Will a 46-Story Tower Rise in the West End?

New Developments News
Rendering of the Garden Garage residental tower in the West End.
Rendering of the Garden Garage residental tower in the West End. Courtesy of the BRA

Boston’s West End, nestled between Beacon Hill, TD Garden, and North Station, might be adding a 46-story residential tower to its otherwise short landscape.

In 2009, Equity Residential, a Chicago-based real estate investment trust, planned for two residential buildings to be built on Lomasney Way in the West End—one at 31 stories and another at 24 stories—but the project never got passed due to neighborhood opposition, according to Boston Business Journal.

Now, Equity has come back with a new plan, but it’s one that still has not made all West Enders happy.

The new plan, according to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA), would include just one 46-story building that would be built atop a five-level parking garage. The project is still under review with the BRA.

Equity could not be reached for comment about the development.

Edward McGuire, project assistant at the BRA, said that the original heights of the two buildings were an issue with the residents.

“So that is still an issue,’’ said BRA spokesperson Nick Martin.

The amount of time that has been passed since the beginning of the proposal is another factor.

“The fact that there has been four plus years of review, the community is substantially aware of the project,’’ said BRA senior planner Jonathan Greeley.

Rendering of the Garden Garage residental tower in the West End. —Courtesy of the BRA

A Development Mired in Controversy

According to The Boston Globe, Paul Barrett, former director of the BRA and previously involved with Equity working on Garden Garage project, was pulled from his participation on the development over a controversial email.

After a Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) employee, Kathleen Ryan, sent an oppositional email to the article’s author and other elected officials from her work account in response to a November 2014 Boston Globe article about the Garden Garage project, Barrett sent MGH an email “accusing Ryan of using hospital time and resources to write the ‘long and detailed e-mail tome’ and work ‘against both of our interests.’’’

This interaction upset some residents and was cited in some letters written to the BRA in opposition.

The BRA said that they have received about 620 letters in opposition to the development and 1,107 signatures on a petition in support of the project. Of the 620 letters received, “height, density, and traffic congestion’’ were the main sources of disapproval, Martin said.

“It’s more than normal,’’ Martin said of the large community response. “Which is understandable given the size of the development.’’

Changing Nature of the West End

One of the letter-writers was Duane Lucia, who has been a West Ender for the past 10 years and is currently the curator of the West End Museum, located a few blocks from the proposed development on Staniford Street.

“The neighborhood before 1960 had five-plus schools,’’ Lucia said. “There is no school now, mainly because the housing and development they are allowing to be built is geared for empty nesters and people with double income and no kids. The value of real estate is high.’’

Lucia thinks the West End has become a hard place to raise a family given the lack of schools and family-oriented living spaces.

In the 1950s, the West End went through what’s called an “urban renewal’’-which included demolishing most of the neighborhood and forcing life-long residents out to attract a wealthier demographic.

West End Urban Renewal Project sign (Urban Redevelopment Division, Boston Housing Authority photographs in Boston Redevelopment Authority photographs, Collection # 4010.001, City of Boston Archives, Boston) —Flickr/ City of Boston Archives

According to a 2012 Boston Globe article, “In the 1950s, cities like Boston were worried about the flight of the middle and upper-classes to the suburbs. So-called urban renewal became a way to get rid of poor people, in the hope of attracting the middle class and its money back to the city.’’

Joseph McDonald, former president of the West End Civic Association and lifelong West Ender, was one of those people forced out as a child, but said he was lucky enough to be able to afford moving back.

“In the past three years we have had an incredible number of projects either started or seeking approval,’’ McDonald said. “We are not completely opposed to development. We said, ‘That’s okay, we understand we need more housing as long as it is orderly.’’’

New West End Developments

Some of the recent projects McDonald mentioned were the mixed-use Lovejoy Wharf Converse headquarters and residential building and a building in the Bulfinch Triangle. He doesn’t have an issue with these.

The Converse building under construction in July 2014. —David L. Ryan/ The Boston Globe

“The one that is causing the great problem is Equity Development,’’ McDonald said. “This is right in the middle of a residential block. We took a vote of [the Civic Association’s] membership– we have 250 members and less than 20 voted for the project.’’

The parking garage was one of the main issues McDonald addressed, saying traffic in the area is “already gridlock when there are Bruins and Celtics games.’’ This would only make the problem worse.

“The main problem is not the height,’’ McDonald said. “We think it is too tall, but we can live with that. There is no access for ambulances and fire trucks. [They] can’t get through to that site in the hour and a half before Bruins and Celtics games.’’

Martin said the BRA has considered traffic concerns.

“We have heard that from the community and been in touch with Zakim’s office,’’ Martin said. Josh Zakim is the city councilor for the West End. “There is always a traffic mitigation plan, so we would work closely to make sure we reduce the impact of traffic as much as possible.’’

Martin also addressed the concern that the apartment wouldn’t have enough family-oriented units, something that both Lucia and McDonald said was an issue.

He said that though there were no three-bedroom units in the current plan for the Garden Garage, other apartments Equity owns in the West End do have three-bedroom units that are more accommodating for families.

Next Steps

The BRA hosted a Garden Garage Impact Advisory meeting on March 17 where Martin said community members addressed their concerns about the building’s height and density.

Martin said the BRA said they want the project to go forward, because they feel like it “has been in the works for a long time.’’ Equity already revised the proposal to create more open space, and the Garden Garage fits into Mayor Marty Walsh’s housing goals, he added.

In October, Mayor Walsh announced he wants to add 53,000 more housing units in the city by 2030.

Next steps involve a community meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 25, where the BRA will discuss the rationale for the project and listen to concerns from community members, Martin said.

“Then if we are still where we feel like it’s going to go forward, community benefits need to be discussed,’’ Martin said.