The Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the proposed Taj Boston hotel renovation project met on April 29 to ask some questions they had prepared for the development team, as well as discuss some mitigation for the alley behind the hotel.
Sean Manning of engineering firm VHB and Michael Lamphier of commercial real estate firm JLL led the conversation. A major concern from the IAG was traffic and parking in and around the hotel. With the increase in retail and restaurant space proposed for the hotel, along with the addition of 16 guest rooms, the team admits that there will be an increase in traffic, but Manning said that each use has a defined rate that correlates with it for traffic.
Lamphier said that they anticipate 30-35 daily valet drop-offs, and Manning said that “double parking and other parking violations do happen and we need to work hard to fix that.”
A Boston Planning and Development Agency planner said that the traffic analysis is just an estimate, as there is no real way to know how many people are coming by car, T, foot, etc. as this is a very urban environment, but the pedestrian experience can be shaped on Newbury St.
“We’ve looked at all the changes in use throughout the hotel,” Lamphier said. “It doesn’t really change the trip generations for this project,” continued Manning, adding that they will go up a little bit but really it’s an opportunity to improve the operational aspects of the hotel.
The IAG focused a lot of their conversation on community benefits. Taj Boston hotel general manager Carlos Bueno said that things won’t change for certain community benefits that already exist, such as the hotel sponsoring the mayor’s Rose Garden party, providing refreshments for the Commonwealth Avenue tree lighting, membership in the Graffiti NABBers, and the Clean the World amenity recycling program, among others.
According to a slide presented at the meeting, new community benefits would include: “restoration of an iconic and historic Boston hotel that is an integral part of the fabric of the community, improved accessibility as part of new front entrance/terrace with the addition of an appropriately graded sidewalk, new terrace and landscaped front entrance that will enhance the first block of Newbury St., new street trees, and enhancement and cleaning of exterior facade.”
The conversation then shifted solely to the alleyway, beginning with a slide listing all of the proposed public alley enhancements representing a capital investment of approximately $400,000. The proponents are proposing a new trash compactor, new and higher resolution cameras, sensor monitoring of vehicles with staff alarm, count/classification of vehicles and reporting, and to paint with new drywall, ceiling, flooring, and lighting.
Manning said they are trying to understand the “total usage of the alley,” as he said he saw “a number of trucks going through,” including trash trucks, Fed Ex trucks, a rental truck—having nothing to do with the hotel.
“Ive never seen a receiver outside,” said IAG member Tim Ian Mitchell, who said he was out in the alley one day last week and a truck driver was looking for someone to deliver his paperwork to, but there was no one to be found.
Bueno said that there is a receiver booth and a security booth, and each should be staffed. “I’m sorry you haven’t seen them, but we do have them,” he told Mitchell.
Bueno continued, saying that both the receiver and the security person would get involved if more than one truck came into the alley. He said that the receivers job is to maintain the loading dock area, and the person is “actively in that alley from 7:00am to 2:00pm.” He said the receiving manager supports that area as well, while security is provided around the clock. The receiver does not necessarily have to be in the booth, Bueno said, but they can be roaming around and would be informed if a truck has arrived.
Bueno said that the linen deliveries do not come any later than 7:00pm, while the non-linen deliveries are usually wrapped up by 2:00pm. Food is typically delivered in the morning.
IAG member Steve Young suggested looking into technology, such as an app, that would allow delivery companies to notify hotel staff when they would be coming into the alley for deliveries.
Bueno said that they would be happy to take a look at that technology, as they are currently exploring ways to manage the vehicles in the alley.
Mitchell said that around 20 to 30 trucks a day stop in the alley to make a delivery, but many of them are only delivering “a very small amount of goods” in a “gigantic truck,” he said.
Manning said that it comes down to viability and scale. “I think there’s a lot of room for improvement,” he said, starting with understanding how long people are at the unloading dock. A detection system would allow people to react to incoming trucks “instantaneously,” he added.
IAG member John Shane suggested making the alley two way, but Manning said he doesn’t think that could ever happen, as it is too narrow. Someone made a comment that there used to be a sign saying that the alley is two way for abutters only, and “that’s what we abide by.”
Steve Young said that it might be worth looking into the possibility of widening the alley on the hotel side enough to get one truck in there.
Lamphier said that they have looked into this further, but there is not a lot of open space on the hotel side. “In order to do anything like that it requires significant structural changes to the building that changes the entire scope of the project,” he said.
IAG member Meg Mainzer-Cohen said that “I don’t think that we’re ever going to be in a position where someone is not going to be impacted at some point in their life if they live on those blocks.” She said she has a “strong willingness to fix this problem.”
A resident on Newbury St. said she is “excited” for this new opportunity, but is concerned about having more traffic right in front of her front door. She wanted to know what kind of commitment the development team is going to make to ensure that traffic keeps moving.
“We are going to work on keeping people moving,” Bueno said, and the rest of the team said they are working towards a plan that will lessen the burden of traffic and parking on Newbury St.
Mainzer-Cohen said that there is “significantly less traffic on Newbury than Arlington,” which leads to much less double parking due to the fact that the traffic is so light.
“I think you’re hitting the point head on,” Manning said. “It’s a function of the space that’s available. If you don’t have the labor to move the cars, the cars will just sit there. Data and data analytics will drive when there will be more traffic there. If there’s an event, it will require more staffing.”
The community process is still in progress for this proposal, and BPDA Project Manager Mike Sinatra said that public comments are still being accepted.