The public got a look at the latest plans for the proposed development of air-rights Parcel 13 in the Back Bay, which will include a 100-percent affordable housing component, in addition to Level 2 lab space, during a virtual meeting sponsored by the Boston Planning & Development Agency on Monday, Nov. 14.
The project site is located on the northeast corner of the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Boylston Street, partially over the east and west bound lanes of the Massachusetts Turnpike and partially over the MBTA Green Line Hynes station.
The Peebles Corporation is proposing a project comprising two buildings – a 10-story, 120-foot residential building and a 12-story, 178-foot lab and office building – which together would contain 300,000 zoned square feet of lab and office space; 125 units of on-site affordable housing, including studio, one-, two-, and three-bedrooms; and 10,000 square feet of ground-level retail space spread among three storefronts.
The project would have no on-site parking (and therefore no new curb-cuts on Boylston Street), but would include a “micro-mobility hub,” consisting of more than 100 public bicycle spaces with lockers open to the public. The developer has also committed to making a $30 million investment in ADA accessibility improvements to the Hynes T station as part of the project.
As for the construction timeframe, the developer hopes to have discretionary permitting in place next year, said Mark Rosenshein of Boston-based Trademark Partners. Financing would begin in 2024, and the project would break ground in the second quarter of that year. Construction is then expected to wrap up in the first quarter of 2027, said Rosenshein.
Don Peebles, founder, chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of the Peebles Corporation, said the original proposal for the site comprised a luxury hotel with luxury condos above it. But that after a lengthy process, the developer instead settled on the current proposal, he said, which comes in response to the city’s current affordable housing crisis, as well as in response to the downturn of the hotel industry in the wake of the pandemic.
Only 6 percent of the Back Bay’s housing stock is currently affordable housing, compared with the citywide average of 19-percent affordable housing, said Peebles.
The project team is exploring the possibility of making the one block of Boylston Street below Massachusetts Avenue inbound, said Rosenshein, to make it consistent with the rest of Boylston Street. Since a bus line already travels west on Boylston Street, a dedicated westbound lane would be created to accommodate only buses, firetrucks, and bicycles, he added.
This change would allow for bus stops on both sides of the street, which Rosenshein said would “effectively match” what’s being done with the Parcel 12 development with a dedicated bus lane, a separated bike lane, and two lanes of traffic.
The future of the development of Parcel 13 wouldn’t hinge on this decision, however, said Rosenshein, who added that the developer plans to hold a meeting dedicated solely to traffic conditions on Boylston Street.
Elliott Laffer, chair of the Neighborhood Association of the Back Bay board of directors, said the project would likely require the creation of a PDA (Planned Development Area), which establishes special zoning controls for large and complex projects. He said he believes that it “should be the first and last PDA in the historic district,” especially since there are no more undeveloped air-rights parcels in the area. Laffer said he want this “written into the zoning rule that allows it to happen.”
Tim Horn, a Fenway resident, requested that the project include ride-share accommodations, since he believes many of those employed there would rely on ride-share options to get to work.
Ann Tousignant, who lives on the 300 block of Commonwealth Avenue, said she has “concerns about living in a historic district that could be irreparably changed by the skyline you’re proposing.”
“I’m really concerned about the height and what the shadows would mean for any of us who are on the other sides of this structure,” she said.
Likewise, another Back Bay resident, Ann Prendergast, also expressed her concern about this issue and said that a petition opposing the height of the proposed project has already garnered 345 signatures.
Peebles responded that a project that includes an affordable housing component, as well construction of a $60 million deck above the overpass, wouldn’t be “feasible” with a reduced height.
“If we were not to get the height, then we would not build affordable housing,” said Peebles. “Then, the question is do we want to build an all-lab building or not.”
The city is accepting public comments of the Parcel 13 proposal through Nov. 30 via the project website at https://www.bostonplans.org/projects/development-projects/parcel-13, or by emailing Sarah Black of the BPDA at [email protected].