The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a virtual public meeting regarding the proposed project at 41 Berkeley St. in the South End on April 26.
Several changes have been made since the project was originally proposed in 2020. Alex Provost of developer Related Beal, as well as architect David Hacin and landscape architect Eddie Marshall were on hand to present the updated proposal and answer questions from residents.
According to Provost, the new changes were presented to the project’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) last Tuesday, and said that the primary focus of this public meeting was on “design, open space, and site planning. This is an opportunity for us to preview for you an updated design from what we originally filed in 2020,” he said.
The team has received feedback from the South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) as well as the Boston Civic Design Commission and residents.
The proposal includes a senior care facility building with ground floor retail, restoration of the Franklin Union building for commercial use, and an affordable residential building. The site is the former Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology campus, which is moving to Nubian Square onto a new, purpose-built campus.
Provost said that feedback from the SELDC at a previous advisory review hearing included concerns with the height of the senior care building as well as issues with the proposed addition on the Franklin Union building. He said that the area is in a Planned Development Area, which allows for a maximum height of 110 feet and a Floor Area Ratio of 5.0.
David Hacin then went through some updates to the massing of the project.
“In the past year or more, we have been working hard to get feedback; to understand all of the constraints on the site,” he said, which is triangular and poses challenges because of that.
He said that other feedback included taking a look at the Tremont St. side of the proposal and making it “a little more varied,” as well as issues with materials and grading on the courtyard.
For the senior care building, “the biggest issue was how to bring the overall height of the building down while still maintaining a workable footprint for the program,” Hacin said. “We also looked at the Franklin Union building and reduced the addition from two stories to one,” as well as “pulled back the massing on the corner of Berkeley and Tremont Streets” and “re-articulated some of the volumes along Tremont St.”
Hacin explained that about 30 percent of the total site area consists of historic buildings that will be preserved, and 20 percent of the site is required to be open space, but the current proposal is for 24 percent.
The courtyard and the corridor will be linked by a new “arcade and passage” that is now covered instead of open as previously proposed. The buildings are now elongated to help with the height issue, which “created an interlocking volume…” Hacin said.
The senior care building as proposed now sits at 110 feet with mechanicals at 125 feet, and the heights on the Appleton St. side are 54 feet.
He showed several renderings of the new proposal against the old, saying that the “senior care building has been scaled down very significantly.” He also talked about the proposed community space, which would be located on the ground floor and able to spill out onto the surrounding area.
Eddie Marshall then explained some of the improvements to the multi-use open space.
He said the team wanted to “incorporate more green space and seating areas. We want to take the space and really inject it with both garden and landscape.”
On the corner of Tremont and Appleton Streets, the previous proposal was “more of a paved terrace,” but now it’s proposed to be green space with a lawn and trees.
He said that to activate the Tremont St. side, it now includes more green space versus paved area and will include planters.
Hacin added that this new area could be used for South End staples like the Christmas tree market as well as many other types of activities like small concerts.
At the Berkeley/Warren intersection, a raised bicycle track that is separate form traffic is being proposed, and two lanes will be maintained on Berkeley St. for a shorter crosswalk.
During the public comment period, residents had several questions and concerns related to the senior care facility, many of which the project team said will be answered at future meetings.
South End resident Steve Fox said he wanted to “compliment the architects, especially the landscape architects, in understanding some of the South End concerns.”
He continued, “we need to be able to understand not just the design and architectural changes that have affected this project, but the very nature of this project in terms of who it will serve.”
He said that when it comes to the senior care facility, there are concerns that Southenders will not be able to afford to live there. Fox asked the development team whether they have “considered the fact” that the facility “has no affordable component at all” and that this might limit people in the neighborhood from taking advantage of what it has to offer.
Provost said that this is something they are aware of, and are “excited to get back in front of the IAG” to “talk about mitigation. While the senior care facility will be market rate, we are providing and looking for opportunities outside of zoning requirements to provide affordable housing on the site.”
Jacob Wessel, Public Realm Director for the City of Boston, said that he believes the project team should reach out to the city’s Age Strong Commission to get feedback on designing spaces suitable for elders and people with mobility issues. He mentioned the materials proposed for the sidewalks, and how a “smooth path of concrete travel” is best for people who use wheelchairs or walkers. He acknowledged that “permeability” and “aesthetic” are also important.
Resident Elizabeth Morgan said that “my concern is what the noise impact of what the wonderful community space is going to be on the residents of the senior facility” as well as abutters in Castle Square or on Appleton St.
Hacin said that this has not been fully taken into consideration yet, but as things like where doors are located and how they will open are more fleshed out, that will be part of the conversation.
“We should absolutely take that into consideration,” he said, adding that right now, the community room would mostly open up “towards Tremont St.” and through the proposed passageway, but noise effects are something that the team will pay attention to as it moves forward with the design.
Deborah Backus of the Castle Square Tenants Organization raised the issue of affordability in the senior care units. She said this has been brought up before and continues to be an issue.
Provost said that the team is “continuing to work through all the items you had addressed,” and “we wanted to ensure that there was a proper opportunity following our [Project Notification Form} and IAG meeting” so people were better able to understand the project as it stands now.
Dana Whiteside, the BPDA project manager for this project, said that this project is still “very much in the midst of the review,” and there will be no approvals to be made in coming weeks. He said that the development team is still required to submit a response to the BPDA’s “request for supplemental information,” as well as another document. These will trigger additional public and IAG meetings where the public will be invited to continue providing feedback on the project.
Another advisory review with the SELDC is scheduled for April 28 at 5:00pm on Zoom. More information and the link to the meeting can be found on the Public Notices page of the city’s website.
For more information about the BPDA process for 41 Berkeley St., as well as to view the recording from this meeting and the slide presentation, visit bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/41-berkeley-street.