By Steve Jerome
How would you like to find yourself living next to an oversized glass tower, when you thought zoning and historic district laws protected your property and your neighborhood? The Hotel Alexandra, a High Victorian Gothic apartment house on the South End/Roxbury border, has been owned by the Church of Scientology for 11 years. The Church currently holds an option to sell it and an adjoining vacant lot to a developer proposing to build a 14-story hotel/restaurant – over twice the 70-foot height limit. Other formerly dilapidated South End buildings, including Allen House and the St. Cloud Hotel also presented serious preservation challenges, but in every case were restored in full compliance with Landmark District laws.
Over many decades, the Alexandra has suffered deferred maintenance, but a local retail business currently occupies the first floor. In 2011, bricks fell from the cornice of the adjoining bow-fronted row house. Rather than undertaking repairs, the Church asserted the row house was structurally unsound and the City granted permission to tear it down despite widespread community outrage. A vacant lot since, it is slated to become part of the base of the controversial tower.
Last week’s Alexandra Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting to discuss “community benefits and mitigation” became a circus when members of the IAG and the project team sparred over the simple question of relocating the Silver Line stop away from the front of the proposed hotel. Some Roxbury residents objected that the project is being pitched as a South End development when it stands in Roxbury, and that they have been left out of the discussions until now.
What mitigation is there for degrading a historic building by planting a soulless glass tower over it? In its 35 year history, the South End Landmark District Commission has never approved something so out of step with its rules. Will future generations ponder WHY was a tower built over this jewel? Beware as it may happen to you when big real estate and government officials blatantly manipulate zoning and landmark laws. Today, despite understandable concern over the lack of proper stewardship of the Alexandra, the Community Preservation Act (CPA) and historic tax credits can facilitate its restoration.
Development should not be done through an ad hoc set of planning proposals, which take no account of context and are delivered in a huge rush to meet a deadline set by the Church. Make no mistake, restoring the Alexandra is no walk in the park, but the current misguided proposal should be rejected. An addition to the Alexandra is possible, but it should be made with caution and sparingly. Help ensure plans conform to the height limit and zoning by attending the next public meeting on the Alexandra proposal on Monday, March 11, 6-8 p.m., St. Augustine’s and St. Martin’s Church, 29-33 Lenox St., Roxbury, and by contacting your elected officials about this issue.
Public comments may be submitted until March 14 to Michael Sinatra, BPDA Project Planner via email:
Steve Jerome, served as the first executive secretary of the South End Landmark District Commission after its establishment in 1983 under the statute creating the Boston Landmarks Commission.