The latest plans for the proposed redevelopment of the Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) campus in the South End were discussed on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at a virtual public meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency.
Boston-based developer Related Beal is proposing a project at 42 Berkeley St. comprising three components: an approximately 210,000 square-foot, 193-unit senior care facility that would be operated by a national provider, Atria Senior Living, Inc., with ground-floor retail and accessory uses; the adaptive reuse of the Franklin Union building for residential purposes, including ground-floor retail and accessory uses; and an affordable residential building of approximately 20,000 square feet, with a 4,500 square-foot community space on its ground floor.
The projected timeline is around five years to allow BFIT to stay on site until the completion of its new campus, which is now under construction in Roxbury’s Nubian Square, said Alex Provost of Related Beal. (BFIT would lease its current South End campus back from the developer for approximately two years before construction at 41 Berkeley St. begins, which is then expected to take two to three years to complete.)
The project site is located within the Boston Center for the Arts-Franklin Institute Community Facilities Subdistrict of the South End Neighborhood Zoning District, as well as within the South End Landmark District.
For the project to move forward, the BPDA board would have to approve a change for Parcel 7 only from its current “institutional” (school) use to health care and residential uses, said Chris Breen, urban renewal manager for the BPDA. (The current usage is dictated by the South End Urban Renewal Plan, which was established in 1965, and is set to expire March 31, 2023, said Breen.)
Lindsay Knutson, an analyst for Related Beal, said the project as currently envisioned is different from what the developer had proposed in 2020 in several respects, including that the planned use of the Union Building has been changed from office to residential home-ownership, and that the overall project has been reduced by 43,500 square feet from 314,000 square feet originally to 267,500 square feet now.
The height of the proposed senior care facility has also been decreased by 35 feet, or three stories, from 145 feet to 110 feet, added Knutson, while the proposed height of the Union Building has been reduced from six stories to five stories.
Other changes to the proposed project that came in response to community feedback, include moving the majority of loading from Berkeley Street to the below-grade garage or Tremont Street; and setting an age requirement of 55+ for the 16 affordable rental units in the Appleton Building.
Besides the 16 affordable units in the Appleton Building, which would all be studios or one-bedrooms, one of the 35 condo units in the Union Building would also be affordable, said Knutson. She added that 33 percent of the project’s units would be income restricted, while 22 percent would be designated under the city’s Inclusionary Development Policy (IDP).
Stephen Fox, a member of the city’s Impact Advisory Group (IAG) for the project, as well as chair of the South End Forum and of the Rutland Square Association, respectively, expressed concern that “very few South Enders are going to be able to afford this [level of] senior living.”
Julie Arnheiter, chair of the Ellis Neighborhood Association board, asked whether two building located at 6 and 6A Appleton St., respectively, would be included in the project.
Knutson responded that the project doesn’t include these two buildings, which, she said, will remain vacant and then become residential after construction.
Arnheiter countered that this approach was “disingenuous,” since if those building were included in the project, the developer would need to create additional affordable housing. “And I think it’s a cheesy trick,” she added.
Robert Bryant, a 42-year resident of the South End, asked the developer to consider including a laundromat in the project.
Knutson relied, “The project is pretty far from being built, but we could definitely consider a laundromat.”
Another meeting-goer, Dave Phillips, expressed doubt that the proposed 6o-space below-grade garage would provide adequate parking for residents of the Union Building, as well as for employees working at the senior-care facility.
With many of these employees expected to take public transportation to work, Mark Alexander, Atria’s senior vice president of redevelopment, said he expects parking won’t be a problem. But he added, “We have contracted garages before, so if we’re faced with that, we’ll absolutely do that.”
The IAG for the project is scheduled to meet again virtually on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m. The public-comment period for the project runs through Oct. 12; send comments via email to Dana Whiteside, BPDA deputy director of community development, at [email protected], or visit the BPDA’s website for the project at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/41-berkeley-street.