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BROOKLINE

Neighbors wary of hospital project

Underground garage, traffic raise concerns

Neighbors like the landscape designer; they aren't so sure about the rest of the project.

The property in question is 2-4 Brookline Place, and this month, Children's Hospital, which will develop the site, explored questions of building size and parking with Brookline's Economic Development Advisory Board and Brook House condominium residents.

The initial sketches of a building for the large parcel between Station Street and Washington Street/Route 9 at Brookline's eastern end show a nine-story structure set back only slightly from the street, with up to five levels of underground parking.

The hospital and the town reached initial agreement in September that the town would lease the parcel to the hospital for the cost of the potential tax revenue from the nonprofit, which is exempt from property taxes under state law.

Brookline officials estimate the site's potential revenue to the town to be around $1 million a year. The hospital also agreed to be responsible for cleaning up the soil on the site, which once held a coal-gasification plant.

Neighbors seemed unified in their approval of Craig Halvorson, a Brookline resident and the designer of Post Office Square in Boston's Financial District, as the project's landscape architect. Because Children's Hospital also owns 1 and 5 Brookline Place - essentially the entire block - it will develop the open space and manage the site as one unit, according to its vice president for real estate, Charles Weinstein. The hospital has committed to making 25 percent of the site open space.

But neighbors are leery of so much underground parking, and asked whether the hospital planned to shuttle employees from the site to its Longwood Medical Area buildings.

"We don't want that extra traffic," said John Bassett, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 6. "That's ridiculous."

Edie Brickman, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 4, agreed. "I'm not sure they need 600 spaces," she said.

Hospital spokeswoman Michelle Davis said traffic studies and a review will take place before the final plans are drawn to determine the right mix of parking uses. The development has to go through the town's design-review process and probably won't be complete for five to six years, according to Weinstein.

He noted that up to 25 percent of the spaces could be available for overnight rental to Brookline residents, and that after 6 p.m., customers at Village restaurants and shops could use the garage. The hospital also will continue to offer heavily discounted MBTA passes to employees.

"We would happily provide more parking if the town allows or requires it," Weinstein said. The hospital is now doing traffic counts on surrounding streets, and exploring the possibility of allowing a left turn off Route 9 into the building, he said.

The new building would contain one floor, or roughly 20,000 square feet, of retail space, Weinstein said. Upper stories would contain up to 250 offices, exam rooms, or computer lab space.

Much of the research the hospital could do at this site, Weinstein said, is data-crunching. "We're trying to free up space at the hospital to be more clinical space," he said.

Bassett commented: "That's a building that can easily be converted to a lab, should market conditions change. There's still a strong feeling in the neighborhood that people don't want a laboratory there."

Children's Hospital initially planned to put a level 2 biolab in the neighborhood, and the site is zoned to allow that use. But according to Davis, the hospital has plenty of new lab space nearer to the hospital, and probably won't need any near Brookline Village. Davis said the hospital is designing the space for medical offices and cannot change the space easily into lab space.

Neighbors also worry about the height of the building, which will have 15-foot-high stories on the lower floors and 13-feet ones above. Basset is concerned about shadows that would be cast on Station Street.

"If they have 11-foot floors, the upper floor will still be higher than Brook House," the condo complex built roughly 35 years ago across Washington Street. "They could go from eight floors to 10 floors if they decrease the ceiling height," he said, which could allow the hospital to accommodate the same number of offices in a thinner tower, with less shadow on neighboring streets.

The hospital is also interested in mitigating the building's impact, although perhaps not in the way Bassett envisions. Weinstein said architects are looking closely at the schedule for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System, and he believes they can reach a silver, if not a gold, standard. The higher standard probably would lower operating costs, and because the hospital has a 95-year renewable lease on the land, it might pan out in a cost-benefit analysis, he said.

For example, irrigation and storm water will be recycled on site, the exterior may be more heavily insulated than is required by building code, and bicycle cages will be installed in the parking garage.

Children's Hospital is required by town statute to contribute 1 percent of its construction costs, estimated at $75 million, to improve the streetscape around the building. Officials also are planning to overplant the landscape, Weinstein said.

"We want to make this corner sing," he said. "A thousand Children's employees live in town; we have a strong commitment to being a good neighbor."

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