The Boston Planning & Development Agency held its third public meeting on the proposed Longwood Place redevelopment via Zoom on Tuesday, Dec. 13.
Skanska USA Commercial Development intends to redevelop Simmons University’s approximately 5.8 acre residential campus located at 305 Brookline Ave. into approximately 1.75 million gross square feet of residential, office/laboratory, retail, restaurant, commercial, community space, and parking. The project would comprise five buildings, ranging in height from 320 feet to 170 feet, and replace a cluster of brick dormitory buildings that currently occupies the site.
If this project is approved, it would kick off following the completion of Simmons’ new, 21-story Living and Learning Center on Avenue Louis Pasteur, which will provide athletics space, a dining hall, and approximately 1,100 dormitory beds.
“If this (development project) isn’t possible, then Simmons isn’t possible,” said Laura Pisinski, the university’s vice president of real estate development and facilities management, of the Longfellow Project.
Carolyn Desmond, Skanska USA’s vice president of development, said in response to community feedback, the project has increased from 10 percent to 20 percent resident and now includes 388 dwelling units that would range from studios to three-bedroom apartments.
Also, 20 percent of on-site housing will now be affordable, she said.
While the project as proposed would cast “limited” new shadow on the Emerald Necklace, Desmond said this is necessary for the project to achieve all of its potential community benefits.
Among the promised community benefits of the project is the creation of a minimum two-story, 5,000 square-foot open public space directly adjacent to the Main Heart as part of Building 1, said Victor Vizgatis, a senior principal and architect with Skanska, who added this provision would be codified into the PDA (Planned Development Area).
Building 2, meanwhile, is mandated to include “an interior public space serving as an accessible public passage between the Central Connector and the Passive Green,” said Vizgatis, while “Building 4 must provide a two-story, covered exterior patio adjacent to the Main Heart, at the end of the Central Connector.”
The project’s promised community benefits, according to Desmond, also include a $12-million commitment to public-realm improvements. The developer has also pledged to make a $7 million for endowment to support long-term improvements, maintenance, and operations in and around the Emerald Necklace.
The project would also create 2.8 acres of publicly accessible on-site open space, including a 12,500 square-foot passive green on Pilgrim Road and a 35,000 square-foot open space on Brookline Avenue.
Additionally, the developer has pledged to contribute $8 million for public-realm improvements along Brookline Avenue, Pilgrim Road, and Short Street, as well as an additional $4 million contribution for transportation and infrastructure improvements.
Adam Shulman, a longtime neighborhood resident and direct abutter to the project, as well as a member of the project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG), spoke in favor of the project.
Shulman said that he believes the project has “come a long way since [it] was first proposed,” and that Skanska has been very responsive to the community’s concerns throughout the process.
Moreover, Shulman applauded the project for “breaking up the Superblock,” which, he believes, will result in making the area “less of a gated community.”
Kathleen McBride, a 30-plus year resident and homeowner in the Fenway, said she believes there’s a “win-win solution with acceptable heights that wouldn’t put the Emerald Necklace in jeopardy.”
“We need to protect our assets, and we need the city to step up and protect the Emerald Necklace,” said McBride. “Public parks are for everyone. They are the great equalizer. I do not support any sacrifices of public parks for private land gains.”
Likewise, Freddie Veikley of the Fenway said she believes that much of the open space that the project proposes is “wasted” and “redundant.”
“I don’t think it’s a very productive design of open space and think that [the open space] could be used for structures to result in decreased building height,” said Veikley, who described the project’s potential impact on the Emerald Necklace as “a private developer harming a protected public space.”
Meanwhile, another Fenway resident, Steve Wolf, wrote in the meeting chat: “No one has opposed the project and its promised benefits. Folks have opposed particular impacts on public parklands that fall entirely within the control of the developer and could be resolved without scuttling the project.”
To learn more about the project or submit public comments, visit the BPDA’s project website at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/longwood-place. Public comments can also be submitted via email to Sarah Black, BPDA project manager, at [email protected].