South End/Roxbury Communities Need More Time for Hotel Alexandra Mitigation Package; Time Running out on Purchase and Sale Agreement

The Boston Planning and Development Agency held an Impact Advisory Group (IAG) meeting on Feb. 27, focusing on mitigation and community benefits. The meeting was very well attended and included City Councilor Kim Janey, neighborhood liaison Faisa Sharif, and Senior Preservation Planner Nick Armata. The consensus from the community after the meeting was that more time was needed to create a mitigation package, but the developers were uneasy as their purchase and sale agreement expiration date for the building is looming.

David Nagahiro of CBT Architects gave a presentation regarding the design approach to the hotel, to refresh both the IAG members and the public. He separated the presentation into three parts: public realm and traffic, historic restoration of the Alexandra, and the new addition.

Under public realm and traffic, Nagahiro discussed five different configurations of the sidewalk in front of the hotel. Currently, the silver line bus stop is on the corner of Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue. The developers want to create a place for drop-off in the front of the building, and the different options presented included moving the bus shelter to various different places in front of the hotel, taking the bump out of the corner, and shifting the parking around.

Option number five, which would move the bus shelter further down the street and moving the parking further down in front of the bus for valet, is the option that the “MBTA is more likely to accept,” according to BPDA Project Manager Michael Sinatra. While the different options are for the IAG to discuss, one of the IAG members said that the city and the MBTA need to decide where the bus gets moved to.

IAG member Quanda Burrell said that it makes more sense to move the bus further down the street, as she takes it often with her kids and the buses end up stacking and blocking the street.

For historic restoration of the Alexandra, Nagahiro said that portions of the finials, cornices, and cast iron columns will be brought back to their original state. He said that the bays on the Massachusetts Avenue side of the building currently have no protection for water penetration, so they will be completely rebuilt. They are also looking at stair thresholds that need to be replaced, and pieces of the limestone are also currently missing. The “intention is to bring it back to its original grandeur,” Nagahiro said.

For the new addition, Nagahiro said they are looking to have 150 keys in the building, which adds a lot of height. Their goal, he said, was to create a “simple massing that can act as the backdrop for the Alexandra,” using a color palette and material that would provide emphasis to the original structure and create details that “complement the craft of the Alexandra.”

Nagahiro said that there would be no parking for this building, as there an expectation that people will come by public transportation, ridesharing services, or cab.

After Nagahiro’s presentation, Councilor Kim Janey gave one of her own. She stood up and spoke of the importance of hiring the community to work on and in this hotel. “I just want to out that out there very clearly,” she said. She said that diversity and inclusion are “always at the top of my list,” and wants to see the workers who build the hotel and the permanent employees to be from diverse backgrounds—“that’s where the wealth is created,” she said. She said she would also like to see “clear plans around transportation” for people who walk and take the bus, as well as green space.

Another comment Janey made to the development team was that she wants to make sure that they will be “good neighbors”—“everyone needs access,” she said. She also said that it is important that guests at this hotel are directed to businesses in Dudley Square.

The IAG members then began their discussion of mitigation and community benefits.

“I agree with the community voices that have spoken out about a transparent mitigation process and it really needs to benefit the community,” said IAG member Nina LaNegra.

“We need to do outreach to the larger community to make sure that everybody is being represented,” said IAG member Steve Fox.

Carol Blair of the Chester Square Neighbors said that “this whole process has been very rushed. This project has not allowed for back and forth between development team and community,” she said. She provided the room with a list of specific concerns that the Chester Square Neighbors created.

Quanda Burrell said that the hotel should provide some opportunities for tweens on site, such as culinary classes or classes that teach basic home skills like making beds. Janey built off of this comment by saying that there needs to be an investment in Madison Park through opportunities for young people to gain experience, building raltionsuops, and give them some money while they are still in school.

Janey said she wants a commitment for these community benefits before moving forward with the BPDA vote. The group also discussed having another meeting to discuss community benefits further, because they were not ready to settle on a set list.

In addition to that, there were several arguments made that this project has been “misclassified.” There was a public comment saying that the BPDA has not notified Roxbury residents of this project, as it is classified as being in the South End.

“I think there is agreement that this process should be extended,” Janey said, but she said that people need to be careful about how things are phrased. “Certainly there should be more engagement,” she said. “I keep hearing people saying Roxbury residents haven’t been engaged or notified. That is not true,” she said. “Let’s not pit Roxbury neighbors against each other or Roxbury against South End,” she said. “Let’s cast the net wide so that we can have the engagement.”

Sinatra added that he has changed the classification of the project on the BPDA website so that people who are signed up for Roxbury notifications will now receive information regarding the Hotel Alexandra. “The South End and Roxbury should both be notified,” he said.

Luther Pinckney of Dudley Square Main Streets said that “the developers need to know that they are developing in Roxbury.”

“We are somewhat involved and are trying to be more involved,” he said. “We need to feel comfortable that our new neighbors are like our current neighbors.”

“I think it’s premature for us to talk about a [mitigation] package,” said Steve Fox. We haven’t done the necessary outreach to the community to say what it is you’re going to get impacted by.” He said there are impacts on local stores and other parts of the neighborhood that need to be considered. “And for us to try to decide tonight, it does a disservice to everybody.”

There was a general consensus that things were being rushed and needed to be slowed down so the community could get a better grasp on mitigation and make logical decisions.

The expiration on the purchase and sale agreement for the building is at the end of March. A member of the development team said that the Church of Scientology (who currently owns the hotel) needs the money and will not agree to extend the project past the end of the month. “We’ve had this property in limbo since June,” he said.

There were other comments surrounding parking and the fact that if everyone works together, the issues can be solved. “Give us not what we want but what we deserve,” someone said.

“I appreciate everybody’s feedback,” Sinatra said to wrap up the meeting. “Feel free to send comments over.” There is another public meeting scheduled for March 11 from 6 – 8 p.m. at St. Augustine’s and St. Martin’s Church at 29-33 Lenox St.

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