The Ellis South End Neighborhood Association hosted a virtual meeting on September 8 for the proponents of the 41 Berkeley St. redevelopment project to present their proposal to the community.
Right now, the triangular parcel is home to the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT), which has been in the South End for about 112 years, according to BFIT president Anthony Benoit.
The project consists of a restoration and two story addition onto the Franklin Union building, which will be used as commercial and office space, as well as an affordable housing building with community space, and a senior care building.
BFIT has been working with developer Related Beal on this redevelopment, but the school will be moving to a purpose built campus in Nubian Square, as “we’ve been thinking for years about the ways the building does not meet our needs,” Benoit said, but called the building “a wonderful old building.”
Alex Provost of Related Beal went over the status of the project, which he said has already garnered some feedback from early outreach to neighbors. He said a Letter of Intent was filed with the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) in July, and the proponents pre-sented the project to the South End Landmark District Commission on August 24 for an advi-sory review.
He said that at the end of September, a Project Notification Form (PNF) will be filed with the BPDA, “which outlines the development plan as a whole,” and gives the public an opportunity to make comments on the proposal.
The site as it stands right now will be home to 18 affordable housing units, 75,000 square feet of adaptive reuse commercial space, 16,000 square feet of retail space, a 4,000 square foot community center, 13,700 square feet of open space, and a 192 unit senior care facility that will be operated by Atria Senior Living.
David Hacin of Hacin + Associates architecture firm talked about the planning principles and goals of the project, which he said includes “creating connectivity and permeability on the site,” as the site will be reconnected into the “network of paths and streets that are such an important aspect of the South End.”
He said that while there is currently a “fair amount of green space currently on the site,” it is fenced off and not accessible to the public as it is part of BFIT’s campus. This project will reo-pen the green space and make it inviting and welcoming for pedestrians.
Landscape architect Eddie Marshall explained that the area on the corner of Appleton St. where the Christmas tree lot is every year “will be open all the time” now as part of this pro-ject, and will be able to accommodate the Christmas tree sale as well as many other events. Moving through the parcel, sitting areas with vegetation will be added as well.
Hacin said the project will also include a more accessible streetscape and public realm, includ-ing new entrances for a lobby and public space and new entrances on Appleton St.
The center of the site will include a small motor court that will be slightly raised to meet the senior building, which will be built up a few feet to comply with flood management regulations. The motor court is intended for the drop-off and pickup of seniors from the senior care facility.
He also mentioned that there will be “very limited parking needs” for the senior care building. For those who are still able to drive, parking spaces will be available, and for visitors, there will be valet parking utilizing the existing garage off of Appleton St.
For the seniors who are unable to drive, a shuttle van will be used to pick up and drop off sen-iors to various places which will also utilize the motor court.
Hacin then talked about the Franklin Union building, which he said has had a “lot of deferred maintenance over the last few decades.”
The proposed work includes adding two additional stories to the top of the building, set back from the facade, bringing the building to 105 feet. The existing auditorium will be transformed into a lobby with a potential cafe and would be open to all. He said the stage would be “reimagined as a big window” into the courtyard space behind.
For the Appleton St. facade, the proposal is to preserve the facade of 4 Appleton St. and add a new four story building directly adjacent to it and a community room that would be available “for all kinds of different functions.” The income restricted housing proposed for Appleton St. is still being discussed by the team to figure out “exactly what that looks like,” Provost said.
The senior care building, which is proposed to be at 145 feet, will be a “richly detailed masonry building” with a restaurant space on the corner.
Randy Bekerman, Senior Vice President of Investments and Business Development at Atria Senior Living, said that Atria is “widely regarded” as one of the highest quality assisted living operators in North America, with facilities in 27 states.
He said he is “excited about this project,” as it is “harder to think of a better location for this use.” While these types of senior care buildings are typically seen in the suburbs, many sen-iors who live in cities would prefer to age in place. Atria has two urban projects currently in the works; one in New York and one in San Francisco, Bekerman said.
He said that seniors represent Boston’s fastest-growing demographic group, so appropriate housing in the city is needed for them.
This particular facility would be licensed for assisted living and memory care by the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs.
“This is a rental product,” Bekerman said, and rents would include housing, activities, house-keeping, transportation, and more as the licensure requires.
Many neighbors had questions and comments regarding the proposal, including what exactly the Franklin Union building will be used for.
Provost said that the team is proposing it as a “commercial use—more open ended than just offices,” he said. He said that with the BPDA, it will be proposed as a general office use, but with the current state of office space due to COVID-19, it is more likely that a medical office or life science office use will be more appropriate for the space. “Those are things we;’ve been thinking through as a development team,” he said.
Another neighbor asked what will happen to the murals in the BFIT lobby, and Provost said that they will be the property of BFIT and potentially incorporated into its new campus in Nu-bian Square.
Other comments included making sure the commercial space incorporates BIPOC small busi-nesses and ensuring that the Christmas tree sales continue on the lot.
“We’re working on incorporating everyone’s comments into the restraints we’re working with” on the property, Hacin said. There will be more opportunities to hear about the project and ask questions or make comments on it at future meetings as the project develops further.