The first independent student housing development in Boston may need to make room for more than students.
That’s one of the recommendations city planners are making to Scape, a British firm with plans to build private dorms in the Fenway. In a review released this week of Scape’s first proposal — a 533-bed dorm on Boylston Street — staffers at the Boston Planning & Development Agency point out that the project violates zoning in the area and urges Scape to “explore the viability of alternate models that would allow a mix of students and older, working households.”
In other words, make it more like a normal apartment building than an off-campus dorm.
The BPDA was responding to fierce pushback from Fenway neighborhood groups and residents, who point to zoning rules that explicitly forbid dormitories on Boylston Street. Those regulations, adopted in 2004, were designed to encourage universities to build dorms on their own campuses, and preserve space for general housing in the already student-heavy Fenway.
“The intention was and is clear,” wrote resident Fredericka Veikley in a comment letter to the BPDA. “The Fenway cannot continue to sustain an unlimited student population growth and an unlimited loss of residential land and property for their housing.”
Still Scape, citing the Walsh administration’s push for more student-oriented housing to keep students out of traditional apartment buildings, has big plans for Boston, and the Fenway in particular. Along with the first site on Boylston Street near Fenway Park, Scape paid $39 million earlier this year to buy the Trans National Building on Charlesgate West, and has an agreement with Boston Children’s Hospital to buy a 1.1-acre parking lot off Beacon Street as well, according to real estate industry sources. All told, Scape has said it wants to spend $1 billion in Boston by 2023 and has opened a North American headquarters here.
But the company — which operates student buildings in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia — has a particular model. Its locations are off-campus and independent of any particular university. The company offers 51-week leases to verified students — undergraduate or graduate — at local schools, with a high level of services and 24/7 support staff.
“Everything is built and designed for students’ needs,” executive chairman Nigel Taee said in an interview with the Globe last year.
If that model won’t fly in the Fenway, it’s not clear how Scape might adapt it, or whether it would reconsider its plans for Boston. In a statement Friday, Scape North America CEO Andrew Flynn said he was “pleased to receive this response from the BPDA and remain committed” to working with the city and community.
“We will work to incorporate and respond to the feedback we’ve received,” Flynn said.
That feedback included other recommendations, like making the building shorter, nixing a digital billboard Scape had proposed, and creating a replacement space for Machine, a popular gay-friendly nightclub on the site now, in a theater that Scape is offering to build. It will likely file a revised proposal in the coming months.