Most residents at a community meeting last week said they want to see more changes made, particularly to address traffic-related concerns, before approval is given to a developer’s proposal to build a hotel, upscale apartments, offices, and retail, restaurant, and parking spaces in a five-story building in Cleveland Circle.
Boston Development Group unveiled its latest plans after making a second round of revisions to the proposal it first presented nearly two years ago.
The 234,550-square-foot, mixed-use building would be constructed across 2.5 acres, replacing an Applebee’s restaurant in Boston’s Brighton neighborhood, and the abandoned Circle Cinema on an abutting parcel that straddles the Brighton-Brookline border.
Approval is needed from both Boston and Brookline, because the project extends into both municipalities.
In the latest plan, changes have been made that, according to studies, would improve traffic at the Cleveland Circle intersection, according to John Meunier, project manager for Boston Development Group.
Another significant change was redesigning the building’s exterior to try to make it match other buildings in that area. More prominent signs for the building’s hotel have also been added.
The edge of the building closest to the intersection has been designed so that, instead of coming to a right-angle like a point, the building’s corner is more gradual, and includes a section that faces the intersection.
At the meeting Wednesday in the Alexander Hamilton School in Brighton, those changes seemed to resolve concerns previously expressed by nearby residents about the building’s appearance and its orientation to the intersection.
And some area residents told the meeting that they support the latest proposal.
But many others said they still have serious concerns about potential traffic issues as a result of the project, and expressed skepticism over the validity of traffic studies presented by the developer.
Mary Cronin, a resident member of a city-appointed advisory group, said she is worried about how quickly and safely pedestrians and cyclists will be able to navigate the busy intersection of Beacon Street and Chestnut Hill Avenue.
“You have prioritized getting vehicles through Cleveland Circle,” she told members of the development team at the meeting, adding later that she believes the traffic study results are misleading. “You’re not showing us the real impact.”
Several people said they feared the building’s inclusion of medical offices might draw a significant number of people needing somewhere to park their vehicle.
Residents of the 112-unit Waterworks at Chestnut Hill luxury condominiums next door expressed opposition to a specific component of the project that would have hotel guests use an access road that cuts through their complex.
An existing easement gives the proposed development property the legal right to use that road without owning it.
Meunier has said studies show the hotel traffic would be lighter than when the access road was used by the movie theater, which closed in 2008, about a year after the Waterworks complex opened.
The developer is also proposing to add signs to encourage motorists to drive slowly and safely on the access road.
But Waterworks residents, including Ken Stein, maintain that the project’s use of that road would create hazards and would lower their property values.
Stein said that he considers the overall project to be unacceptable.
“We feel the planning is going in the right direction, but it’s not ready for prime time,” Stein said.
He said neighbors believe the prominence of the site gives it the potential to become a “gateway” to Boston.
“It’s a one-shot deal,” Stein said. “If we mess it up, we won’t get another chance.”
The project manager said he and other members of the development team are aware of what is at stake.
“People have told me, ‘John, all you want is the most dense project to make the most money. You don’t care what happens here,’ ” said Meunier. “But we’re going to invest in excess of $80 million into this project, and we don’t want a project that fails at an intersection that fails.”
Meunier said the developer has worked to address concerns. But he said some parts of the project have not been changed because studies and analysis simply show the existing proposal makes the most sense.
For example, he said, studies show mitigation efforts proposed as part of the project would actually improve traffic.
Though many residents continue to question the accuracy of the studies, the development team repeatedly emphasized that its studies are accurate.
In the latest plan, the building would be about 2,000 square feet smaller than in the earlier plan.
The proposed number of Hilton Garden Inn hotel rooms is now 196, which is 15 more than the prior plan.
The number of proposed residential units is 74, down from 82. That change in particular has allowed the developer to make the building about one story shorter along a side that is adjacent to the Cassidy Playground.
The amount of medical office space is now 18,000 square feet, down by about 1,000 square feet. There would be about 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail and restaurant space, the same as previously proposed.
There would be 126 garage parking spaces and 77 other spaces in a surface lot behind the building, which is 15 and 10 fewer spots, respectively. The building’s courtyard area, where vehicles enter to park or pick up and drop off hotel guests, has been made larger.
Contingent on getting approval from both Boston and Brookline officials, the project would take about 18 months to build.
The developer had hoped to start construction by this spring. Meunier said the developer now hopes to start in the fall.