Harrison Albany Block Reduces Units, Makes Garage Smaller in Another Revamp

By Seth Daniel

In yet another revamp, the Harrison Albany Block project has proposed reducing the number of units from 687 to 650, to bring down some heights and to make the parking garage smaller.

The news came at a Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) public meeting on Monday and also in further discussions at the Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Wednesday night, Nov. 16.

“The new proposal is 650 units, a reduction of 37 units from the 687 that were proposed,” said project architect Alfred Wojciechowski of CBT Architects, speaking for developer Leggat McCall. “That means the 575 Albany Street changes from 10 stories to six stories. Also, the closest building to 700 Harrison Avenue drops an additional floor. Instead of 10 stories, we’re at nine stories and zoning allows us 11 stories.”

Additionally, Wojciechowski and Leggat McCall’s Bill Gause said the Floor Area Ratios (FAR) – a measure of density – will drop from 5.34 to 5.04.

Another change to the building is that the 10-foot setbacks on the larger towers as the buildings go up come at 55 feet to match the neighborhood, rather than at 70 feet – as required. Most of the rest of the project stayed the same, with two 120 foot building in the center of the block separated by a public green. The reduction in units would come strictly within the lowering of the 575 Albany St. building.

Another notable change is the reduction in parking spaces and the new configuration of the parking garage.

The garage will go from three levels to two levels and will have 450 spaces, with the ability to add 200 more spaces by using taller ceiling and stacker units (car on top of car).

“Instead of a 700 car garage, we’re looking at being permitted for a 650 car garage; we are also looking at doing that in two levels instead of three,” said Gause.

Further clarification of the plan indicated that there would be 450 spaces in the garage with the ability to go to 650 using stackers.

The reduction in units was welcomed, but still not to the liking of many residents who believed that it should be in the 500-unit range, and believed that it was said between 500 and 600 units would be proposed during an earlier revamp of the project this summer.

“We can’t do it,” said Gause. “It’s kind of a moot point…and it’s a much less dense use than what it should be. Someone wrote that down and everyone believes it.”

The parking situation was of particular importance to the crowd gathered Monday night at the Doctor’s Office Building for the public hearing.

Most wanted to know how they would keep any potential new residents from parking on the streets using resident parking spaces. Most apartments in Boston – including the Harrison Albany Block proposal – are “unbundled,” which means that renters have to pay extra for a parking space above their rent. A space does not come with the unit.

That has become particularly problematic where resident parking is in short supply like in the South End.

Boston Transportation Department (BTD) Planner Bill Conroy spoke at Monday’s hearing and said traffic and parking are likely at their max.

“Right now it’s getting to that point and we have an issue at the Seaport too,” he said. “I’m concerned that people in the area will have a car. They will want a place to store a car or leave a car. However, every day they’ll take the Silver Line or an Uber and leave their car.”

One avenue is to try to deny new residents into the resident parking program, which Conroy said is being considered, but likely isn’t a solution because it wouldn’t hold up in court.

The newest line of thinking, even with this project, he said is to think about making developers bundle the parking with the apartments, or even bundle a portion of the parking with the apartments. Otherwise, the concern is that thousands of new residents would try to save money by storing their cars within residential parking spaces that are now used by existing residents who do not have access to a building parking garage.

“We could bundle it,” he said. “We could do that. The only thing about doing that is it puts this developer at a competitive disadvantage in the market because we’ve not required anyone else to do it…We’re taking a look to see if we should bundle some units or not bundle some units. Nothing is finalized. The whole goal is to make sure the cars are in a garage somewhere.”

To date, that hasn’t been happening like the BTD had hoped, and Conroy said he has visited Laconia Lofts up the street and found that no one is utilizing the garage, but that there are cars in the development.

“That happened and we’re trying to pull away from that,” he said. “They’ll have their car parked and they’ll take the Silver Line or an Uber.”

Helaine Simmonds, who is on the IAG, said maybe now is the time to start requiring bundled parking.

“Maybe the ones that came before, it wasn’t necessary,” she said. “Now it’s necessary. That’s what you decided to do and now you’re stuck with the fact that you want to put hundreds of cars on the street.”

As for traffic, which has been a concern that to date hasn’t gotten much attention, Conroy said the Albany Street corridor has not gotten a signal timing update in some time, and work on timing the signals could proceed while construction is ongoing.

A major piece of the traffic plan seems to rely on making planned connections through the Flower Exchange and BioSquare. Part of a long-term plan is to have new connecting streets from East Concord and one other area along Albany Street that cut across to the Access Road.

A traffic engineer representing Leggat McCall indicated that it was their opinion cars from Harrison Albany Block would be easily able to travel in and out of the development without creating gridlock with about one car every 15 seconds during peak periods.

To help with that, Leggat McCall has instituted a plan to give free 60-day T passes to new residents at a cost of $100,000 in order to promote them using public transportation right off the bat.

The proposed project contains 10 percent of the units as affordable housing, which is 65 units on site. The units will be for a variety of median income ranges and would be a mix of unit types sprinkled throughout the buildings.

To fulfill it’s 20 percent affordable requirement, Leggat McCall will pay $13 million to the Housing Fund or to create additional affordable housing elsewhere.

They will also pay $900,000 to Boston Water and Sewer for inflow and infiltration.

There is also a proposed $1.2 million for off-site public benefits, including $350,000 for streetscape improvements to the south side of East Canton Street and the north side of East Dedham Street, $500,000 to the BTD for traffic analysis, $250,000 to Franklin Square for improvements and $100,000 to a community fund to be used within one mile of the development.

Harrison Albany Block submitted its Planned Development Area (PDA) on Oct. 14 and the comment period ends on Dec. 1.

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