British student housing developer Scape has big plans for Boston, and this week the company made its first move.
Scape has filed notice with the city to build a 205,500-square-foot, 15-story building on Boylston Street in the Fenway, replacing a row of low-slung storefronts along a stretch of the road that has otherwise been transformed by new development over the last decade. The building would fit about 500 units aimed largely at graduate students, a population Scape says is “often overlooked” and has “particularly acute” housing needs in Boston.
The company runs private dorms in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. The facilities are not affiliated with any particular schools but offer 24/7 support services much like a university dorm. It will base its new US operations in Boston, where Mayor Martin J. Walsh is pushing for more student housing to ease pressure on the city’s tight rental market.
Scape plans to invest approximately $1 billion in development in Boston in the coming years, executive chairman Nigel Taee said recently, with several billion more dollars targeted for projects in other cities across the United States.
“Scape is thrilled to announce we have secured our first site in the US,” said Andrew Flynn, CEO of Scape USA. “The location will serve as our US flagship for innovative academic accommodations.”
First, though, it must win approval from the Boston Planning & Development Agency. The Walsh administration has been supportive of Scape’s launch, but some neighbors in Fenway are already raising concerns.
The Fenway Civic Association pushed back against Scape’s plans, saying in a recent letter to the BPDA that it’s in “firm opposition” to privately run student housing in the neighborhood.
“It undermines our zoning and what we’ve worked on for the last two decades, to get dorms built on campus,” association president Tim Horn said. “We believe in building dorms, but they should be built on campus.”
Other neighborhood groups, though, point out that many local schools balk at the high cost of building and maintaining dorms, and say Scape could provide a solution that helps ease a housing crunch driven in part by students living off-campus.
“We’re keeping an open mind,” said Andre Jones, housing director at the Fenway Community Development Corp. “If this has the effect of drawing students into dedicated buildings and out of buildings that can house families and working people, it could benefit everyone.”
That debate will probably play out in the coming months. Scape said it plans to file more detailed plans within 30 days, which will kick off community meetings and formal review by the BPDA.