SELDC, neighbors appreciative of latest proposal for Worcester St. building, but say there’s still more work to do

Southenders gathered in City Hall’s Piemonte Room on March 2 for the second advisory review by the South End Landmark district Commission (SELDC) regarding the proposed building at 115 Worcester St.
LIHC Investment Group, who also owns the nearby Concord Houses, proposed a 55-unit (reduced from 60 in a previous proposal), five-story market-rate residential building with studios and one-, two-, and three-bedroom units.
For about a year, LIHC has been working with neighbors in the immediate area of the proposa, as well as several neighborhood associations. The proposal presented to the SELDC on Tuesday evening is the fifth iteration of the design, which includes massing and design changes based on feedback the design team received from the community and the Commission after the project was presented at the January hearing of the SELDC.
Architect Jay Szymanski presented the proposal, beginning with a list of comments heard at last month’s Advisory Review hearing. Comments included that the design was “too monolithic,” had too much mass for the street, and that the roof-line should be broken in more places. The team was asked to study the proportion of bays and windows, as well as the articulation of window openings, and to return for another advisory meeting, among other comments.
The SELDC was very appreciative that the design team took the time to include this in their presentation, as they said very few applicants do so.
The proposed building will be five stories with a stepback on the fourth story, and the ground floor remains “pretty much the same as it was before,” Szymanski said. Parking is below the deck on the back side of the building.
“Generally, we increased the amount of brick that’s on the facade,” Szymanski said, as there was previously more metal on the facade.
Accessible units will be mixed throughout the building, but the entire building must be accessible to allow everyone to be able to travel throughout, he said.
The Commissioners allowed the public to make comments, since so many members of the public showed up. However they made a note that it was not required of them to take public comment during an advisory review.
Many of those who came agreed on comments that they wanted to make and elected representatives to speak on behalf of a larger group of neighbors.
Dave Hamilton, a direct abutter to the proposed building, said that he feels the newly presented design “is still fairly monolithic and there is still too much massing from the street.” He said that the massing of buildings on Tremont Street should not be pulled onto Worcester Street, and many neighbors agreed with him.
Jill Christians, another direct abutter, said that the vantage from Concord Square is that the building is “monolithic,” though she said she does appreciate the changes to the facade to a more-traditional look that is in keeping with other buildings on Worcester Street.
Christians said that she and others are “very concerned that this is not representative of a quiet, non-commercial street.”
Another major concern of several direct abutters was the impact the construction of this building would have on their rubble stone foundations, as they are worried that constriction will cause structural issues for their homes. The SELDC said that the point was well taken, but issues like that are not within the purview of the Commission.
David Stein, a resident on Tremont Street, said that while he understands more work needs to be done on the proposal, he is happy to see housing being built on that site.
Another neighbor, Renee Smith, also stated that she was thankful for the changes that have been made to the proposal, but she feels that some of the feedback the community gave has not been acknowledged by the project team. “We just don’t think it’s in the spirit of community feedback that they’ve done much,” she said.
After public comment, the Commissioners took time to make comments and provide feedback on the proposal. Commissioner Diana Parcon told the team that she appreciates the lowering of the height from previous proposals, but she said she feels the building does not feel like a South End building.
“From our perspective, it’s made a big jump from the last time you were here,” Commissioner John Freeman said. “We appreciate that you’re trying to respond.” He said that as an architect himself, he understands the pressures that come from the neighborhood as well as economic pressures on a project, but the purview of the SELDC is to examine the proposal as a South End building and to work with the project team to create a building that suits the needs of the proponents while protecting and celebrating the history of the neighborhood.
“It doesn’t feel like it’s a South End building,” Freeman said, agreeing with Parcon, “but it’s getting close to one.” He said that he feels it is too big and too tall even though the height is in compliance with requirements. “South End buildings are most articulated at the ground level and at the entrances,” he said. “I think that South End buildings celebrate the entrances.”
Amodeo echoed the sentiment of being thankful that the team has demonstrated effort to fix things that were of concern at the last advisory review. He said he believes the setback helps with making the building seem like it is four stories instead of five. “Wrapping the brick around more as you have helps an awful lot,” he added.
He said that a bottom, a middle, and a top makes a good South End building, and not enough attention has been paid to the top of the building.
The Commissioners continued discussing some of the finer details of the proposal and made some other suggestions, and left it up to the proponents to decide whether they want to come back for another advisory review, or to come back with a design review proposal for a vote. No date has been set for another hearing, but once a date has been set it will be available on the City of Boston website for public viewing.

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