A condominium project that would transform one of the most historic corners of downtown Boston received rare — and scathing — criticism at the Boston Planning & Development Agency board meeting Thursday.
Nonetheless, the proposal still passed, clearing a key City Hall hurdle, and developers aim to start construction next summer.
New York-based Fortis Property Group wants to build seven stories of condos atop the Dock Square Garage — a 1970s-era parking facility wedged between Haymarket, Faneuil Hall, and the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway — while retaining most of the parking spaces below. The $140 million project, it says, would enliven a largely dead block in the heart of downtown while adding 209 condos and make it easier to convert the garage to other uses in the future if demand for parking fades.
“We’re excited about the way this is going to fill an eyesore in the Greenway once this is developed,” said John Matteson, a veteran local developer who’s working with Fortis.
But the structure’s design, and its height, have been controversial from the start. Fortis first proposed the building in early 2018 at 209 feet high, well above the 125-foot zoning limit along the Greenway. And the glass-paneled design it initially pitched was jarring to preservationists and nearby residents.
Through months of meetings with the Boston Civic Design Commission — a board of architects who advise BPDA — the building’s design evolved. The height shrank to 125 feet and the facade became more brick than glass to better fit its surroundings. Still, at a meeting last week, the BCDC remained split on the project, and BPDA staff took the unusual step of seeking approval from the full board without BCDC’s sign-off.
At a hearing Thursday night, the project received mixed reviews from neighbors and advocacy groups. Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Greenway Conservancy testified in favor of it, while the Boston Preservation Alliance and Freedom Trail Foundation spoke against the plan. Board member Ted Landsmark, an architect, spent several minutes asking BPDA staff why they would back a project in such a historic spot that their own design board didn’t support.
“Replacing a terrible garage with a 209-unit condo building doesn’t seem to me like the highest use of this space,” Landsmark said. “And we’re going to be stuck with this for decades. I’m dumbfounded. I just don’t get it.”
But, if dissenting votes are rare at the BPDA, full rejection of projects that reach the board are almost unheard of. The project was approved, with little discussion from other board members, 3-1. The building still needs approval from the BPDA’s Zoning Commission, but once that is secured, a spokesman said, developers hope to break ground in mid-2020.