The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a public meeting on March 14 regarding the Notice of Project Change for the proposed 10-story building at 80 East Berkeley St., which will consist of office, lab, and research space and retail on the ground floor. Ronald Druker of the Druker Company, the developer for the project, said that this project previously received full approval in 2013 and 2014, but a Notice of Project Change was “filed for ‘time lapse’ and for change to already allowable Office/LifeSciences Use,” according to a slide presented. Druker said that the updated proposal is still zoning compliant, and the proposed life science use would take up about 252,000 square feet on nine floors, with about 13,000 square feet of retail on the ground floor.
There will be an additional 3,700 square feet of “innovation community space” that will be used for education and for the community. The project includes 200 parking spaces, including 89 public ones. Druker said that 50 spaces will have electric vehicle charging stations, while all spaces will be EV-ready. There will be 122 bike spaces as well. “In terms of the public benefits, we will pay $2,539,350 in linkage payments,” he said, as well as about $2,145,000 in a housing contribution grant and about $394,350 in job contribution.
This building will generate about $2 million in new property tax revenue, 300 construction jobs, and 800 permanent jobs, the team said. Additionally, $25,000 each will be given to Friends of Peters Park, Berkeley Community Garden, and Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción (IBA). There is also $45,000 in funds for transportation mitigation, and Druker said that $5,000 of that has already been contributed. Steve Purpura of Beacon Capital Partners spoke about the life science use and its growth in Boston. He said that “the market has grown very significantly here over the last 20 years.” He said that biosafety levels one and two are “very safe situations,” and are akin to high school or college biology labs.
“The purpose-built nature of them are critical for the companies that are growing,” Purpura said. “These facilities are very closely regulated.” The development team has committed to only allowing biosafety levels one and two in this building, and the space will feature “state of the art equipment” as well as energy efficiency, Purpura said. He said that this building will feature “half or two-thirds as many people as an office,” but will still create many career opportunities. Druker said that the retail proposed will be similar to what is located at the Atelier 505 building, and will “most likely have predominantly local Boston tenants,” but it’s possible for there to be a restaurant or other service tenant.
“When we designed this building to satisfy the life science requirement, we spent a great amount of time on making sure that the building really reflected the building which we had approved before,” he said. The height, the penthouse, and the “general architecture” are all the same as they were when the project was originally approved. Architect David Manfredi then went through some of the design of the building as well as minor changes that have been made. He said that the previously approved project included office space with about 16,000 square feet of retail space on the ground floor, but the current proposal is office and life science space with about 12,000 square feet of ground floor retail space. The original project had a goal of LEED silver certification, which is still true, and the open space is still more than the required 20 percent.
“Basically three sides of the building—Shawmut, East Berkeley, and Washington—will be active,” Manfredi said. “All service to the building is off of the main streets,” he continued, and “all loading is completely internal to the building.” There are two slightly larger changes made to the project, however. Manfredi said that a floor has been removed in the new proposal. “We’ve reduced the total number of occupiable floors from 11 stories to 10 stories,” he said. Also, “there is a reduction in the size of the window openings. That’s directly related to what’s happened in the last 10 years” with regards to the energy code requirements,” Manfredi said.
Project consultant Harry Collings then spoke about the community process surrounding this project, saying that Zoom meetings were conducted with the East Berkeley Neighborhood Association as well as the Eight Streets Neighborhood Association. “We’re committed to doing the project well,” Druker said, adding that the team worked with the community prior to going to the BPDA, and work will continue with the community as the project progresses. He said the building is anticipated to be complete in 2026. Many residents and carpenters came to this meeting in support of the project, saying they cannot wait for this area to be activated, but some residents had questions and concerns. A resident identified as Sheila said that while she “appreciates” the work of the team, “the project the way it is turns its back on Washington St. and creates a commercial district on East Berkeley St., which is going to be hard to access and is not necessary. It is necessary to have a neighborhood retail district along Washington St.”
She also wanted more information about the life science use. “Our intention is to have retail along Washington St., and certainly when we do get up the street, we would do the same thing,” Druker said. “I don’t think we have any intention of turning our back on Washington St.” Purpura said that a biosafety level one lab is “basically a biology lab in a high school,” while a biosafety level two lab “has some additional protocols around safety, but it is still very much a safe environment.” He said that nothing would be “airborne,” and scientists who work in these labs only wear a lab coat. Biosafety levels three and four have “a whole other level of safety protocols,” and would not be included in this building at all. Another resident had concerns about on-street parking.
“We have heard from people that they applaud the amount of parking spaces,” Druker said. “Basically half of them will be public parking spaces. I understand your concern.” He said that “we consider one of the greatest assets of the site” to be its “proximity to public transportation.” Lexi Ladd, who said she lives “literally right around the corner from this site,” said that “things are different today than they were in 2013-2014 when this project was first approved.” She said that with the “tremendous amount of office space” that exists in the city, she said she doesn’t believe more needs to be built. She said that “I would also state that this neighborhood has changed dramatically” in recent years, with more residential units than before. “We need affordable housing,” she said, adding that she is also concerned about the more than $2 million housing contribution grant as it cannot be targeted towards any particular neighborhood.
“It’s important to make sure this neighborhood stays mixed-income,” she said. Druker said that the housing funds should be discussed with the BPDA. He added, “I think that it’s important for the neighborhood to have a mixture of uses, and we hope that by building the building we’re going to be building, that we’ll encourage and create opportunities for the kids at the Quincy school or other schools to become involved in life science and be educated in an area which is going to be revolutionary in our city.” Deborah Backus of the Castle Square Tenants Organization asked for “an example of a project that they would be working on in the lab,” and also had questions about noise related to the proposed building’s mechanical equipment.
Alan Koder of Beacon Capital Partners said that he had spent “a little over 10 years as a scientist,” and now works for Beacon Capital Partners “to help with the design and development of these facilities.” He spoke about labs learning about how drugs work before moving to clinical trials and then to the market. He said that scientists who work in labs like the ones that will be in these buildings “develop experimental models to mimic what actually goes on in the body,” and “if you create the right model or experiment…you can get a feel for what that drug or therapeutic agent will do in the body.” Any animal testing will occur on “small rodents,” Purpura added—mostly mice but potentially rats as well. “It will have a vivarium, potentially, yes,” he said. The team also said that the “baseline noise level” for the proposed building “is below the ambient noise level in the neighborhood.” The comment period for this proposal ends on March 28, and comments can be submitted on the BPDA project webpage or emailed to project manager Sarah Black at [email protected]. Additional information about the proposal, including the slideshow and video recording from this meeting, can also be found on the BPDA project webpage.