By Beth Treffeisen
The Back Bay/South End Gateway project a mixed-use, transient-oriented redevelopment that will transform the underutilized area that connects the Back Bay, South End, and Bay Village neighborhoods, got a key approval from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) board to move forward in this project on Thursday, Nov. 16.
The project consists of a new office building with ground-floor retail, two new residential buildings, retail expansion of the existing Back Bay Station building, and the partial redevelopment of the existing 165 Dartmouth St. Garage. The project will invest $69 million in the renovation of the Back Bay station.
“I’ve never seen a project to have the potential to have this kind of impact and transformative nature for this neighborhood,” said Mike Cantaloupe from Boston Properties the developers of the project.
The Gateway project will create 600 market-rate units and 90 affordable units that will be off-site in an undetermined location in a downtown neighborhood with a $3 million payment for affordable homeownership and a $4.6 million Development Impact Project (DIP) payment.
In addition the developers Boston Properties promised $3 million in mitigation that will go towards a historic renovation fund. Representatives from Trinity Church, Old South Church and the Greater Boston Interfaith Organization (GBIO) showed strong support.
“Together we changed the conversation around urban development, together we have included clear and concise language and action that will acknowledge that people matter and acknowledge the key role that home ownership plays in Boston,” said Jeanette Callahan representing members of GBIO.
Boston Properties currently occupies and utilizes a majority of the site pursuant to a MassDOT lease, which authorizes future air-rights development and subdivides the site into four air rights development parcels.
There were a total of 15 Community Advisory Committee (CAC) meetings and seven public meetings held on this project over the course of the last two years.
“This is a great example on how our public planning process to rezone an area has helped shape the size and uses of buildings and be a great benefit to the community,” said Michael Rooney, the project manager for the BPDA. “We take great pride and I think the community should take great pride in the work that was done during that time to help shape this area.”
The vast majority of the public testimony at the board hearing was in support of this project but some residents of Boston shared some concerns they still have.
Some issues that arose included where the MBTA Bus 39 stop will go, the ventilation project and where the exhaust fumes will end up and the hope to stretch the Dartmouth Street sidewalk to accommodate more pedestrians.
Peter Paravalos, the director of transit-oriented Development for the MBTA said that they are currently working with State Rep. Byron Rushing to put together a CAC for the ventilation issue to make sure the MBTA gets it right and that people are allowed to comment.
The ventilation project will be a two-step process with one at the platform area and the other with the ventilation of the stairs that lead up to the atrium of the station. Paravalos stressed that the platform component is very complex.
“We are trying to figure out how we can do a better job at the platform level,” said Paravalos. “Trains traveling up the corridor is no different from being in a car in the tunnel. We will try to address all of that to make sure the levels of diesel are within the allowable range.”
Paravalos said that the Bus 39 stop is still up in the air and not a done deal yet. There will be more of a public process moving forward.
“We feel very strongly that this is a positive project that will make a positive difference in the city but it is not perfect and there is still work to be done,” said Elliott Laffer, the co-chair of the CAC.
Laffer said there is still work to be done on the design, which is still in a conceptual stage, and ensuring that there is no exist for cars from the garage onto Dartmouth Street, that is heavily congested with pedestrians. In addition, Laffer said he would like to see more efforts to make this project more sustainable.
“It’s going to take years to make this project and we want to make sure renewable resources are built in,” said Laffer.
Martyn Roetter, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB), also shared his support for the project but agreed that a number of details still remain to be worked out.
Some of NABB’s concerns include creating more green space and the concern of traffic, with cars trying to cut through the Back Bay to get to Storrow Drive.
“I do hope CAC continues to work on this project,” said Roetter. “NABB will follow this project to the end, which we hope won’t be a bitter end.”