Two new hotels are proposed to come to the gateway of Kenmore Square, concerning current residents that the large scale project will only make it worse for the congested corner of the city.
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public hearing on Monday, April 23, at Boston University, where residents voiced their initial concerns.
The redevelopment project is a collaboration between Mark Kenmore, LLC and Buckminster Annex Corporation proposing two new hotels on adjacent redevelopment sites in Kenmore Square.
The Mark Kenmore project is located at 560 Commonwealth Ave., at the intersection of Commonwealth and Beacon Street, the current location of a one-story bank building. The Buckminster is proposing at 655-665 Beacon Street, adjacent to the existing Buckminster Hotel, which will remain.
The proponent filed a project notification form on March 12, 2018, and the comment period ends on May 1, 2018.
The Commonwealth project, proposed by Mark Development, will include a new 24 story hotel building with 382 rooms, ground floor retail and community amenity space that will replace the existing single-story Citizens Bank building on the triangle parcel.
The Beacon Street project, proposed by the owners of the Buckminster Hotel, is a development of a new hotel behind the existing Buckminster, which replaces the buildings currently at 655-665 Beacon Street with a 19-story, 295 room hotel with ground floor retail and 145 space below grade parking garage.
“Instead of being a go through destination we want to make it a go to destination,” said Haril Pandya, CBT Architects for the Commonwealth Ave. component. “This is a very positive gateway site and we have a monumental opportunity that can transform it to be beautiful and something to be proud of. People outside the city can come and visit the buildings.”
The two projects have plans to file together under a Planned Development Area (PDA).
A PDA is an overlay to the existing underlying zoning designed to promote and accommodate large-scale, complex development where the underlying zoning may prohibit such development’s uses and scale.
The overlay provides for a greater flexibility of zoning, and additional controls for the development, as well as public benefits for the surrounding community and neighborhood.
It requires that the area be no less than one acre of land, which both the hotels together and surrounding land make. Zoning relief is given if the PDA is granted, meaning the project will not have to go the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) if the BPDA board approves it.
Members of the public expressed that this would be a misuse of a PDA because the site is less than one acre, has two different owners and developers, and has lack of community benefits or transit improvements.
“There is no question in my mind that the BRA (Boston Redevelopment Agency, now the BPDA), has never met with a project they didn’t love,” said Kathy Greenough an Audubon Circle resident. “Putting the hotels through together makes it easier to get a PDA. For me having the buildings go through together you miss out on the details of each of the projects on their own.”
If the two buildings were to go through the zoning process on their own as an as-of-right project, the development could be anything that is 2,400 square feet with no height restriction according to the Commonwealth Developments attorney. Many of the buildings in the area, including the co-op building are already out of compliance with this zoning.
Residents voiced that the height and scale of these two hotels don’t fit within the current context of Kenmore Square.
“What your proposing is so out of touch in terms of scale,” said Dolores Boogdanian, an Audubon Circle resident. “When you have a building this tall it will cast shadows around the immediate area and immediate buildings and space. You don’t enliven an area with shadow.”
Residents said they are concerned over the small percentage of parking planned for both hotels. But both developers said they see their clientele most likely taking public transportation or car sharing services to reach them.
Others brought up concerns over safety including a dangerous right-hand turn out of the Commonwealth Hotel, which is currently proposed; increase in traffic that will lead to slowing down fire trucks and ambulances; and high buildings looking into Fenway Park, which can pose as an active shooter situation.
Residents of the condo buildings next-door raised significant concern over how the building will become less livable. The new hotel on Commonwealth Avenue will block significant sunlight and take away the view of the Citgo sign for many of its long-term residents.
“Where are the people?” asked Holly Berry, a longtime Fenway advocate. “The co-op is going to be blinded by natural sunlight and you keep mentioning creating a square but what makes square is a common space shared by people… but right now you don’t have the human element.”