Discussion Continues Behind Proposed Building for Air Rights Project above Turnpike

By Beth Treffeisen

Discussions continued about the proposed residential towers that will sit over the Massachusetts Turnpike, filling in the gap next to the Prudential Center down Boylston Street.

During the 18th community meeting, after years of setbacks, the Citizen Advisory Committee voiced their thoughts about the new design. This will be the second meeting this year hosted by the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). The request for proposals for parcels 12 – 15 began in September 2008.

“The main reason we are here again is because last time was a very different project than you saw before,” said Adam Weiner from Weiner Ventures, the development team behind this project. “We wanted to give you time to contemplate and come back with questions.”

The BPDA will begin the Article 80 Review Process for parcel 15 this winter.

The proposed project will have base of retail and parking garage to the same height as the Hynes Convention Center, than two residential towers, one with apartments and the other condos, extending from the podium. The entire project will be about 886,200 square feet.

The East Building, that will be closer to the Hynes Convention Center, will be 24 stories at 276 feet high and will consist of 182 apartments. The West Building that will sit closer to the Berklee College of Music will be 40 stories at 559 feet high and will hold 160 condominium units.

The parking garage that will run underneath both towers will hold a total of 303 parking spots.

The design has drastically changed since the first proposal that had a gapping hole onto the Turnpike on the corner of Boylston Street and Dalton Street.

“Everyone liked the one designated at the spot the last time but they said please get the credential and fill the hole,” said Weiner. “Because otherwise it would remain a hole forever.”

If another developer wanted to go in and fill that hole it would cause serious impacts to whatever building they proposed, causing too much difficulty.

After the developers worked to gain ownership of the air rights parcel owned by the Prudential Center, they worked to create a new design that quickly became complicated.

Once you fill the hole a lot of new problems arise, such as ventilating the new tunnel that will hold both cars and a train track. This has caused the cost to go up exponentially.

“There’s a reason why this will be the first air rights project to have new deck since Copley Place,” said Weiner.

The Boston Extension of the Massachusetts Turnpike was built in the 1960’s in order to connect the Turnpike to the center of the city. This resulted in a corridor running two and half miles through Boston and Brookline.

The Turnpike runs through urban districts and neighborhoods with different land uses, creating a major barrier between them. Development of the air rights parcels gives the city an opportunity to reconnect many of the city’s neighborhoods and provide economic benefits.

Efforts to deck over and develop the air rights created by the Turnpike began as early as the completion of the Boston Extension. The majority of the air rights developments concentrated in the Back Bay: the Prudential Center and the Hynes Auditorium built in the 1960’s, the John Hancock Tower Garage built in the 1970’s and Copley Place built in the 1980’s.

Two major concerns stemmed from the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC); one being the height for the area and the other on how to conceal the above ground parking garage that will sit over retail along Boylston Street.

The height Weiner said was to offset the additional costs of building tunnel. He also pointed to the other projects being proposed in the area and said the height here, seems minimal to the other buildings around the city.

“What was 50 percent parcel 50 percent air rights is now 25 percent parcel and 75 percent air rights,” said David Mandredi from Elkus-Mandredi Architects. “It’s become a lot more difficult.”

In regards to the above ground parking, CAC members asked for them to come up with something creative to block view of the cars being parked inside.

Residents of the community brought up the issue of affordable housing that is becoming increasingly scarce in both the Back Bay and Fenway neighborhoods.

“Half of Boston’s residents are rent burdened and to see time after again more and more luxury apartments built that no one in our communities are going to be able to afford. It’s just going to raise the rents in the area,” said Grace Holly a Fenway resident. “I want to emphasis that it’s a serious problem.”

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