Charlesgate West Plans Shared With Community

The community got a look at the latest design for a housing development with ground-floor retail proposed for 2 Charlesgate West in the Fenway during a virtual meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning and Development Agency on Dec. 15.               

Scape, the British real estate developer which is also redeveloping  1252-1270 Boylston St., into a 477-unit apartment building,  is proposing a  251,000 square-foot building, comprising 400 residential housing units, 3,000 square feet of ground floor retail, and 75 below grade parking spaces, at the corner of Ipswich Street, where Charlesgate turns from the Bowker Overpass onto Boylston Street.

The proposed building would be “stepped down” to align with neighboring buildings on the Charlesgate West side, said Brett Benston, a principal  at the Boston design firm, Utile, while the lost height would be redistributed on Ipswich Street along the “High Spine” of the Massachusetts Turnpike, where it would reach its maximum height of 23 stories.  Other features of the design include an internal courtyard aligned with neighboring buildings, said Bentson, as well as a public staircase and elevator to connect Ipswich Street with the Emerald Necklace on the east side of the proposed building.

Improvements along Ipswich Street are also planned as part of the project, said Bentson, including widening the sidewalk by the Bowker Overpass, which would extend to the Boston Conservatory, as well as installing a bike-sharing system and adding street trees with planting beds to support them. The building’s lower wing along Boylston Street would relate in massing and materials to the Back Bay Fens apartments as well. Bryan Chou, an associate principal with Boston’s Mikyoung Kim Design, said the new building could serve as a “new gateway for the Fenway district in its entirety,” while stitching together a long-missing “disconnect” between the Back Bay Fens and the Charles River Esplanade. Improvements to the area now proposed by the Charlesgate Alliance and the Emerald Necklace Conservancy would also help “make it a very valuable site,” said Chou, as the project would also aim to reinvigorate a long-underutilized site that has become a  “pass-through” space.

A vegetive buffer would be created on the Boylston Street side and on the through-path, which, said Chou, would “really be an extension of the Fens with the soft scape and the planting involved in the area.” A shadow study for the project, said Bentson, indicates that new shadows created by the project during Summer Solstice would be limited to Ipswich Street and the Fens, while during the Autumn Equinox, all new shadows would be limited to the Turnpike. The shadow impact during Winter Solstice would be similar to what is expected during the Autumn Equinox, he added, with some additional shadow “crawling across to Commonwealth Avenue.”

Additionally, a wind study for the project identified “one area we need to pay close attention to,” said Bentson, with a landscaping screen being developed in the “coming weeks”  to address this anticipated problem. Fenway resident Sandeep Karnik said he’s “very excited about seeing the corner redeveloped,” but added he preferred an earlier project design, which he described as “curved and easy on the eyes,”  as well as “a beautiful design, not as boxy.” In response, Andrew Flynn, CEO of Scape North America, said “rounding out the counters is maybe something we can explore and take up with the design team.”

In contrast, Elizabeth Fahey, also a resident of the Fenway, said she thinks the building is excessively tall as proposed and believes reducing its height would help to minimize the wind impact. “You’re now trying to put together the remnants of Charlesgate Park in a refashioned way,” said Fahey. “To have that totally in the shade…would just be awful.” Flynn replied that the project team is still looking at how the building’s proposed height relates to its shadow and wind impacts, something the project team “will continue to detail in future meetings.” Scape also remains “very open minded” in creating the units, said Flynn, in an effort to attract a “versatile tenant base in terms of affordability and attainability” across various sectors of the work force. Regarding the possibility of increasing the height of the proposed building, Flynn said the project team “remains open minded while being mindful of the scale” and added they would “explore [this option] if people think that’s the best path forward,” especially it could result in the production of more affordable residential units on site. As for the size of the units, Flynn said they would be consistent with 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s housing stock as opposed to micro-units.

Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said he is pleased more housing coming to this part of the Fenway, and that he anticipates the new staircase would be a “really great improvement,” although he remains especially concerned regarding the ongoing issue with “constant graffiti” in the area of the park owned by the Department of Conservation and Recreation near the Muddy River. “Maybe, this would be a good opportunity to partner with DCR on the graffiti,” added Horn.

In 2006, the building’s previous owner, a division of Boston-based Trans National Properties, made an ill-fated proposal to build a 29-story residential tower on the site in a plan that garnered widespread opposition from neighbors, as well as from the Red Sox organization.               

Visit http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/2-charlesgate for more information on the project, as well as to provide your input before the public comment period for the project closes on Jan. 2.

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