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West End residents pan proposal to replace Garden Garage with housing

Posted by Sara Brown  February 8, 2011 05:46 PM

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A $300 million plan to tear down the West End’s Garden Garage and replace it with two taller residential buildings and underground parking faces opposition from West Enders.

They argue that the buildings would add pedestrian and vehicle traffic to already crowded streets and threaten views, sunlight, and the character of the neighborhood.

At public meeting Monday night hosted by the Boston Redevelopment Authority, more than 80 people came to the auditorium at Shriners Hospital to hear representatives from Equity Residential and Elkus Manfredi architecture firm outline plans to replace the five-story, 650-spot parking garage on Lomasney Way with a development housing 500 rental units, open areas, retail space, and an underground parking lot.

The main part of the project would be two wedge-shaped towers, with the West Tower measuring 240 feet high, and the East Tower 310 feet tall. An eight-story retail space would adjoin the East Tower, and a below-ground, four-story parking garage would offer 850 parking spots.

According to Greg White, Equity’s vice president of development, the company would start construction on the project near the end of 2012, with construction expected to last three years.

Elkus Manfedi’s David Manfredi said that replacing the nearly 300,000 square foot garage with two towers separated by 75 feet to 80 feet of open space would “re-energize the Nashua Street area” and connect the West End to North Station and the Bulfinch Triangle.

The West End has specific character, Manfredi said, and the development “recognizes, respetcs, and reinforces the scale and character of the existing residential neighborhood.”

Manfredi said that the project would create about 20,000 square feet of new usable open space, including planting areas and walkways.

While nobody spoke in favor of keeping the Garden Garage as-is—Manfredi called it “hardly an architectural treasure”—residents did argue against existing plans, with concerns ranging from pedestrian and vehicular traffic to the noise of a three-year construction project.

Some asked about the fate of Basketball City, an indoor, air-conditioned sports facility that is housed in the Garden Garage.

But most frequently, residents spoke against the loss of sunlight and treasured views for nearby apartments.

Kelly Feeley said she stands to “lose sunlight and any view of the city” from her eighth-floor apartment at 8 Whittier Place, adding that she has concerns about how this would affect her property value.

“I’m hoping that we can get it so we can build one small, shorter building,” Feeley said after the meeting, stressing the impact of not being able to see sun or sky from her windows.

With the loss of sunlight, “All my plants will die,” she added.

“I’m not pretending that we’re not taking views away,” said Manfredi, adding that the towers’ irregular, wedge-shaped design is intended to minimize the impact.

Compounding the issue, residents said, is another nearby development, the Nashua Street Residences. The 40-story building on Causeway Street and Nashua Street has been approved by the BRA, and could potentially block West End views.

City officials are “totally ignoring our feelings and our concerns,” said Lynne Young, another Whittier Place resident. The current plan “is worse than anything,” she added, prompting murmurs of agreement from other audience members.

After the meeting, Young said she has concerns about her view, as well as changes to light, wind, and density, including more traffic on the already-congested Martha Way. She said that she and her husband, Clifford, sometimes have trouble navigating the crowded streets.

The West End “is an incredible place to live,” Young said. “We don’t want it to be ruined.

In response to resident concerns, representatives from Equity and the BRA said the development process is just beginning, with more public meetings and time for comment to come.

The public comment period about the project has been extended to March 11, 2011. To comment about the project, residents can contact BRA Senior Project Manager Jay Rourke at jay.rourke.bra@cityofboston.gov.

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