After more than two hours of comment from dozens of residents, local officials, and others — commentary that was evenly split between support and opposition — the Boston Planning and Development Agency board on Thursday approved an 11-story life-science lab building at 125 Lincoln St., at the border of the Leather District and Chinatown.
The project was one of three lab projects the BPDA board approved at its November board meeting, including 742,000 square feet in two buildings at 310 Northern Ave. in the Seaport and a 97,000-square-foot office-to-lab conversion at 51 Melcher St. in Fort Point. All told, the BPDA board approved $1.3 billion worth of projects spanning 1.62 million square feet.
The board signed off on a BPDA study of the feasibility of converting vacant downtown offices into residential or life-science space, as outlined in the city’s recent downtown revitalization plan.
“As we all know, office is going through a transition right now,” said BPDA Director Arthur Jemison. “This will give us the information and knowledge we need to work closely with owners and developers on putting all of the space in the city — specifically the downtown office space that’s underutilized — to reach its fullest potential.”
The 11-story 125 Lincoln project prompted by far the most public discussion.
It will replace an existing five-story garage with a 335,000-square-foot lab with a full block of ground-floor retail space, including a banquet hall. Developer Oxford Properties has also pledged to grant a nearby building at 79 Essex St. to the Asian Community Development Corp. to build between 50 and 60 units of income-restricted housing, a commitment that drew support from the city’s Chief of Housing Sheila Dillon, City Councilor Ed Flynn, Asian CDC Executive Director Angie Liou, and Hei La Moon proprietor Albert Leung, among others.
Public comment split into two camps: Those who argued the project would create a wedge between the two historic neighborhoods, and those who supported tearing down the dilapidated garage and creating new affordable housing in Chinatown. Many opponents cited a recent vote by the Boston Civic Design Commission, an architectural advisory board, opposing the project.
“This particular circumstance really epitomizes the difficult choices this board has to make, where we’re balancing many economic and design and community impact factors against each other, and try to do the best that we can for moving the city forward,” said BPDA board member Ted Landsmark.
The board ultimately approved 125 Lincoln in a 4-0 vote.
“This is the process working,” said BPDA Chair Priscilla Rojas.
Rojas was the sole nay vote on 51 Melcher, an office-to-lab conversion the board tabled in September amid stiff neighborhood opposition.
In the weeks since, developer GI Partners hosted a life-science safety seminar and pledged to add an additional layer between walls shared between residential property and future lab space, among other mitigation efforts. In a statement, the development team said the community’s input and participation made for a better project.
The BPDA board also approved several residential projects: 48 affordable apartments at 568-574 Columbia Road and 45 apartments at 9-19 Vaughan Ave. in Dorchester; 50 condos at 66 Geneva Ave. in Roxbury; and 79 apartments at 110-128R Terrace St. in Mission Hill.
The board also OK’d two hotels: an 80-room hotel at 7-9 Hamilton Place near the Park Street MBTA station, and a plan to add eight rooms to a planned 15-story hotel at 104 Canal St. in the West End’s Bulfinch Triangle, which was originally approved in 2014.