The South End Landmark District Commission (SELDC) met virtually on April 28 for a second advisory review of the proposed new building and addition at 41 Berkeley St., the site of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology, which has plans to move to a purpose-built campus in Roxbury’s Nubian Square.
Architect David Hacin led the presentation, reminding commissioners that this project features three buildings: a senior care building that will be operated by Atria Senior Living, the existing Franklin Union building, which is proposed to have an addition on top, and the Appleton build-ing, for which several options were presented.
Hacin said that the existing “site has been closed to the public for many years” while it func-tioned as the college. The goal of the project is to “open it up” and create a “robust public realm” with outdoor spaces for the public to gather, as well as serve as a place to have the annual Christmas tree market.
He said that the “main access” for vehicles remains on Appleton St., but there will be “limited vehicular access off of Berkeley” for a potential shuttle bus for the senior care building.
He explained some changes to the design of the senior care building since the last time it came before the commission, including lengthening the building to reduce the height, as well as removed a floor on the Franklin Union addition as requested by the commission.
“We have created a new arcade passageway from the corner of Appleton and Tremont that leads into the courtyard space that is lined with a new community space and the retail spac-es,” Hacin said. He also said that previous feedback included to “create a more animated street frontage along Tremont St.,” which he said the team tried to do with this new proposal.
The height of the senior care building is now at 110 feet—it was previously proposed to be 145 feet. It has also gone from 13 stories to 10. The Franklin Union building is now proposed to be five stories including the single story addition, instead of the six stories previously proposed.
The site will feature 24 percent open space, even though only 20 percent is required as part of the Planned Development Area (PDA) that the parcel is subject to.
Hacin also talked about the arcade entrance and showed various renderings, explaining that the arcade will be a “passage for the public to walk all the way through this building,” leading to Appleton St. and the community garden. He talked briefly about materials, saying that there will be brick and the potential for metals or terra cotta, but nothing has been decided yet.
For the Appleton building, Hacin said that the building’s existing windows are metal replace-ment windows, and the interior of the building has been “very heavily modified,” and it also does not meet fire standards.
“We’re trying to think about how best to work this building into the composition,” he said, and there are several options proposed: one that would raze the entire building and construct a new one in-kind, one to preserve or reconstruct the existing arches, one to create an all-new facade, and one that would preserve the historic facade.
“We believe the only portion of the project that is significant, if you will, and unaltered is the facade,” Hacin said. “That facade has some structural issues.”
SELDC Chair John Amodeo said that any demolition of a historically significant building would have to be “extremely well-justified.”
During commissioner comments, Commissioner Catherine Hunt said that she noticed a “mas-sive difference from the first presentation,” and she said that the changes to the Franklin Un-ion building are “much appreciated.”
Commissioner Fabian D’Souza said that “I think my favorite is the Union building.” He said he likes the recessed mechanical equipment that’s proposed, but also said that the “senior care and Appleton buildings affect each other,” so the design team needs to keep that in mind.
Commissioner John Freeman said he is pleased with the massing of the proposed senior care building, but said that the team needs to preserve the facade of the Appleton building.
“When you come before us for an application, I’d like you to remind yourself,” Amodeo said, that “you’re coming before a preservation commission,” and that two of the buildings that are part of this project are “existing contributing buildings. I would advise you to start with those rather than the senior care when you’re presenting. The most important job we have here is the preservation of the Franklin Union building and the building on Appleton St.”
Amodeo also said that he likes the removal of one of the floors on the addition for the Franklin Union Building and the pushing back of the mechanical equipment. He requested more views from farther away for the next time the applicants come before the commission.
He also advocated for the preservation of the Appleton St. facade.
For the senior building, “I agree with John that the massing is there as far as I’m concerned,” Amodeo said. “I don’t love mechanicals going above the top of the building,” he added, though he acknowledged that it has been done before in a landmarks district. He urged the applicant to “work as hard as you can to lower the penthouse screen.”
He praised the “increased open space” at the corner of Tremont and Appleton Streets and the corner of Tremont and Berkeley Streets, calling it “brilliant.”
Julie Arnheiter, an abutter on Appleton St., raised concerns about the project that she said were brought up at a previous meeting about the project, including safety concerns with the entrance for trucks, as well as the fact that she and others have expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of affordable housing proposed.
“If you’re familiar with this neighborhood,” she added, “I think you’ll know that there is a con-siderable amount of community space provided for a number of different functions and rea-sons and in facilities.”
Hacin said that he and the rest of the team will take all of this feedback into consideration be-fore coming back to the commission again. Since this was an advisory review, no vote was taken on the proposal. When the project team is ready, they will come for an official design re-view after which a vote will be taken.