Just prior to the lockdowns under COVID-19, one of the hottest controversies in Worcester Square was a proposed office tower planned by Boston Medical Center (BMC) too close for comfort according to numerous neighbors on East Brookline Street.
Now, scores of neighbors who were concerned about the building no longer have anything to worry about, as BMC has removed the controversial Building H on the loading dock fronting Albany Street from its 2020 Institutional Master Plan (IMP) program.
The shocking news was accompanied by other changes to the IMP, including more investment in Northampton Square and changing the use of one building from administration to Mixed-Use Supportive housing. All that and more will be discussed next week at an IMP Task Force meeting on May 12 – a meeting triggered by the filing of the IMP on Monday.
“Boston Medical Center has filed an updated Institutional Master Plan with the Boston Planning and Development Agency that reflects the hospital’s mission and expected needs for the next decade,” read a statement from BMC to the Sun. “BMC is committed to an open and inclusive process that values our neighbors, stakeholders and the City of Boston. We look forward to discussing the plan in more detail, including key updates incorporated from community feedback when the review process begins with a public Task Force meeting on May 12.”
The news to eliminate Building H was a shocker for most in the neighborhood and for Task Force members, as BMC has stood staunchly by their need for that building even in the face of passionate concerns from abutters and neighbors. However, the filing by BMC indicated that the post-COVID world had changed all of that, and also that they had heard the concerns of neighbors.
“Remove proposed new Administration/Clinical Building proposed at the Ramp Parcel site – BMC listened to the feedback from the Task Force and neighbors and will not pursue a new building at this location,” read the filing, with that being one of five post-COVID changes to the IMP.
Instead, BMC has changed the use of a newly proposed building at 10 Stoughton St. to go from administration to 170,000 sq. ft. of new research space.
“This new building would provide an alternate location for computational research originally proposed for the Ramp Parcel,” read the filing. “In addition, COVID-19 has demonstrated a reduced need for new administration use and the need to provide research programs, both clinical-based and laboratory-based, that adequately represent BMC’s patient population.”
Another topic up for discussion that could go any direction with neighbors depending on the details of the plan is to add a new mixed-use supportive housing program to the Collamore/Old Evans building on East Concord Street. While it does mean the addition of a new social service to the area, something the neighborhood has been opposed to, it also does represent the addition of supportive housing, which the neighborhood has been in line with.
The filing indicated the former use was slated to be administration, and that is not needed any longer. Instead they hope to provide an innovative housing program that addresses one of BMC’s five health priorities to improve access to safe and affordable housing options and establish supportive pathways to healthcare services at the hospital.
“Further, COVID-19 has demonstrated the full depth of disparities that exist for BMC’s patient population with lack of access to housing stability,” read the filing, essentially suggesting the hospital could become an affordable housing developer of types.
Another change in the filing included the intention to acquire or lease more space at Northampton Square. This is pegged at being an alternative location for the outpatient clinic that was supposed to be at the Ramp Parcel, and also to accommodate administrative uses at Collamore to make way for the supportive housing plan. Any action on that would come with a commitment to improve the area.
“In any agreement reached with the City, BMC would commit to locate its Public Safety Headquarters on the 2nd floor of the commercial storefronts along Massachusetts Avenue, as well as revitalize the commercial storefronts along Massachusetts Avenue and maintain community access and use of the gym and the pool,” read the filing.
A fifth and final change included changing the use of the added 6th Floor on Yawkey Pavilion from the Women’s Health Clinic to addressing needs for patients to be in single-bed rooms. The Women’s Clinic would move to the Shapiro Building.
Overall, the theme of the IMP is to “right size” the campus and reduce its footprint and consolidate what is there. The proposed square footage in the 10-year plan reduces the overall footprint by 327,000 sq. ft.
The meeting on May 12 will be held virtually at 6 p.m. on Zoom.