BHCA Board asked to comment on proposed West End Branch Library redevelopment plan

Beacon Hill Civic Association board member Colin Zick asked other directors on hand for the group’s Sept. 12 meeting at 74 Joy St. to comment on a proposal to redevelop the West End Branch of the Boston Public Library, which includes plans for a residential housing component.

Zick said the BHCA board should consider four matters regarding this proposal, including whether the development should have on-site residential parking; the height of the proposed building; the income mix of residents (i.e. should it all be one income level or mixed-income, and should it contain affordable housing); and funding sources for the project – a variable that, Zick said, could ultimately determine its housing mix.

How many residential units the project would contain is also another thing to consider, added Zick.

“In one sense, we think this a good thing,” Zick said of the proposed development, which, he added, would not only address the current need for housing in the neighborhood, but also better utilize an “underused resource” (i.e. the library).

“This is going to happen is my overall sense,” he said. “I wouldn’t have said that a year ago.”

Additionally Zick told this reporter: “I think this project is an exciting opportunity for the West End and Beacon Hill, and the Beacon Hill Civic Assocaition looks forward to being a part of it.”

Joshua Leffler, president of the BHCA board, said, “We have been invited to be very involved in this process….and it would be a missed opportunity to not give detailed input.”

Eve Waterfall, a BHCA board member, said, “It will be more vibrant and interesting if it’s mixed rather than one income.”

Waterfall expressed concern with how the building’s height would fit into the existing streetscape, however. “That block is fairly low,” she said. “Our starting position should be that the building not dwarf any other building on the block.”

Meghan Awe, chair of the BHCA board, said she believes the development should include residential parking to appeal to residents working low-income jobs who would likely have to drive to  work.

While housing has been integrated into the redevelopment of public libraries in other cities and the Chinatown Branch of the BPL is also being eyed for redevelopment with a residential component, Jacob Werner, a liaison from District 8 City Councilor Kenzie Bok’s office, said the redevelopment of the West End Branch Library is slated to be the first project of its kind in Boston.

Since Werner also said the West End Civic Association is now having “similar conversations” regarding the future of the West End Branch Library, BHCA board member Keeta Gilmore suggested reaching out to the group as a “courtesy.”

In May of 2021, the city unveiled several “test fits” for a reimagined West End Branch Library, including plans for five-story and 10-story buildings, both of which could accommodate either a single-story library or one that would occupy the first two floors instead.  Besides creating an opportunity for several levels of housing above the library, the project team also identified the needs for a community room that could accommodate up to 100 guests, as well as for  a multipurpose classroom; small study rooms; and open space for educational and reading purposes around the library, as part of the project.

Maureen Anderson, a project manager with the city’s Public Facilities Department, said then that no timelines for the project “were set in stone,” but it would likely be a two- to three-year process before construction could even begin, and that process is expected to take between 20 to 36 months to complete.

This came on the heels of the completion of an approximately 12-month study by the Public Facilities Department, working in concert with the BPL and Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, that  not only evaluated the existing conditions of the library branch, which opened in the 1960s, but also looks ahead to its future over the next half-century. 

The city completed its final report on the programming study for the West End Branch Library last October.

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