ZBA Approves Residential Proposal for Hotel Alexandra Building

The Zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA) on July 12 approved the proposal for the Hotel Alexandra building, located at 1759-1763 Washington St. The proposal is to change the occupancy to a multifamily residential use with a commercial/restaurant use on the ground floor and the restoration of the existing historic facade. Attorney Marc LaCasse said that this project had been before the ZBA on April 26. The ZBA had “significant comments” regarding the layout of the proposed units and their design, according to ZBA Chair Christine Araujo. LaCasse added that there were concerns around the number of compact units as well as the “arrangement and distribution of the [Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP)] units,” so the team consulted with staff at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) to come up with a new plan. In this new plan, the team has done a “complete reworking of the core for the residential use,” said architect Dartagnan Brown, while “maintaining the exterior design approved by this board and Landmarks.” At the previous hearing, the proposal included 76 residential units, but that has since been reduced to 70. There are now 19 compact units, down from 33, which includes a decrease in studio units and an increase in two bedroom units. After going back to the BPDA, there is a new proposed mix of IDP units, including two studios (down from four), and there will now be four one bedroom units instead of three. The two one bedroom plus units have remained, but the two bedroom units have increased to two, Brown said. Additionally there is now an “even distribution” of IDP units in the building so they are not all located together. “As one of the people raising issues about number and size of the units, I appreciate the effort that’s been done to turn this into a very different project,” said ZBA member Mark Erlich. “I think this is going to be a really welcome addition to the cityscape.” Jeff Hampton of the BPDA said that the “development team was very receptive to the changes that were brought to them by BPDA staff,” and the BPDA is in support of this project. Kim Crucioli of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said that the office defers to the board’s judgment, but “the project has received over 130 letters of support from abutters within 300 feet of the property.” She also said that 22 “directly abutting businesses” have also submitted letters of support, as have the Claremont Neighborhood Association, the Blackstone/Franklin Neighborhood Association, and the Worcester Square Area Neighborhood Association. “This project has had an extensive public process with 39 public meetings, and has made sure the wants and needs of the community are met,” Crucioli said. “This project will have a positive impact on the community and will bring much-needed life to the area.” Also in support were State Rep. Jon Santiago, who said that “this project has the opportunity to revitalize this corner that has been dormant for decades,” along with City Councilors Frank Baker, Michael Flaherty, and Tania Fernandes Anderson. The ZBA reported that they have received letters both in support and in opposition of the project. Steve Fox, chair of the South End Forum, expressed his “unconditional support for this project. This will bring residential ownership opportunities to the South End which are really, really missing; which we desperately, desperately need. This project is an example of the best of how to engage the community in a process that ultimately results in a great project.” Carol Streiff, a resident of Mass Ave., said that many residents on the Roxbury side of Mass. Ave. are opposed to the project. This has been an ongoing issue since this project was first proposed, as residents on the Roxbury side said that they were not properly included in the community process. “We are now arguing that the ZBA should honor those residents who have indicated opposition and return this project to the BPDA for proper review,” Streiff said. “We do not oppose developing the corner; we support it. We simply do not support this particular project at this particular height and with the lack of parking and other issues.” Connie Forbes of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association said that this building “needs to be developed with input of residents on both sides of the aisle,” and that she and others have concerns about the height of the building as well as the number of units proposed. Araujo told the Roxbury residents that they “should take up the conversation with the BPDA and the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services about what is Roxbury and what is the South End and what is that middle area. “This is not a conversation this board will get in the middle of,” Araujo said, “so we acknowledge all the voices that we’ve heard; we acknowledge all the concerns that we’ve heard.” The ZBA unanimously voted to approve the project with BPDA design review. 97-101 NEWBURY ST. The ZBA also approved a proposal at 97-101 Newbury St., which is the New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). Attorney Louis Miller said that the NEHGS is planning on renovating and improving its existing building, as well as the adjacent building on the corner of Newbury and Clarendon Streets. It has been through a “lengthy public process,” he said. A small cafe is proposed for the ground floor, which will not involve any cooking, but rather offer grab-and-go type options, Miller said. The cafe will be open to the public and will offer seating. The architect said that the building is an existing nonconforming use, but by connecting 97 Newbury St. to the existing NEHGS building, the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) is actually reduced. The proposal also includes the reconstruction of the building at 97 Newbury St. and extending the lower level to the back alley so it meets the facade of the existing building. Conor Newman of the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services said that the office defers to the board’s judgment on this proposal, but that an abutters meeting was held. One abutter did have concerns about the use of the alley, but the applicant was “encouraged” to communicate with said abutter about those concerns. Conrad Armstrong of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay (NABB) said that the “applicant met with us many times,” and “normally, NABB would oppose relief from rear yard setback, but we do feel this is a very unusual situation. All the other buildings next to it are already built out all the way to the alley.” He added that NABB is also typically opposed to an increase in FAR, but “combining buildings actually lowers the FAR.” The organization is also not opposed to the addition of the small cafe, he said. The carpenters’ union also expressed support for the project, and the ZBA approved the proposal.

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