BPDA Holds Public Meeting Regarding 601 Newbury St.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on March 1 regarding the proposal to erect a four story addition on top of the existing three story building at 601 Newbury St. in the Fenway.

Attorney Jeff Drago said that the original proposal for the site was to create “a mix” of compact living apartments and executive suites, but “in hearing some of the comments through the BPDA and from the neighbors, the development team looked at that and has been willing to change that.”

The current proposal now is for 82 residential compact living units, with no executive suites. The proposed addition would make the building more than 90 feet tall.

“This area is pretty liberal with the zoning code,” he said, as it is “built for larger buildings.”

The existing three story building at 601 Newbury will stay and some restoration work will be done on the facade. He said the only new variance required is for Floor Area Ratio, and other variances needed, including insufficient front, side, and rear yard, are all existing conditions of the building that is there now.

The building will feature several amenity spaces for residents, but the site does not offer a lot of green space. He said that there will be a short term parking area with three spaces, as well as an area for rideshare and deliveries to occur, but other parking will not be offered.

Architect Tanya Carriere said that there will be 12 units per floor, except for the first floor, which will have 10 units. The basement will feature a gym, tenant storage, bike storage with a repair station, mechanical rooms, a sprinkler room, other storage, and elevators.

The first floor will be home to a vestibule, the lobby, a mail room, an office, a package room, a trash room, and 10 units.

The other floors will each feature the 12 units plus a different amenity space, ranging from a dining room to a lounge to a yoga studio to a remote workstation to a theater/media room. The spaces will be flexible in their use depending on resident needs and wants.

The roof will house mechanical equipment for the building.

When asked about a timeline for the project, Drago said that “obviously we still have a ways to go, even if this were to get approved through permitting.” He said that construction permits are”running slower” due to the pandemic, and “for permitting purposes,” it “would take us probably through the summer” to receive approval.

Attorney Anthony Rossi, who represents the development team, Thibeault Development, said that typically about four moths is needed to complete construction documents, and “a project of this size and staging” would take “probably between 15 to 18 months from start to finish.”

Overall, Fenway residents seemed glad to see the removal of the executive suites from the proposal, though there were still some concerns that remained about the project.

Alex Sawczynec of the Fenway Civic Association said that he believes the “Fenway neighborhood needs more long-term housing and ability for residents to stay and grow and build a life in this neighborhood.”

He said that the size of the units makes them “still basically a hotel room,” and “I have a hard time seeing this as a viable, desirable thing for the Fenway neighborhood.”

He asked if there could be “assurances” made that this building will not end up as an Airbnb or other short term rental use.

Drago said that “right now, the City has really cracked down on short term rental,” and added that “we’re finding that more of the young professionals, single professionals are looking for smaller units” and are looking for the type of “amenity space” that this building proposes.

He said he can “certainly put that into any of the rental agreements,” speaking about the prohibition of the use of the units for short term rentals.

John Bookston, also of the Fenway Civic Association, said that he does not want to see undergraduates renting these units.

“We certainly don’t want any more undergraduates living as neighbors,” he said. “They should be on the university Camus. There should be none in residential housing.”

Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said he appreciates the removal of the executive suites, but he wondered what these compact living units would be priced at. 

“I don’t know where the market’s going to be in a few years,” Rossi said, but he added that in “today’s world,” they would be rented for “anywhere between $1700 and $2100” per unit, though it could change within the next fews years.

BPDA Project Manager Michael Sinatra said that this project “does trigger [Inclusionary Development Policy] (IDP},” though he did not have specific details about how many units or the pricing at the meeting.

Someone also asked what other mitigation this project would offer the community, and Drago said that the BPDA will “get a feel for what the community wants,” whether it be “transportation updates, roadway improvements,” or something similar.

“We are open to suggestions,” Sinatra said. Though the amount of mitigation offered might be less in this Small Project Review versus an Article 80 Large Project Review, some public realm community benefits can be discussed and residents are encouraged to send their ideas to the BPDA.

The comment period for this project ends on March 12, and Sinatra said that the BPDA wants to see any comments or suggestions regarding the project or ideas for community benefits, and he will be “in touch with next steps once we get comments.”

More information abut this project can be found at bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/601-newbury-street.

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