Private housing project causes rift with neighbors

Private housing project causes rift with neighbors

By Derek Hawkins

As the developers of GrandMarc at St. Botolph Street, the 34-story private residence hall proposed near Northeastern’s campus, move closer to receiving city approval for their project, community divisions about the tower’s construction have intensified.

Letters from the public published in a Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) scoping determination, the first official assessment of the GrandMarc project, revealed sharp rifts among local residents, civic groups, business owners and workers on whether the 1,140-bed building should be approved.

Residents and civic groups in the Gainsborough, Symphony and East Fenway area overwhelmingly opposed the idea of a residence hall of that size, citing zoning violations, increased population, foot and vehicle traffic and noise and trash problems among their reasons.

“We see not the slightest benefit from this proposal but rather the potential for great harm to the neighborhood,” Jeffrey Brody, president of the Gainsborough Neighborhood Association, said in a letter. His was one of more than 20 letters from local residents objecting to GrandMarc.

Local business owners, however, along with three labor unions and former and current Northeastern student, were enthusiastic about the project and said they supported the new addition to the area.

Michael Monahan, business manager of IBEW Local 103, an electrical workers’ union, said its construction would bring “much needed” jobs and business to the community.

“In this day and age, good paying jobs are leaving the state and the city,” Monahan said in an interview with The News. “The unionized construction industry is a place where you can raise a family, have a retirement plan and have a health plan. From the standpoint of jobs, it’s a good project.”

Phoenix Property Co., GrandMarc’s developer, has pledged to hire contractors who offer their employees high wages and health and retirement plans. As of press time, Phoenix Property Co. could not be reached for comment.

Sprinkler Fitters Local 550 and Carpenters Local 40 have also told the BRA they support GrandMarc.

Chris Walsh, owner of Conor Larkin’s Grill at 329 Huntington Ave., said he approved of GrandMarc because of the increase in business it would stimulate.

“There will be a whole new ecosystem here because of it and it will bring new life to the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s not like they’re trying to put in a sports stadium.”

Local residents almost unanimously disagreed, arguing that the residence hall would bring more problems than benefits to the area.

Robert Wright, who has lived at 51 St. Stephen St. for more than 60 years, said he was concerned the building would disrupt a “relative harmony” students, long-term renters and homeowners have achieved as the neighborhood’s demographics have changed.

“I believe the primary problem with GrandMarc is the sheer size of the project,” Wright said. “I believe it’s just too many people. It wouldn’t matter if it was students or young people or adults. We’ll all feel the effects of having so many people in such a small area.”

Most residents expressed fears of overcrowding in their letters opposing GrandMarc, but population density was not their only common concern.

The Fenway Community Development Corporation, Symphony United Neighbors and several individual residents charged GrandMarc for violation of Article 66 of the Boston Zoning Code.

The article sets the maximum height of a new building in the Fenway Neighborhood District to 90 feet and the maximum floor-to-area ratio (FAR) to 8.0. Under its current construction plans, GrandMarc exceeds the maximum height by 373 percent and the FAR maximum by 64 percent.

“Its size and scope doesn’t simply break the building standards and zoning requirements of the area, it explodes and destroys them,” said James Weiss who lives at 84 Gainsborough St.”If this project is built, get ready over the next 10 years for one monstrosity after another to be built.”

The BRA acknowledged in its scoping determination that GrandMarc’s plans violate Article 66 and has required that Phoenix Property Co. submit two additional design options that conform to the restrictions.

Other reasons residents rejected the proposal to build GrandMarc included:a lack of a through street on St. Botolph Street; a deficient number of supervisors; insufficient parking spaces (there are 16 in the current plan); uncertainty of future ownership.

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