Residents Concerned Over Initial Plans of the Proposed Kenmore Square Hotels

The building boom in the city has touched every corner of Boston, but Kenmore Square, which has largely been left out is now seeing plans for two new hotels that will transform the area.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), held the first Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Wednesday, March 28, at the Buckminster Hotel in Kenmore Square.

These hotels will join many other new developments planned for the area, including the Fenway Center that just broke ground for phase one, and the upcoming Related Beal redevelopment of the buildings underneath the Citgo sign in Kenmore Square.

“There’s a lot of change coming to Kenmore Square – its challenging.” said Pam Beale, an IAG member and local business owner. “It has to be the right people and the right project. There’s a public process, and I think the city is doing a great job in trying to get it right. We just need to make sure it is planned in context to what is in Kenmore Square now.”

Existing improvements at 560-574 Commonwealth Ave. (where the existing Citizens Bank is now), would be replaced by a new hotel building containing about 382 rooms, with a building height of 24 stories and 260 feet, with a gross floor area of 161,000 square feet. This hotel will not have any parking.

The tax assessment map groups in the co-op building behind the Citizens Bank at 566 Commonwealth Ave. as part of the new hotel project but, that building will remain.

Across the street, existing improvements at 655-665 Beacon St., (building and parking lot behind Hotel Buckminster) would be replaced by a new hotel with about 295 hotel rooms, with a building height of 19 stories or 210 feet high, with a gross floor area of about 186,000 square feet. It will include some underground parking.

The extension to the Buckminster hotel will be a three-star, family-oriented hotel for longer stays versus the the Commonwealth Avenue hotel that will be more transient oriented for short business stays. The projects will be linked together in creating more outdoor public space that will be home to new restaurants and retail space.

The developers are asking to have these two hotels grouped together under one Planned Development Area (PDA).

A PDA is an overlay to the existing underlying zoning designed to promote and accommodate large-scale, complex development where the underlying zoning may prohibit such development’s uses and scale.

The overlay provides for a greater flexibility of zoning, and additional controls for the development, as well as public benefits for the surrounding community and neighborhood that are not available through the underlying zoning.

It requires that the area be no less than one acre land, which both the hotels together make. Zoning relief is given if the PDA is granted, meaning the project will not have to go to the Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) if the BPDA board approves it.

“If people feel not right with this project, they better say so,” said Richard Giordano of the Fenway Community Development Corporation. “Otherwise, what you’re looking at – that’s it.”

Giordano warned that since the hotels don’t have to go through the ZBA, it bypasses a step in the public process. If these projects went through the process independently from one another they would have to ask for multiple variances from the ZBA to be approved.

Tim Czerwienski, the project manager for the BPDA, said that this site currently has 1960s era zoning, which is out of date. The PDA he said would be another layer of zoning that would allow this transformative project to take place. He added, that The Large Project Review Scoping Determination will have a robust public process.

One worry is the small island that serves as a place for pedestrians to stop before crossing the intersection from Beacon Street to Commonwealth Avenue. One resident said when she files a complaint to the City about lack of shoveling snow she learned that it doesn’t belong to anyone.

“It’s not the city’s property, it’s not the state’s, it’s not the county’s property – it’s like an orphan,” said Bridget Basilico a resident of 566 Commonwealth Ave. “That’s going to be a dent in that improvement.”

The developers said they will look into who owns that, and will take care of it if no one claims it.

Another concern was how the Commonwealth Avenue hotel designed their public space in a way that pushes pedestrians out onto Beacon Street where no crosswalk is located. Residents worried that walkers will jay walk across the busy road, instead of continuing along the sidewalk until reaching the crosswalk.

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