Transformative: Proposed Zoning Plan for Simmons’ Longwood Campus

An international construction and development company is pitching a proposal to the city to create an overall zoning plan that would allow for the construction of four new mixed-use buildings on Simmons University’s residential campus in the Longwood neighborhood.

Skanska USA Commercial Development, which also built the Harlo luxury condo development in the Fenway,  intends to redevelop the 5.8-acre site at 305 Brookline Ave. into approximately 1.75 million gross square feet of residential, office/laboratory, retail, restaurant, commercial, community space, and parking. The project, to be built in three phases over a period of the next seven to 15 years, would comprise four buildings – a 622,000 square-foot office and life science building; a 519,000 square foot life science building; and a 424,000 square-foot residential building. The Planned Development Area (PDA) would be “organized” around approximately 2.3 acres of new public open space, according to the developer, and all on-site parking would be underground.

A rendering of Longfellow Place, the mixed-use development proposed for 305 Brookline Ave. in the Longwood neighborhood.

Through Skanska’s partnership with Simmons, the developer is also set to start construction this fall on a new Living and Learning Center at the university’s campus at 305 The Fenway, allowing Simmons to create a “more cohesive educational environment” there, while simultaneously freeing up its Longwood campus to generate the additional revenue needed to sustain Simmons in the coming years, said Laura Brink Pisinski, vice president of university real estate development and facilities management, at the first public meeting on the proposed PDA, which the Boston Planning & Development Agency held virtually on Monday, Jan. 25. Simmons will continue to own the Longwood site, she said.

Architect Victor Vizgaitis said they are now focusing on the development plan for the site, and that conversations about the specifics, including the scale and character, of the proposed individual buildings would come at a later date. Furthermore, the developer isn’t seeking approval from the city for the individual buildings, but instead for the overall plan itself, he added.

The plan, said Vizgaitis, is now focused on redeveloping the site as “a  place to gather, a place to work, and a place to live,” while reclaiming about 900 linear feet, which is now an “enclosed enclave, essentially surrounded by a wrought-iron fence with spikes around it.”

Skanska sees this as an opportunity to make this “missing piece” a welcoming, outdoor public place that could be programmed year-round in diverse ways, such a science fair, a food truck festival, or a live music performance, said Vizgaitis.

The plan also proposes the reconstruction of Short Street by setting new construction back from the Winsor School to create a safer bicycle and transportation connection to get people through the site as quickly as possible, said Vizgaitis, as well as a new “through-block” road in the middle of the site between the second and third proposed buildings.

Moreover, the plan foresees streetscape improvements, wider sidewalks and better bike accessibility, along with improved circulation for all modes of movement, as well as a new signalized intersection of Brookline Avenue and Pilgrim Road .

Pilgrim Road would also be widened, said Vizgaitis, and a new, improved pickup and drop-off space would be created there for the Windsor School, while all of the road’s residential parking spaces would be retained.

Up to 200 units of housing, including “creative” and studios, as well as one-, two-, and three-bedrooms, would also be built as part of the plan, with 15 percent of the units designated as affordable, said Vizgaitis.

A study looking at the composite shadow impact of the plan on March 21 between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. indicates that the new development would create an addition hour of shadow on the Emerald Necklace, which, Vizgaitis said, is “just over the threshold.”

Katherine Greenough, an Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association board member and resident of that neighborhood for the past four decades, said contrary to Vizgaitis’s assertions, Simmons’ residential campus is a “beautiful oasis,” which is home to some trees that more than 100 years old, as well as a place that provides  a “nice respite from  the bricks and concrete.”

Dan Burns, a resident of Riverwood Square, said he fears that the development plan would exasperate traffic on Pilgrim Road, and that the new north-facing construction would deplete the sunlight where he lives.

Steve Wolf, a West Fens resident, a Fenway Quality of Life Alliance member, and an Emerald Necklace Conservancy board member, said he wants a commitment from the developer to create a maintenance fund for the Emerald Necklace. Other neighbors objected to any development plans, which would cast any new shadow on the Emerald Necklace.

Fenway resident Marie Fukuda said the plan confirms her earlier reservations about the city’s map amendment to the Fenway Neighborhood District, and added that designating 10 percent of the proposed 200 housing units as affordable housing is “not sufficient” considering the underlying zoning.

Vizgaitis replied that 200 residential units seemed like the “right number to begin with,” and that Skanska is actively looking at how to add more residential units to site while creating comfortable buffers space with commercial activity.

In contrast, Skylar Griggs, who has worked in the area for more than a decade, supported the plan, which she believes will create more dining options and places of refuge nearby.

Edward Carmody, BPDA senior institutional planner and project manager, reminded those in attendance it was only the first public meeting to discuss the plan, and that many more meetings would follow over the course of the multi-phased project.

A scoping session on the proposed PDA with the developer and city staff is scheduled for Feb. 4, and public comments on the plan can be submitted to the BPDA online until Feb. 18 at http://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/305-brookline-ave-mixed-use-development?utm_source=Neighborhoods&utm_campaign=f72435d6bf-Longwood_Pl_305_Brookline_Ave_Publ_1_17_2022&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_bccda74844-f72435d6bf-274985721&mc_cid=f72435d6bf&mc_eid=b8908aba9b.

To learn more about the Longwood Place proposal, visit 305brookline.com.

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