By Adam Swift
A massive mixed-use development that promises to transform the area around Fenway Park was approved by the Boston Planning & Development Agency’s Board of Directors at its monthly meeting on Thursday, July 13.
While the board approved the first 1.6 million square feet of the Fenway Corners project, it will be taking a vote on an additional 400,000 square feet of the project following the completion of the Fenway-Kenmore Transportation Action Plan. There was wide support for the project during the public comment period of last week’s meeting, although several community leaders said there were unanswered questions about the project and the at the board should have delayed action on the entire square footage until the completion of the transportation plan.
The mixed-use development on four major parcels includes eight buildings ranging from 40 to 265 feet, an approach which developers said will make the overall development appear more organic within the Fenway neighborhood. The development will include office and lab space, retailers, major streetscape and ground level improvements, and 266 residential units, of which 53 will be affordable, along Jersey Street, Brookline Avenue, and Van Ness Street.
One of the major highlights of the project will be the pedestrianization of Jersey Street to make it more of a community and city focal point outside of Fenway Park.
Fenway Corners is a joint enterprise of WS Development, the Fenway Sports Group (which owns the Red Sox among other national and international sports teams), and Twins Enterprises.
BPDA project manager Michael Sinatra said there has been a rigorous review process for the project over the last two years.
“The project has both evolved and improved significantly, and will greatly enhance some of the blighted areas around the park and create a more year-round destination,” said Sinatra. “When completed, the project will deliver a fully pedestrianized Jersey Street, a newly reimagined Arthur’s Alley, several streetscape improvements, as well as 266 units of housing, 20 percent of which will be designated as affordable housing through the inclusionary development policy.”
The project also includes several on-site transportation improvements, as well as approximately $10 million for Brookline Avenue and surrounding streets as part of the ongoing Fenway-Kenmore Transportation Plan, Sinatra added.
“The proponent has also committed several additional benefits in response to direct feedback from the community, key among them is a 10,000 square foot daycare center which will be available to all Fenway residents, as well as a renovation of a duck house located on Agassiz Way,” said Sinatra.
Yanni Tsipis of WS Development said the overall project represents a commitment to “achieve social justice through design” in the city.
“We are here to embrace the need to create welcoming places that reflect the better angels of our Bostonian nature, the soul and character of the old matched by the innovation and creativity and promise of the future,” said Tsipis. “There are opportunities for small businesses and startups to thrive and create generational wealth, opportunities for public events and programs and art that reflect the diversity of our city, and above all, a common ground … where all Bostonians can feel welcomed and embraced and excited and empowered.”
Kelly Brilliant, the executive director of the Fenway Alliance, which represents 21 cultural and academic institutions in the Fenway, said her group was heartily endorsing the project.
“We like the way it has evolved over 21/2 years to address many of the community members’ concerns,” said Brilliant. “What we really like is the vibrancy it brings to this iconic neighborhood that, as iconic as it is, you can clearly see from the before pictures it needs some work to be brought into the 21st century.”
The development plan creates a more pedestrian-friendly and vibrant place, Brilliant said, and she encouraged the developers to use the planned performance spaces to highlight local festivals, performers, and artists.
“We feel that this brings Fenway Park into the 21st century and gives it the kind of iconic feel, look, and experience it deserves,” said Brilliant.
However, Dolores Boogdanian, president of the Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association, said she still had reservations about the project.
“I want to be a believer, I think this project has a lot of good aspects to it, there are some elements of it that are attractive, and I think the goals are lofty and ones I can fully support,” said Boogdanian. “But there are some inconvenient truths here.”
Boogdanian noted that while the project does comply with zoning for the neighborhood, the zoning was recently changed to accommodate the Fenway Corners project.
“For a project of this magnitude, going on some supplemental filings after a draft project impact report is insufficient,” she said. “If any project warrants a final impact report to take into account all of the concerns raised about the project (it’s this one).”
Alex Sawczynec of the Fenway Civic Association said there still needs to be additional study of the traffic, specifically around traffic on days when there are games or events at Fenway Park.
“Traffic has yet to be fully addressed,” he said.
Tsipis noted that the BPDA approvals last Thursday provide the zoning framework for the project, and that each of the eight individual buildings will be subject to a multitude of ongoing review processes.
“I want to thank WS for their really thoughtful and inclusive process that has brought together folks from various communities throughout the Fenway in moving this forward,” said BPDA Board member Dr. Ted Landsmark. “They have put forward a very thoughtful conclusion here to develop with those sections of the neighborhood that could certainly use some improvements.”