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Plan for 24-story tower riles Chinatown, Leather District

Renderings of the tower proposed for 125 Lincoln St.
Renderings of the tower proposed for 125 Lincoln St. (Gensler)

One of Boston’s biggest landlords wants to build an office tower on the edge of Chinatown and the Leather District. The neighbors are decidedly not impressed.

Residents of both downtown neighborhoods are lambasting Oxford Properties’ plan for a 24-story tower on the site of the parking garage at 125 Lincoln St., in hundreds of pages of comment letters released Friday by the Boston Planning & Development Agency. They criticized the plan for its lack of public amenities, the way it would “wall off” the two neighborhoods from each other and how, at a proposed 340 feet, the building would soar more than three times higher than what’s currently allowed in the Leather District.

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“Do zoning laws mean anything at all in this city?” wrote Leather District resident Henrietta Cosentino, in all-caps, bold type.

Along with many dozens of letters from residents, critical comments were submitted by the Chinese Progressive Association, Chinatown Residents Association, and Greater Boston Legal Services. They worry that a project with 625,000 square feet of office space — but no housing — would put even more pressure on the already limited supply of affordable apartments in Chinatown.

Others, including City Councilor Michelle Wu, weighed in to note the project would displace both a grocery store and a dim sum banquet hall that are longtime Chinatown institutions.

“There are few alternatives remaining within Chinatown for these types of businesses,” wrote resident Linda See. “Losing them to an office tower would be a tremendous hit to the Chinatown community.”

Oxford has said it would like to include those businesses — which remain open for now — in the project or help them find them new locations in the neighborhood. The developer also says its building would generate $4.6 million in funding for affordable housing. Mark McGowan, its head of development in Boston, said he hopes the project would better connect the neighborhood to the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway and make room for more job growth near South Station.

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“We look forward to collaborating with the community to address comments as this process moves forward,” McGowan said in a statement.

Still, the blistering response is a setback for Oxford, the real estate arm of a Canadian municipal pension fund that has bought several major downtown office buildings in recent years and wants to make 125 Lincoln its first development project in Boston. It paid $40 million to buy the garage two years ago and has said it believes there is a strong demand for more office space in the area.

BPDA staff will consider the comments as part of their ongoing review of the project; a spokeswoman said they will be “taken into account before determining next steps.”

Oxford does have supporters, though. Dozens of Boston residents — most of them living in neighborhoods far from the site — signed form letters that called it “a tremendous opportunity” to turn an aging garage into a modern building. A few neighborhood residents spoke up for it, as well, noting that other tall buildings have been approved on the edges of Chinatown

“This is downtown Boston,” wrote John Winkler. “If a building like this is not built here where do we expect it to go?”

But Leather District resident Rob Geary pointed to Oxford’s home north of the border.

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“Canada has always been a great neighbor. Until now,” he wrote to the BPDA. “Please encourage these people to go back across the border and build their awful structure in Halifax or Saskatoon.”


Tim Logan can be reached at tim.logan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bytimlogan.