By Beth Treffeisen
Two new glossy towers on top of a podium of retail and above ground parking is taking shape to replace the gaping hole that leads down to the Massachusetts Turnpike, next to the Hynes Convention Center in the Back Bay. But this new design, after two years of delay, is far from the original one tower that many residents had in mind for this spot along Boylston Street.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held the 19th meeting for the Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) on the air rights parcel 15, known as 1000 Boylston Street, this past Tuesday, February 14 at St. Cecilia’s Church in the Back Bay.
The proposed project will have a base of retail and above ground parking up to the same height as the Hynes Convention Center. Extending from the base two towers, one with apartments and other with condos will make up the entire project of about 886,200 square feet.
The east building will be 24 stories at 276 feet high and will consist of 182 apartments. The west building will be 40 stories at 559 feet high and will hold 160 condominium units.
The parking garage that will sit underneath the two towers will hold a total of 303 spots with the ability to convert into another use if the parking need is no longer there.
This meeting marked the start of the Article 80 process after the developer filed the Project Notification Form (PNF) in January. There is another community meeting to be held at St. Cecilia’s Church starting at 6 p.m. on February 28 along with another CAC meeting before the developers file a Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR).
Since part of the air rights is owned by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT), this project will have to separately file a draft environmental report to the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act (MEPA).
“I live in this neighborhood and this is extremely important to me,” said Adam Weiner from Weiner Ventures whose home is in the neighborhood.
At the meeting members of the CAC voiced their concerns about the new design that has drastically changed since the first proposal that had one tower but still had a gapping hole on the Turnpike on the corner of Boylston Street and Dalton Street.
After hearing public feedback to fill in the hole, the developers got the rights to the Prudential Center air rights parcel and filled it in with this new design. But, once the developers began planning, it soon became complicated when new issues arose by creating a new tunnel underneath.
“We went from 50 percent parcel to 50 percent air rights to two-thirds with parcel now as air rights,” said David Manfredi the architect behind the project. “The degree of difficulty has moved significantly.”
Kathleen Brill from the Fenway Civic Association on the CAC voiced that this new design has a height increase of 47 percent and a gross floor area increase of 37 percent.
“That’s a pretty significant increase,” said Brill. “There are two towers now, which doesn’t fit in with the initial description.”
David Lapin on the CAC asked what the developers plans where to make sure that the retail outlined for this project succeeds despite the recent closures of retail stores in the area.
“It is rare that tenants engage this early in the process,” said Weiner. “But will look at all the tenants and make sure it is a place they want to be in and make it a feasible size with the right space to match.”
The project will require zoning relief under the Zoning Code in order to approve the Planned Development Area (PDA) being proposed.
This project is the culmination of a planning process of over 15 years as shown in the 2000 “Civic Vision for Turnpike Air Rights in Boston” and will infill the entire breach along the south side of Boylston Street between Dalton Street and St. Cecilia Street.
Fritz Casselman on the CAC brought up worries on how the design has changed and doesn’t really follow the Civic Vision. He pointed to how the developers of Parcel 15 are also in charge of building an office building or residential building at the air rights Parcel 12 and will be responsible behind three towers in the area.
“How do you add a two towers today, when five years ago, you were very close to the vision of only going for one?” asked Casselman.
Manfredi responded by saying that the additional complexities of adding a tunnel made the project much harder to become economically viable, thus the creation of two towers, instead of one.
Meg-Mainzer-Cohen of the Back Bay Association on the CAC said that since 1998 to 1999 when the Civic Vision was created nothing has come out of it successfully.
She said, “We spent many, many hours on it and so far it hasn’t been brought to fruition.”