Developers pitch residential towers for old Ch. 56 site

A rendering from The Architectural Team shows a conceptual rendering of 23- and 26-story towers, containing around 750 units and with underground parking garages, proposed for the former Channel 56 property at 75 Morrissey Boulevard. Development team Center Court Partners emphasizes that these are “very early days” and nothing has yet been filed with the city. Neighbors got their first look at the potential plans at a Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association planning committee meeting on Tuesday.

The owners of several key Morrissey Boulevard parcels floated a plan for two 20-plus-story towers at the former Channel 56 site at the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association’s planning commitee meeting Tuesday.

Center Court Partners purchased the 2.23-acre site from car magnate Herb Chambers in June 2017 for $14.5 million. The group has since acquired two adjoining parcels and now owns all the property between the Hub 25 buildings and the site of the Boston Globe’s former headquarters, including the Star Market parcel and the Beasley Media Group building.

Citing restrictions on long-term leases that would stop them from fully controlling the Beasley site until at least 2032 and the Star Market site until 2040, the Center Court group proposed a pair of 23- and 26-story towers on the one parcel they can move forward on: 75 Morrissey. The Reporter first published a story on their preliminary plans for the site in September 2018.

Developer and architect David Raftery said he and his team are “trying to stay within the spirit of the master plan,” pointing to the 2011 BPDA-published Columbia Point Master Plan, drawing from two years of work from a local task force looking to envision growth around the Point.

Near the JFK/UMass station, the land-use plan envisioned buildings as tall as 17 stories. Building heights would drop as they moved south, down to around four stories at the Globe site, which is adjacent to the residential section of Savin Hill and the environmentally sensitive Patten’s Cove.

Several at the meeting noted that the master plan is still a valuable guide, but represents an era prior to the sprawling Bayside Expo center deal and the five-story Hub 25 building built next to the T.

Raftery said their concept for around 750 units is “a highly residential program here to complement essentially what’s happening at the BEAT next door.”

The BEAT is the innovation campus, office space, and brew hall planned for the former Globe site. Owners Nordblom Co. opted not to include residential as part of that plan, keeping the bones of the existing Globe structure. “We think it’s a great opportunity to kind of migrate residential to this,” Raftery said as disapproving muttering began filling the room’s edges.

Michael Binette, with The Architectural Team, presented some conceptual images to the assembled civic members. He, too, referenced the master plan, calling for a break-up of the area’s “super blocks” into more of an orderly neighborhood grid including large amounts of residential units.

“We think there’s still a way to maintain that kind of vision of a vibrant mixed use community within this parcel,” Binette said. To “amenetize” the site, Binette said, calls for density.

The early plans, which have not been filed with city officials, show a 23-story residential tower over 3,800 square feet of retail and a 26-story tower over 7,600 square feet of retail. Multi-story parking garages would sit beneath each building, for a parking ratio of about 0.5 to the total unit count, which Binette said seemed “reasonable given the trends” toward using transit and reduced driving.

The reception to the conceptual plan was mixed.

Planning committee chair Eileen Fenton politely echoed some of the aesthetic objections, asking if the group had similar height plans down the line from the other parcels. “That looks weird to me right now,” she said of the lone towers.

Though some felt that 300-plus parking spaces were inadequate and worried about traffic flows into Savin Hill, Paul Nutting wished the team had banked more on the nearby T.

More destiny was “called for at JFK station,” Nutting said. “They could walk downstairs, take the elevator downstairs to the train, as opposed to all I’m hearing here about driving and circulation and Howard Stein Hudson. This should really be more transit-oriented and focused on that.”

Columbia-Savin Hill civic president Desmond Rohan noted that the Red Line is already often overburdened. With around 20 stories also planned for the nearby Mary Ellen McCormack development, Rohan wondered, “How’s the Red Line going to handle that?”

Don Walsh, who led the master plan task force, asked the Center Court team to think down the line, to try to work with the civic association and city to create a cohesive area. They got on board with density in the master plan because there were promised community benefits, he said, “and I’m not seeing any of that right now.”

“It seems like we’re coming full circle,” Walsh said. “We started the Columbia Point master plan with four, five, six projects going about their merry way by themselves. Now we’re back at where we started before: the Globe doing its thing, you’re doing your thing, 20 acres at Mt. Vernon, UMass is expanding and expanding… everybody is dealing by themselves.”

Bisette said they have reached out to some of the other landowners like Nordblom and they are trying to “think about how they’ll all work together even if they don’t all work together today.” Next steps are to meet with the BPDA to see if it is appropriate timing-wise to file a Letter of Intent to get the city process underway.

In other meeting news:

• It’s last call at Tom English’s bar and the Dorchester Market, which will close on April 1 and April 7 respectively. A new mixed-use project will fill out that corner, including a new space for the market under the same management.

Property owner Adam Sarbaugh has also purchased the property next to the Little House and an adjoining house on Howes Street. Sarbaugh said he expects to acquire the Little House— now owned by College Bound Dorchester— in the summer: “We’re acquiring the site and creating a smooth transition for College Bound Dorchester out of East Cottage.”

• The owner of Theo’s pizza plans a three-story building with ground floor retail and four rental units at the 1078 Dorchester Ave. site. It requires variances for use and the space between buildings. Reception in the meeting was focused on any possible blockage of sunlight or view for a three-three-decker next door. The project has no Zoning Board of Appeal date yet set and will come back before the Columbia-Savin Hill group.

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