Leggat McCall to Revise Albany Block Project

By Seth Daniel

The principals for the Albany Block project told members of the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association on Tuesday night that they would be re-presenting their controversial project to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) in the coming weeks in a new configuration that contains fewer units and shorter buildings.

“We presented this and had a lot of comments about it being too tall,” said Bill Gause of Leggat McCall. “The comments ranged from it being too tall to the architecture not being interesting. There were comments about the mitigation package and comments about it having too much open space. There were also concerns about the affordable component. We’ve been re-tooling this over the last several weeks and are in the process of re-presenting it to the BRA. Some people wanted more home ownership and this is a rental building. That cannot change, though, as our investor has rules that require this to be built as a rental project… The next time I come I will be back in front of you with a revised project. We will be coming back to an IAG (Impact Advisory Group) meeting with a different project. That will trigger a re-opening of the comment period and the comment period will be extended.”

While he could not give specifics about the new project, Gause said it would be fewer that the proposed 710 units in the current plan.

“You’ll be looking at between 500 and 600 units,” he said.

He also said the buildings would be lower, likely bringing down the 19-story building to match the proposed 12-story building. That would allow them to add more height to the two existing buildings on Harrison and Albany Streets – giving the project a more uniform look in height.

The parking plan for 745 parking spaces will not change, he said. That sparked some quick conversation about whether or not Boston Medical Center (BMC) employees will be allowed to buy spaces in the garage. Currently, BMC employees park on the surface lot that dominates the site now. Gause said there are no spots promised to BMC now, but they will likely be offered spots that aren’t used – and probably 100 to 200 spots are what is expected.

“Every person in the development who wants to buy a spot will be able to get a spot,” he said. “We can push BMC out according to our needs.”

The concern there, naturally, was the fact that neighbors foresee BMC commuters being pushed into the surrounding neighborhoods, which is something the next iteration of the project will likely have to address.

The current project is proposed to have four buildings with 710 residential units, 14,100 sq. ft. of retail space spread out through three of the buildings and 40,100 sq. ft. of commercial office space. The office space would be located exclusively within the Gambro building, which is an existing three-story building that will be kept as is on Harrison Avenue, and a renovated five-story building at 575 Albany St. A neighborhood park will be constructed next to the Gambro Building.

Two new buildings will be constructed in a campus-style layout, including a 19-story and 12-story building for residential (which includes an amenity floor and roof-top swimming pool).

One major theme in the meeting, which was made up mostly of homeowners and condo owners, was the need for larger units and ownership opportunities. The consensus of the standing-room only crowd on hand was that there needs to be units that will accommodate families – not just young, single people and empty-nesters.

“We want people to have a stake in the neighborhood by owning their units and to stay here and have families,” said Natalie Truong of Harrison Avenue. “You can’t do that with one-bedrooms and studios that rent for $3,000 a month. To afford that, I figured up you have to make $160,000 for a household…From a value proposition aspect, it doesn’t really make sense.”

Russell Hanson agreed and said families want to stay, but find themselves running out of space.

“As someone who is trying to raise a family in the city, one bedrooms and studios are not addressing a community need in the South End,” he said. “The community need is to have more bedrooms and larger units. People in the neighborhood have a family and have more kids and then have to move because they run out of space.”

Another key issue is the proposed park and large amounts of open space.

Previously, Neighborhood Association leaders compromised with Leggat McCall to get more open space in return for allowing the 19-story building – which is 80 feet above what is allowed in the Planned Development Area (PDA) zoning.

However, that all changed when abutters spoke out in great numbers last month against the height of the building. That elicited another compromise effort where the proposed park on Harrison was eliminated to make more building space in order to squash down the height of the larger building.

In return, an investment in Franklin Square Park was contemplated as an open space mitigation.

“We really didn’t see this open space and park on Harrison as a community benefit,” said Eric Huang, president of Blackstone/Franklin Square.

That conflicted with a lot of parents in the room.

Many said that Blackstone Park and Franklin Square are not appropriate places for children to play, and they are also too far away. Many people in the room seemed to favor a new play area for young kids and toddlers within the proposed Albany Block.

Some also pointed out that the underlining zoning, without the PDA zoning, is only seven stories, and the original use intended for the parcel in the Albany Harrison Corridor Planning Study is for institutional and research uses – not residential.

“We live in a mid-rise neighborhood,” said Brooke Knight, an abutter. “To even go up to 120 feet is an overage and still much higher than the largest buildings here.”

  • In other news at Blackstone/Franklin Square, the owners of the proposed Anoush’ella: Saj Kitchen restaurant at 35 W. Newton – in what is now a vacant building – were very warmly received. The restaurant is a proposed eastern Mediterranean fast casual concept with a beer and wine license and a proposed seating inside of 60 people and 40 outside.

The owners explained that the concept relies on an ancient way of making bread on a very specialized rounded grill – known as a saj. After the bread is made, customers will be able to choose their toppings for what is like a pita sandwich. There will also be a labne (strained yogurt) bar with healthy toppings.

In all, most in the room seemed very receptive and glad that some life will be brought to the empty corner.

President Eric Huang said he supports the venture and added that the Washington Gateways group has also supported the application.

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