum housing affordability requirements in accordance with a strong opinion voiced by the community on this matter.

A preference would therefore be given to proposals that include a high percentage (up to 100 percent) of income-restricted housing; that  offer “deeper levels of affordability,” with the number of units for low-income (50 percent of AMI [Are Median Income]) or extremely low-income (30 percent of AMI) exceeding the minimum requirements set by the Mayor’s Office of Housing; and affordability across multiple income levels (i.e. ranging from 30-100 precent of AMI), to meet the needs of different households, according to the document.

Depending on the number of housing units built, between eight and 11 “Faircloth” units could be federally subsidized through a unique partnership between the proponent and the Boston Housing Authority (BHA), according to the document.

While the rental costs for the eventual project have still yet to be determined, the BHA has suggested rates for underwriting purposes based on its published subsidized rental rates, including $944 for a studio/efficiency; $1,025 for a one-bedroom; $1,228 for a two-bedroom; or $1,495 for a three-bedroom.

Since the existing library is set back from the street, projects should include plans for a new landscaped area combining green space and an urban plaza in front of the library, according to the document.

The document also instructs proponents to consider their respective project’s scale, height, and density in the context of Cambridge Street, where many existing and planned buildings stand between 80 and 100 feet tall. Since the height limit now set for the project is 65 feet, it’s anticipated that the selected developer would seek a variance to exceed this height, according to the document.

But the document also states: “Careful consideration must be given to the impacts of the proposed building on the neighboring First Harrison Gray Otis House, which directly abuts the site and is 45 feet tall, as well as the Old West Church next to the Otis House. Proposals should make clear how the new building massing and footprint will relate to the Otis House, and note any impacts, if any, on the Old West Church.”

Given the size constraints of the project site, as well as its close proximity to public transit and the prohibitive cost of building below-grade parking, no parking provisions will be required for this project, according to the document.

New bike racks to accommodate up to seven guests visiting the library will be required as sidewalk furnishings per the proponent’s obligation to reconstruct the entire sidewalk at the project site, however.

All proposals will be reviewed by the city using a three-part process. After meeting the city’s Minimum Eligibility Criteria, each proposal’s General Evaluation Criteria would then be evaluated by the Mayor’s Office of Housing. A Selection Committee would then assign a composite rating to each proposal to determine the selected proponent.

The issue date and the submission date for the RFP have still yet to be determined by the city.

The revised draft RFP can be found at the bottom of the city’s project website at The Mayor’s Office of Housing is accepting public comments on the document until Monday, Feb. 13, via email to Joe Backer, MOH senior development officer, at [email protected].

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