Plans for 125–127 Comm. Ave. Meet With Unfavorable Response at NABB Committee Meeting

A plan to lease a property at 125-127 Commonwealth Ave. to house adults with unspecified personal challenges as they transition into permanent housing was met with a resoundingly unfavorable response from neighbors on hand for the monthly meeting of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay Licensing and Building Use Committee held virtually on Monday, March 5.

​Michael Larkin, the attorney representing the applicant, said Eliot  Community Human Services, a nonprofit that has provided services to at-risk individuals with limited or no resources since 1958, has entered into an agreement for a term of three to five years to lease the Commonwealth Avenue property.

​While the license would allow for 113 occupants, Larkin said no more than 75 people maximum would be living there at any given time.

​The occupants would be overseen by full-time staff, said Larkin, and “handpicked” to live there for a minimum of a year as their last stop before they transition into permanent housing.

​Wrap-around services would be provided on-site for occupants including basic life skills; independent living skills; and social and interpersonal skills, added Larkin.

​Occupants could potentially include a  “wide swath of people,” according to Larkin, including individuals suffering from TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury).

​While he refused to elaborate any more on who the expected occupants might be, Larkin made assurances that none would be direct referrals from the courts or criminal justice systems.

​“It’s not the Pine Street inn. It’s not Mass. and Cass, It’s not what this place is,” said Larkin, despite WBUR reporting that Eliot  Community Human Services Eliot  had helped place 150 people from Mass. and Cass into permanent housing last year.

Moreover, the occupants would be subject to a number of rules, including a strict no-visitors policy, said Larkin.

​Larkin also agreed to take a related proposal from the same applicant to use a building at 164 Marlborough St. for similar purposes off the table.

But despite Larkin’s many assurances, some neighbors were still unsettled by what was perceived as a lack of transparency surrounding who the tenants would ultimately be.

“I’m sure plenty of people would  love Mr. Larkin’s [organization] in their neighborhood, but not in my backyard,” said Charles Talanian, president of C. Talanian Realty, as well as an abutter and a 45-year resident of the Back Bay.

Talanian added that he has inquired about purchasing the property in question and “doing the right thing” with it.

Another neighbor, Bruce Friedman, expressed concern that the first round of tenants in the building would be selected to “make a good impression.” But this, he said, “would provide no degree of comfort…as to who will be occupying the building in 24 months.”

Jennifer Borman, head of school for the Commonwealth School,  a private high school that sits at 151 Commonwealth Ave., directly across from the site, also wanted to know more about who would be living in a property so close to their campus.

Others longtime Back Bay residents expressed concern that the property’s occupants could end up having an adverse effect on their quality of life, as well as on their property values.

Elliott Laffer, a long-serving NABB board member who chaired the meeting in the absence of regular committee chair, Conrad Armstrong, advised the applicant to carefully consider the deteriorated condition of the property, especially in light of ADA requirements.

Laffer also predicted that the applicant would likely find themselves before the city’s Board of Appeal to address zoning issues, if the plan moves forward.

Despite the skepticism surrounding this project, Laffer pointed out that several years ago, NABB had supported the transformation of the former YW building at 140 Clarendon St. into affordable housing, with numerous units designated for the recent homeless.

Larkin agreed to Laffer’s request that he return for another public meeting sponsored by NABB, which could take place either in person or virtually, to discuss the proposal in greater detail, and to directly address the concerns of neighbors.

In another matter, future plans for the building at 761-793 Boylston St., which was previously home to Crate & Barrel, were discussed.

Tavistock Development Company purchased the building along, with its two restaurant tenants – Abe & Louie’s at 793 Boylston St. and Atlantic Fish Company at 761 Boylston St., respectively, – from the late restaurant mogul, Charles F. Sarkis, in 2011, said Chad Tinetti, vice president of the Orlando, Fla.-based real estate firm.

An empty retail space located in the basement and on the first floor between Abe & Louie’s and Atlantic Fish is now poised to become home to First Watch, a national chain of restaurants serving made-to order breakfast, brunch, and lunch (but not dinner) dishes, said Tinetti. He added that Tavistock expects First Watch would complement the two existing restaurants by providing a more affordable menu and by offering breakfast, unlike the other two establishments.

The new restaurant would operate a patio on private property in the “deep plaza” along Boylston Street, said Tinetti, while a second entrance would also be created for increased access.

Meanwhile, Swingers, a UK-based chain offering ‘elevated’ miniature golf, is poised to take over another approximately 20,000 square feet on the more than half of the building’s second floor and its entire third floor, said Jason Enany, senior vice president of sales for the company’s U.S. Division. (Laffer questioned the stated square footage, however, as he thinks the space is significantly smaller.)

Although Swingers would be permitted for a maximum of 720 occupants, between 350 and 400 patrons are expected during peak hours on its three nine-hole golf courses, said Enany, who previously appeared before the committee in December of 2022 to discuss Swingers’ since-abandoned plans to open at 31 St. James Ave.

The projected weekday clientele would be largely corporate, as well as workers from the leisure and hospitality industries, said Enany, with more families expected during the early part of the day on weekends.

Swingers would likely partner with local restaurants to provide comfort food, including burgers, pizza, and Mexican fare, said Enany, which would be prepared on site in the second-floor kitchen and brought to patrons by wait staff.

In addition to abundant seating, multiple bar spaces would also be located throughout the venue, offering beer, wine and liquor.

Tinetti said the applicant would return to the LBU Committee once they have secured a liquor license for the current location. He added that Swingers had previously secured a liquor license for the once-proposed St. James Avenue location.

Swingers on Boylston Street could be either a sole company venture or a joint venture, which could also involve Tavistock, said Tinetti.

A tentative future phase for the Boylston Street building would include a proposed five-story addition comprising two floors of office and fitness space below nine residential units on three stories, said Tinetti, but no date has been set yet for this next step in the building’s redevelopment.

Laffer told both applicants he would inform them of NABB’s position on their respective applications by Friday of next week (Mach 15), after the group’s Executive Committee is scheduled to meet.

The committee was also slated to hear from representatives for Teazzi Tea Shop-Newbury, a new bubble-tea shop proposed for 232 Newbury St. But that matter ultimately wasn’t heard by the committee due to the applicant’s failure to appear as scheduled at the virtual meeting.

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