By Beth Treffeisen
The expansion of the Landmark Center is taking a different turn with the addition of more lab and office space as opposed to the original plan for a retail podium alongside four residential buildings.
The proponent, Samuels & Associates filed a Notice of Project Change on Aug. 30, with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA), stating a change in the current market no longer would make the project of constructing luxury apartments in the area feasible.
“The market has changed a lot since 2014,” said Abe Menzin from Samuels & Associates at a BPDA public meeting on Wednesday, Sept 17. “We are no longer able to do residential, and we are now doing office and lab space. It’s just not feasible to have luxury apartments, but the Van Ness [a mix-use development at 1325 Boylston St.] is 100 percent leased out.”
The current plan will replace some of the retail and 600 units of housing that was approved by the BPDA in 2014 with a 14-story office and laboratory building on the southwest corner of Brookline Ave., and Fullerton St.
The new building will be slightly taller than the Landmark Center, topping off at 208 feet, serving as a backdrop to the 195-foot Landmark Center.
The original plans called for the demolition of the above-ground parking garage and replacement with a below-grade garage. But the current plan no longer requires the demolition of the garage, which will minimize disruption and shorten construction timeframes.
“We are going to work around the existing garage,” said Menzin. “It was too challenging and costly. It would have been too difficult to operate the [Landmark Center] and bring in the tunnels for the underground garage. We’re working around it.”
Phase 1 includes a little over one-acre open space on Park Drive, extensive streetscape improvements, interior renovations and a destination food hall – all of which have previously been approved and are currently under construction. The anticipated completion of Phase 1 is expected by 2018.
Phase II will include demolition of the retail building (a non-historic addition) at the southwest corner of Brookline Avenue, intersection with Fullerton Street, currently occupied by the art materials retailer Blick – which is anticipated to move elsewhere on the site.
Landscaping improvements include activating public open space to complement the Muddy River restoration, creating connectivity and permeability through the building at the ground floor level, enhancing access to the Fenway MBTA station and improving nearby traffic intersections.
By demolishing the building it will allow for a greater setback of 60 feet for the new office/lab building. This will allow for a new public plaza at the southwest corner of Brookline Avenue, and improvements to the streetscape along Brookline Avenue.
“This intersection is not just bad during Red Sox games anymore,” said David Manfredi, the architect behind this project. “On any Tuesday night it can be horrible…this will give an opportunity to fix that during construction.”
The new improvements, specifically at the intersection of Brookline Avenue, and Fullerton Street, include a new one-way bike lane and wider sidewalk with ADA accessibile ramps.
There also will be work in partnership with the City and State to build a multi-use path along the railway from the MBTA station to Fullerton Street. It will include new lighting and make it nicer than sending people through what is now a surface parking lot and loading dock zone.
“The piece we are in charge of is rebuilding the path,” said Menzin. “Now people come off the T and wander through the parking lot, and it’s not safe. Building a wider path will keep people from walking through the parking lot.”
A public meeting on the pathway will be held in November. There is currently funding for the 25 percent of the design from the city and it is uncertain about gaining funding for possible floodgates by the state, according to the transportation representative for Samuels & Associates.
One area of the Landmark Center that Samuels & Associates will be leaving for now is the corner that holds the large suburban box stores including Best Buy, Longhorn Steakhouse, Staples and REI. The tenants have a long-term lease that go through 2030.
“It feels a little unfinished, but we can’t do anything as of right now,” said Menzin.
Richard Giordano from the Fenway Community Development Corporation said he is disappointed to see the loss in apartment units, but understands the cost of tearing down and building a below-grade parking garage can be expensive.
“There were about 550 units that included zoning for the Inclusionary Development Policy with low-cost apartments,” said Giordano. “But if they say the cost is not feasible – hey, what are you going to say?”
Giordano said that the new office space is going, to include linkage funding that will go towards job creating and affordable housing.
One issue that residents raised was the wind impact the new building will have. As of right now, the colder winter months also means windy sidewalks that can be hard to navigate.
Street landscaping with additional street trees will help mitigate some of the corners, but to the demise of some, there will still be some windy intersections.
Fenway resident Brenda Lew asked if there was any way to improve the intersection at Kilmarnock St., “I sometimes find myself holding onto the pole to stay up because it’s so windy.”
Unfortunately, there is no room to put in any street trees in that area.
Construction for Phase II is expected to begin in 2019.
The comment period for this project ends on Oct. 6. An Impact Advisory Board meeting was held on Monday, Oct. 2.