Back Bay skyscraper concerns South End neighbors by Linda Rodriguez
managing editorThursday Apr 3, 2008 When the owners of the Copley Place mall announced their intention to build 47 stories of residential apartments on top of the Neiman Marcus two weeks ago, attention immediately turned to the impact the structure might have on the residents of the Back Bay.
Residents on the other side of the Southwest Corridor Park, here in the South End, however, are also concerned.
"The building is technically in the Back Bay, but it’s the South End it directly affects," said Carla Nelson, a resident of Holyoke Street. Holyoke Street, like others in the Cosmopolitan Neighborhood Association area, would be directly in the shadow of the proposed tower, which would be one of the largest in the city of Boston.
The Simon Property Group, which owns Copley Place, is the country’s largest public real estate company and has built hundreds of malls and retail venues across the world. They signaled their intention to construct the building in a Letter of Intent addressed to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) on March 19, outlining the tower’s features and amenities: 300 residential units in 47 stories atop the resident Neiman Marcus, a day spa, a health club, a resident’s library. The building would also feature the expansion of Neiman Marcus by 54,000 square feet, an additional 60,000 square feet of other retail space, and a four season Winter Garden. In a press release issued the day after the Letter, Simon said that it will work with the city as well as the Tent City Corporation, the development company with its roots in the Tent City apartments, to satisfy the Boston’s affordable housing requirement.
But it’s the sheer size of the tower that has local residents worried. "We have the townhouses here, the Victorian townhouses, and it just towers over them," said Nelson, later adding, "I’m on the ground floor, I would be able to see it from here."
Nelson said that she and her neighbors are also anxious about a host of other issues, from the density of the new residents and increased traffic in Back Bay station and the Southwest Corridor Park, to the shade created by the building, to the potential wind. But perhaps more than that, she said she’s worried about what the proposed building could do to the character of the neighborhood and even the city.
"Boston is a city of great neighborhoods and that’s not a neighborhood; a skyscraper is not a neighborhood," she said. "It takes away the feeling of the neighborhood to look up and see skyscrapers."
Moreover, she said, she’s concerned about the fact that this building is only one of several large-scale projects going up in the neighborhood: In the few blocks around this project, two buildings, one a 19-story and the other a 30-story, are under construction at the Prudential, as is a nine-story building with 350 units of housing at the corner of Clarendon and Stuart streets. And the embattled Columbus Center, should construction continue, would bring a 35-story building just on the other side of Back Bay station.
"They’re overbuilding," said Nelson. "I don’t understand. The buildings aren’t even up yet, and they’re already planning more."
At this point, the building is still in the very formative stages. A representative of the developers said that the cost of the building hasn’t been determined yet and the public review process hasn’t begun.
Others who live near the proposed building are reserving judgment on the project until more is known about it.
"There’s not a lot of information out about the building," said Duane Lefevre, a resident of the nearby St. Botolph neighborhood area, who said that his neighborhood association would be discussing the development at their meeting this month. However, Lefevre added, "It’s in an appropriate area. In general the neighborhood has been pretty supportive of projects as long as our opinions and input is taken into account."
Lefevre and other local residents will hopefully get the chance to give their opinions on the project in the near future; the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) is currently seeking nominations from local residents, business owners, abutters, and community organizations for a Citizens Advisory Committee on the proposed project. The express purpose of the committee is to advise the BRA and the city during the public review process.
"I hope that they would pick someone at least from this neighborhood, who speaks for us," said Nelson of the committee. "I hope my neighborhood doesn’t get left out."
Nominations to the Citizens Advisory Committee can be sent to Lauren Shurtleff via email to Lauren.Shurtleff.BRA@cityofboston.gov by 5 p.m. on Monday, April 21.
Linda Rodriguez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org