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Dorm developer changes $1b project in the Fenway — to 1,300 regular apartments

A 477-unit apartment building Scape North America plans to build on Boylston Street in the Fenway.Gensler

A year after landing in Boston with plans for $1 billion worth of privately run dorms here, the US venture of the British student-housing developer Scape is going in a different direction: away from students.

Scape North America on Monday said it would file revised plans with the city for its project on Boylston Street in the Fenway, and for two more buildings nearby. Combined, they would bring more than 1,300 apartments — at what the company says will be relatively modest rents — to a booming part of the city.

But unlike the plan Scape filed last year, those apartments won’t be built for college students. Instead, they’ll target the city’s general population, with most of one building, 220 units, set aside as affordable housing, and part of another designed to serve families visiting nearby Boston Children’s Hospital.


It’s a notable shift for a developer whose parent company runs private student housing buildings in the United Kingdom and Australia and planned a similar approach in the United States, with Boston as its beachhead. But after fierce pushback from neighbors in the Fenway, and a closer look at the market, Scape North America decided its strategy on this side of the Atlantic — in Boston and other cities it’s scouting — should be to aim for an urban middle class in dire need of housing.

“We’re not just repackaging this to get it permitted,” said Andrew Flynn, chief executive of Scape North America. “We’ve listened and responded to the Fenway community and understand that housing stability is a key issue for the neighborhood.”

To that end, Scape will revamp its plan for a building at 1252 Boylston St., initially intended to hold 533 residents in dormitory-style rooms, and to accommodate 477 open-market apartments, in a mix of sizes.


Another site it controls, at 819 Beacon St., would feature 445 market-rate apartments, plus 50 units of patient-family housing in partnership with Children’s Hospital.

A third project, the site of the Trans National Building at 2 Charlesgate West, would become a tower about 14 stories tall, with 220 affordable-housing units. The lower would be floors set aside for housing run by one of the nearby hospitals or universities.

Flynn expects that the three buildings, 1,357 units in all, will cost about $600 million to build, with rents for market-rate units starting at around $1,600 for a 300-square-foot studio. That’s roughly $1,000 a month less than studios in other new buildings in the Fenway. Scape plans to deliver them furnished, as a way to lower occupancy costs for residents.

The company owns a large site in Somerville’s Davis Square, as well, and is planning a similar approach there.

A rendering of the 477-unit apartment building Scape North America wants to build on Boylston Street in the Fenway. Gensler

The new proposal is a direct response, Flynn said, to Fenway residents who objected to Scape’s initial plan, which would have put an enormous dorm on a patch of Boylston Street where city zoning expressly forbids student housing. While the developer and some of its supporters argued the dorms would draw students out of general housing in the Fenway and nearby neighborhoods, dozens of residents wrote comment letters blasting the plan, and the Boston Planning & Development Agency eventually agreed.

The shift comes as a pleasant surprise to neighborhood advocates such as Rich Giordano, director of policy at the Fenway Community Development Corporation. He met with Flynn recently and was impressed.


“They’re doing a tremendous pivot. They listened to what everybody told them,” he said. “It’s pretty remarkable, really.”

Tim Horn, president of the Fenway Civic Association, said Monday that he has discussed the new approach with Scape but hadn’t yet seen final plans. He was cautiously optimistic, though still wary that student housing will be tucked into the Charlesgate building.

City officials, too, said they had been briefed on Scape’s revised proposal, but hadn’t fully reviewed it.

“We’re anxious to see how they move forward,” said Sheila Dillon, chief of housing for Mayor Martin J. Walsh. “They came out with a very large plan, and the neighborhood was not excited. Scape listened and revised their plans.”

Dillon has been leading the city’s push to add student housing, urging universities to either build dorms or partner with a burgeoning private student housing industry, as Northeastern University and the University of Massachusetts Boston have. Scape’s initial model went a step beyond that — student-oriented housing unaffiliated with any particular university, an approach common in Europe but not so much in the United States — and Dillon and Walsh welcomed the effort.

But, Dillon said, if Scape wants to build large numbers of conventional apartments, that’s OK, too.

“The market has several gaps right now,” she said. “We need more student housing. We need more market-rate housing. We need all of it.”

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