Cabot, Cabot & Forbes CEO Jay Doherty told Brighton residents last night he'll reevaluate his company's plans for a 680-unit apartment complex aimed at grad students, post docs and young researchers on the hill behind St. Elizabeth's Hospital after they told him it's too dense and that the last thing Brighton needs is more apartments for transients in a neighborhood already flooded with them.
Residents at a crowded Brighton Allston Improvement Association meeting asked him to look at reducing the density of the project on the site of the old St. Gabriel's Monastery and to consider building some of the units as condos to increase the number of people who would have better ties to the community.
And that was after residents tore into a 287-unit apartment complex another developer, Avalon Bay, wants to build right next door to the CCF project on land owned by the Archdiocese of Boston off Washington Street.
With developers these days only proposing rental projects in Brighton, which would put more transients in a neighborhood already suffering from a lack of stability, "we're looking at, and I'm not exagerating, the death of this neighborhood," resident Kevin Carragee said.
Before getting into a sometimes feisty exchange with residents, Doherty started by explaining the benefits of his proposed project on the 12-acre site the company bought last year from the owner of St. Elizabeth's Hospital: It would provide a safe haven for hundreds of young academics by giving them safe, efficient apartments - and remove them from the Brighton rental pool, which could help ease pressures on rents in the neighborhood. He estimated 8,200 such people now live in Brighton and Allston.
Doherty makes a point.
He said Cabot, Cabot & Forbes would set up a shuttle-bus system - complete with mobile app for scheduling rides - to get the tenants to their campuses, something he said the company now routinely does at the new complexes it builds. Most of the units would be studios or one-bedroom units, with some two-bedroom and even three-bedroom units.
The company would spend $15 million to $20 million restoring the monastery on the site and another $4 million or so restoring a wooded area designed by the Olmsted Brothers - the landscaping company set up by the sons of Frederick Law Olmsted - and would keep roughly 60% of the parcel as green space. A spot near the top of the hill would be set aside as a vista, open to the public, with views of the Boston skyline, he said.
But residents were having little of it. They said the 400 proposed parking spaces was simply not enough and that they are tired of developers jawing about how grad students and their ilk don't drive, when the evidence from other Brighton projects suggests otherwise, snorted at the idea of shuttle buses crowding their streets and said Doherty's proposal could have been so much better given the majesty of the site his company is sitting on.
Doherty said his proposal has a density of just 50 units per acre and noted that, unlike the proposed Avalon Bay project, which would stick a building with two six-story wings right on Washington Street, his buildings, some of which would rise to seven stories, would be at least 150 feet away from the street.
Eva Webster, who has long complained about the corrosive effects of students on her neighborhood, even blasted Doherty for proposing something she said would screw local residents with large houses because he would suck the best tenants - quiet, studious grad students - away from them.
Webster, who accused Doherty of repeatedly blinking at her as she talked, said he should come back with a plan for condos, which tend to have residents who care more about the neighborhood since they own their own units. Doherty said he'd be willing to look at including some condos, but said the economics of a large project - built entirely with union labor, as CCF does - would make an all-condo project simply too expensive for Brighton.
"It actually isn't our problem that you can't make it work," BAIA Vice President Anabela Gomes told him.
Not everybody opposed the project. One former graduate student said he stayed in Brighton after he was finished with his studies.
All this was after residents fidgeted as David Gillespie of Avalon Bay discussed his company's plans for a 287-unit, two-building apartment complex along Washington Street between Fidelis Way and Monastery Road - right across from the CCF parcel.
The new face of Washington Street?
Gillespie said the buildings would have a mix of units aimed at attracting both people who need to be in the neighborhood for a year or two to people who are there for the long haul - he said some tenants in the company's buildings downtown have been there for 20 years.
Although the main building, along Washington, would rise to six stories, Gillespie said it would have a large gap in the middle of just two stories, specifically to avoid a large "street wall" fronting Washington. The two-story structure would house the entrance to parking and support a courtyard-like green space, he said.
Avalon Bay proposed 230 parking spaces - most in a garage under the main building. Gillespie said he's counting on many residents commuting to work via the nearby Green Line, the new commuter-rail station New Balance is paying for way up off of Guest Street and bicycles - which brought considerable derision from the residents in the room, because, they said, the Green Line is already over capacity, nobody's going to walk to Guest Street and nobody's going to ride their bikes in the winter.
Webster accused him of showing residents plans for a massive project that would involve cutting down "majestic trees" to maximize the profits of corporate overlords living in "gorgeous mansions out of state." Another resident said the proposal was "unbelievable" on a parcel that was once a farm and that never had more than 50 people living on it.
Other residents noted the six-story wings would sit across from single-family homes. Gillespie acknowledged that, but said other buildings on his company's side of Washington already rise to six stories.