Durkan Advocates for Exemption for Charlesgate Project

In response to a developer’s plan to subdivide a parcel as a way to circumvent the Boston Parks Commission’s Parks and Parkways Ordinance, District 8 City Councilor Sharon Durkan intends to file an amendment that would exempt only the 2 Charlesgate West address from the existing ordinance.

Courtesy of the City’s Planning Department.
A view of the rendering for the proposed 2 Charlesgate West project as seen from Ipswich Street.

​Morro, a developer of multi-family housing, has proposed a 276,000 square-foot project comprising 400 fully furnished, smaller dwelling units; 2,900 Square feet of retail at the Ipswich Street level; and indoor bike parking for 408 bikes. No onsite parking is proposed for the project, although it would create an off-street loading area.

As proposed, the site would be divided into Lot A, fronting the Back Bay Fens, which would have a maximum height of 70 feet; and Lot B, froningt Ipswich Street, with allowable building heights in the range of 295 feet.

Councilor Durkan outlined her plan to file the amendment ordinance at a city-sponsored, joint -Impact Advisory Group (IAG) and public meeting for the 2 Charlesgate West project held virtually on Monday, July 1.

Councilor Durkan acknowledged that the project had taken root long before she was elected to the City Council last summer. But she voiced her support for the project based on it creating “affordability and accessibility” in terms of both new housing in the neighborhood, along with investments in parkland, landscaping, and wayfinding, among other amenities for the neighborhood.

The project had originally been proposed by Scape, a British real estate developer and Morro’s sister brand, in 2021, then conceived as a  251,000 square-foot building, comprising 400 residential housing units, 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail, and 75 below grade parking spaces.

Councilor Durkan pointed to how the IAG, which comprises representatives from some of the most significant Fenway stakeholders, helped shape the project. She said she intended to file her proposed ordinance amendment at the City’s Council’s July 10 meeting at City Hall, and to get it passed before the city considers any zoning variances related to the project. Councilor Durkan’s office has also pledged to work with the Boston Parks Department to ensure that the new ordinance amendment is implemented in an effective and timely manner, said Kennedy Avery, the councilor’s chief of staff.

The 2 Charlesgate West application is tentatively set to go before the Boston Planning & Development Agency board for a vote at its July 18 meeting, said Brett Bentson, a principal at Utile Architecture, and if it’s approved, the applicant would then be seeking zoning relief from the city for the project soon thereafter.

Councilor Durkan said her proposed ordinance amendment would hinge on the understanding that no future developers are able to subdivide their parcels as a way around the ordinance.

(The Boston Parks Commission’s Parks and Parkways Ordinance, which mandates that any construction or alteration made within 100 feet of a park or parkway requires the commission’s approval.)

Although Councilor Durkan said some might view her proposed ordinance amendment as a ‘compromise,’ she countered that “innovation isn’t possible without a compromise,” and that “the Fenway has achieved both through this project.”

Councilor Durkan also pledged to work with the city and the developer to create a ‘dedicated revenue stream’ for the Boston Parks Department via on-site street-furniture advertising.

Meanwhile, David Hunt, chief development officer for Morro, detailed the nearly $3.2 million in community benefits from the project, which marks a $558,000 increase from when the developer last presented their plans in April.

Among these benefits are the creation of 68 on-site, affordable apartments, which account for 17 percent of the project’s 400 total units; a $300,000 contribution to the Fenway CDC (Community Development Corporation) for affordable housing in the Fenway, which amounts to a $200,00 increase from before; a $500,000 contribution to the Boston Parks Department’s Back Bay Fens Trust Fund, which marks a $400,00 increase from before; and $100,000 to the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) for tree care in the Back Bay Fens.

A sum of $850,000 has also been earmarked for the creation of a ‘Grand Public Stair’ and elevator connecting Boylston and Ipswich streets, along with $50,000 to create accessible restrooms for Emerald Necklace visitors.

(Since the public staircase would be built on private property, Morro would bear its maintenance responsibilities, including snow removal and landscaping, said Hunt. He added that the affordable housing units would be memorialized as such for 30 years to start while the city has the option to subsequently extend those terms for another 30 years; he said if the city would allow it, the developer would designate the units as affordable into perpetuity, as was their original intention.)

Pam Beale, an IAG member, applauded the developer for changing their proposal in deference to the community’s concerns and voiced her support for the project, which, she said will bring housing and other benefits to the community. She also applauded the project’s ample mitigation package.

While Marie Fukuda, another IAG member and longtime Fenway resident, also commended the developer for adapting the project in response to community feedback, she said, “My main concern is the project is too big.”

Fukuda added that the project is out of scale, compared to adjacent buildings, and also isn’t compliant with the city’s current zoning regulations. She said the promised mitigation can’t be sufficient enough to justify “casting aside” zoning and park protections, and as a result, these resources should be allocated towards the parks.

“If the goal is to build a reasonable project, with reasonable park protections, you haven’t done it,” said Fukuda. “If the goal was to build a project despite zoning and park protections, I guess that you’ve accomplished that.”

Furthermore, Fukuda said she was disappointed to see that the proposed public staircase wouldn’t connect to walking paths that front homes. She also said she doesn’t want to see any street-furniture advertising in the parks and thinks it should be limited to Ipswich Street.

​During public testimony, Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, was among those who lamented the project’s proposed height, which, at 275 feet plus mechanicals, would exceed the gateway’s allowable height of 140 feet by more than 100 percent.

“The height is simply out of ratio with the other buildings – it’s simply too tall,” he said.

​Horn also expressed deep concern that per the shadow study, the project would cast three new hours of shadow on parkland from noon to 3 p.m. on spring days; and that the project is also expected to have an adverse wind impact on the area, especially in cold weather.

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