Monday, October 1, 2012

Barry's Corner Parcel A

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Harvard, the BRA, and the hired developers came by to discuss plans for Parcel A in Barry's Corner. That's the one on the northwest corner of Western Ave and N. Harvard St. I wish I had some pictures to show, but they don't seem to have posted them online. In any case, the plan is to bring activity and diversity to the corner. The building will be mixed-use with 40,000 s.f. retail first-floor and residential above. It will range in height from two, to six, to nine stories. It seems they are leaning towards fully underground parking. There will be a new street created, Grove Street, along the northeast edge of the building, between 175 N. Harvard St and the new building. One slide placed the corner in the context of public transportation, with the 66, 70, 86 and Harvard Shuttle shown. Upgrades to transit access, they say, are forthcoming. They do plan to alter the Harvard Shuttle's route to take advantage of one of the new roads, and eliminate the extremely sharp curve it currently has to navigate.

So far I'm liking what I'm seeing, for the most part. Still need to see specifics in the upcoming institutional master plan PNF, but the presentation was good. All of the people in the room seemed to agree that Harvard did a good job this time with the presentation. They were also happy to see some changes made in response to comments earlier in the summer. Unfortunately, one of those changes was to reduce the maximum height from 11 stories to 9 stories. I'm not quite sure what's driving the community opposition to height, except that it might be rooted in some desire to see Harvard Stadium be the tallest structure in the area. Admittedly, I personally find this to be a weak reason. Anyway, one person asked if going to 8 stories was a make-or-break request. It strikes me that this was testing the developers. If they were willing to concede 8, then would someone else come forward and request 7? This could get out of hand.

There was a long discussion about the economics of building a project like this. The developers are interested in 275-325 units, and have proposed 300 for the time being. So far, they are holding firm on that, which is a good thing. The parcel is 2.4 acres so that works out to about 125 dwelling units per gross acre, which is a decent density for a city block. Interestingly, one of the finance guys spoke about some of the economics of the plan, saying basically that it cost 30-50% more money to build in the city than outside of it. He said that this construction cost is the main driver behind the cost/benefit analysis. He also claimed that pretty much all development in the city has razor thin margins in the first year, but the goal was to achieve decent profitability in the long run, over the course of decades.

Harvard envisions that the blocks surrounding Barry's Corner will also grow up in similar fashion, outside of the preserved open space areas. They showed some of this in several conceptual art images. Although you do have to take those visions with a large grain of salt, I do hope they're right.


  1. Basically, in any neighborhood of Boston, whatever a developer proposes is generally "too tall" for a certain number of people in the neighborhood. And if they don't lower it from the original proposal, those people will fight tooth and nail to try to kill the whole project if they have to. I'm pretty sure at this point most developers just add two stories on what they actually would like to build because they know they're going to have to knock those off in the "negotiation" with the neighbors.

    I personally don't see what difference 9 stories makes vs 11, or in the case of some new towers in Back Bay, 23 vs 25 of whatever it was. It's not like you can even tell the difference when you're standing on the sidewalk next to it.

    1. I've heard of this effect too, but I am curious about what motivates it, particularly in this case, which was different. This wasn't one of those meetings where people were angry. All the questions and answers were very respectful, which was nice to see. The person who asked about 8 was in fact one of the people who had helped select the developers in the first place, and he was happy to work with them. He wanted to hear a genuine answer about the economics, and I think that he got a fair answer.