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Back Bay neighbors question Copley tower development

Posted by Sara Brown  September 30, 2011 10:14 AM

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The Copley Place tower project, a $500 million project adding residential units, new retail space, and a new landmark to the Boston skyline, was criticized Thursday by some Back Bay residents, who raised concern about how the tower will impact wind, light, and affordable housing in the neighborhood.

The Simon Property group plans to build the 47-story tower at Copley Place, across from the MBTA's Back Bay station and over the Massachusetts Turnpike. When completed, it will be the largest residential building in Boston, with 318 residences rising above an expanded, flagship Neiman Marcus store and a glass-enclosed garden with cafes and restaurants, more retail space, and space for residents to gather.

At a Thursday night meeting hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, Back Bay and South End residents, including several from the nearby Tent City apartments, said they worried about how the development would impact their neighborhood.

"I'm really concerned about a lot of aspects [of the project]," said Jim Hill, chair of the Neighborhood Association of Back Bay. He noted that Back Bay residents made up a good portion of the more than 75 people filling the meeting room at the Boston Public Library.

The Back Bay has more than 2,000 residents, "most of whom live north of this project in the shadow," he added. "We walk these streets."

He added that the aerial photos of the project, which show a narrow tower appearing west of the Hancock Tower, aren't useful to him. "I will never personally see that in my life unless I"m in an airplane."

"I'm very concerned about the impact on people with disabilities in the area," said John Kelly, a member of the Boston Commission for Persons with Disabilities. He pointed out that the presentation about the project did not mention people with disabilities, and existing brick sidewalks are easily damaged, and missing bricks make it hard for people with disabilities to traverse the area.

"I urge you to come meet with our commission," he said.

Resident Steve Wintermeier said he was concerned that financial problems would hamper the project, getting rid of any benefit to the community in terms of jobs and improved streets.

"We've seen too many of these and that's why we're concerned," he said, mentioning the Big Dig and Columbus Center.

Jack Hobbs, CEO of R.F. Walsh Collaborative Partners, said the company intends to complete the project and will not depend on public subsidies to do so. He also said that the project will pump money into Boston's economy with temporary and permanent jobs, $250,000 for public art, and some improvements to the Southwest Corridor Park.

With increased shade and wind cause for concern for some residents, the report on the project's impact said that from October to December, the shadow of the building passes across Copley Square Park in less than two hours--an amount that is still problematic to some residents.

Tent City, which is to the south of the building, will not be impacted, according to the developers.

Though some said the 5 percent affordable housing located within the building is a "pittance," Hobbs said the city's affordable housing requirement will be fulfilled within the neighborhood.

As for the 318 residences? Hobbs said they couldn't name the price yet, but "they will be expensive."

While most speakers aired concerns, at least one resident said he was excited about the project. Ryan Smith, who lives at Dartmouth Street and Columbus Avenue, said he wanted to "be one voice to say I think this is a fantastic project."

"The reason a lot of us choose to live in Boston, in the city, as opposed to Wellesley or Framingham, is projects like these," he said. "I appreciate my neighbors continuing to ask for more...I think it's a great project."

The public comment period on the project ends on October 31, 2011.

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