At its public hearing on Tuesday, April 26, which took place virtually, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeal voted to defer making a determination until July 12 on an application requesting several variances for the redevelopment of the Hotel Alexandra.
The developer, Alexandra Partners, intends to transform the historic building located at Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue into “Alexandra Residences,” a 13-story, mixed-use project with ground floor restaurant and café space, a rooftop level bar/restaurant, and 76 condo units, 33 of which would be compact (eight studios, 24 one-bedrooms, and one two-bedroom unit), and 10 would be designated as affordable housing under the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP).
Since a proposed 158-room boutique hotel was approved for the location by the BPDA board in March of 2019, the pandemic upended the world’s economy, with hospitality being one of the hardest hit industries. Alexandra Partners had even considered selling the property after investors pulled out of the proposed hotel, but the developer was eventually able to find financing for a residential project, said Marc LaCasse, the developer’s attorney.
The South End Landmarks District Commission (SELDC) approved the project on Oct. 30, 2019, while the BPDA board approved it on Oct. 14, 2021.
The application before the ZBA this week was for several variances that had already received approval from the city as part of the erstwhile hotel proposal, including for excessive building height, among other requested zoning relief, said LaCasse.
Among those who spoke in favor of the applicant at this week’s hearing were Rep. Jon Santiago, as well as representatives for City Councilors Tania Fernandes Anderson and Frank Baker, respectively.
Kim Crucioli, Mayor Michelle Wu’s liaison to the South End, said the city would defer to the ZBA on this matter, since they had received letters of support, largely from those who applauded the project for attempting to help transform a now-blighted area, while letters of opposition the city had received mainly came from Roxbury residents who were dissatisfied with the community process. (The Hotel Alexandra is located near the South End line in Roxbury.)
Carol Blair, president of Chester Square Neighbors (as well as a member of city’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the project), was among those who requested that the ZBA defer making a determination on the application. Blair asked whether the proposed 13-story tower is “really necessary in a historic district” and also expressed concern regarding the structural integrity of the building, especially considering the proposed height. (LaCasse countered that “countless engineers have inspected the property” and deemed it structurally sound.)
If the application is ultimately approved, Blair asked that condo fees help support transportation costs for residents, such as to purchase MBTA passes for them, in an effort to reduce car ownership, and that the building’s façade be “fixed…to negate any impact during construction.” (LaCasse replied that the developer has already taken painstaking steps to preserve the building’s façade.)
Chair Christine Araujo and other ZBA members expressed concerns with the latest iteration of the project, including the large number of compact units, as well as the relatively low number of proposed IDP units and the lack of three-bedroom units. (The average unit size will be around 960 square feet, according to Dartagnan Brown, an architect for the project.)
The ZBA’s motion to defer its determination on this application until Tuesday, July 12, at 11:30 a.m., “so community issues and other issues can be worked out,” said Araujo.