Developer wanted to make Readville apartment buildings look different from all the other buildings; City said nah, we're good

Sprague Street south of the Sprague Street bridge

Imagine this stretch as "a real street in the future."

A developer who set out to give a proposed Readville apartment complex an industrial look in homage to the neighborhood's industrial history and to set his apartments off from all the other apartment complexes approved in recent years is being told by city officials to ditch those plans.

While they're at it, the Boston Civic Design Commission and the BPDA want Jordan Warshaw to bring his buildings, in particular one with a planned restaurant, right up to Sprague Street because they're convinced the somnolent collection of industrial buildings on the other side of the street, between the Sprague Street bridge and the Dedham line will become a vibrant, walkable area, or as the commission put it, "a real street in the future." Warshaw had proposed keeping his four buildings, housing 521 apartments, as far away and down the hill from Sprague as possible to minimize their visual impact on the surrounding area.

The comments from the commission and the BPDA are in a "scoping determination" the BPDA sent to Warshaw last week, in response to the initial plans he filed with the BPDA last year for a four-building complex to replace what is now a collection of warehouse and truck-repair buildings down a steep slope from Sprague Street, just south of the Sprague Street bridge and next to the Readville train station, the Northeast Corridor tracks and Sprague Pond.

Warshaw said he deliberately set out to make his buildings look different from all the other complexes that have gone up in recent years both in Boston - Forest Hills, anyone? - and in its suburbs. And the way the land slopes away from Sprague Street, he said, would let him put taller buildings - one up to eight stories - with less of a visual impact on nearby residential areas.

Warshaw's initial proposal, across Sprague from buildings shown above:

Sprague Street proposal

But it turns out city officials don't want such an industrial look in a neighborhood full of industrial buildings - some of which have been repurposed for residential, office and school use:

BCDC commissioners expressed that the buildings architecture should try to look less industrial/factory like. That the buildings should be located closer to Sprague Street anticipating the future development that could happen opposite the proposed project. By doing so Sprague Street can become a real street in the future.

The document also quotes some of the discussion among design-commission members Deneen Crosby, David Hacin and Michael Davis, who also asked Warshaw to make more public connections into the site and a proposed Sprague Pond park than the single driveway/road and pedestrian bridge off the Sprague Street bridge, to make the site more inviting:

Crosby: Sprague could become a real street.. .make more connections. Development could occur across the street. Hacin: An interesting site. This is a good attempt to add residential into an area that's at a remove. The discussion should be about connections. As much as the views were discussed as proving it was NOT visible, I would actually like it to be visible, and more attractive - that's how it sets up a future for Sprague Street. Davis: Agreed. What is your location vis-a-vis 1B2030? 1W: Readville is mentioned there. Davis: This is a kind of development corridor. It's an important site, and important to understand what potential there might be. Also, the architecture of the higher buildings is good enough to ask why the lower building is so impoverished. It's a question of level of investment; it doesn't have to look exactly like a factory building.

In addition to design considerations, the city seems to have given up on the idea of trying to convince the MBTA to reduce fares at the Readville station to match the subway-like fares at all the other stops on the Fairmount Line, instead calling on Warshaw to offer discounted Zone 2 passes to residents that would cost them no more than a monthly subway pass.

Complete scoping determination (27M PDF).

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Comments

Hideous looking!

By on

Where are the trees? Park? Playground? That complex looks cold, unwelcoming, unfriendly...and certainly does not look a part of any neighborhood. Awful.

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HUH?

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I live in a vintage reuse building and love it.

It is funky and has awesome light due to all the big windows. I can see why a developer would want to do this.

This looks great to me - there is a lot of land left over for open space because of the massing, too. I have no idea what rendering you are looking at if you can't see that!

Go buy a single family home in the burbs if that's what you want - but don't speak for everyone. You just want everything and not have to pay for it.

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That one drawing doesn't show it, but ...

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There's a park-like space in the middle of the complex, made possible by the fact Warshaw is planning on putting parking under the buildings (and for that matter, the park). Here's an aerial view. He's also proposed building a new park on the shores of Sprague Pond - and providing some spaces so people who don't live in the complex can use it. In total, the proposal would increase green space from the current 12.8% of the land to about 36% - or by about 1.5 acres.

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That's the thing about aesthetics

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They're totally SUBJECTIVE. And government should NOT be in the business of approving or rejecting ANY project on the basis of how it may appear to people, or to dictate to a developer how they may or not design and construct the exteriors of their buildings bases on appearance.

Sad that we live in a society where nonsense like this is more important than actually building housing that will benefit people. Then again, this is the same city that decides that business owners should be automatically brought before a kangaroo court for the actions of grown adults that happen on PUBLIC streets near their premises.

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So

government should NOT be in the business of approving or rejecting ANY project on the basis of how it may appear to people

I'm proposing a new 100-story tower shaped to be an anatomically correct penis. I assume it has your approval, and that you think that no one has any right to object to that?

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In Japan and much of

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In Japan and much of southeast Asia, land use laws generally do not permit neighbors to weigh in on the appearance buildings. Somehow they not only survive but end up with some quite interesting architecture as a result. They also have NO HOUSING SHORTAGES.

Basically, if this means we stop getting "design by committee" I'll take it!

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Haha

They also have NO HOUSING SHORTAGES.

This is the opposite of a true thing. Have you seen the size and cost of housing in Tokyo?

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Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

That's amazing! The average price of a new home has fallen from 402,300,000 Yen to a mere 314,500,000 Yen! That's only... $3,000,000 USD, down from $3,600,000! So cheap!

This is what happens when you try to google your way out of a stupid position.

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Huh?

Or is it what happens when you try to read a chart while innumerate?

3415 X 10,000 = 34,150,000 yen

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Like sock_puppet said. This

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Like sock_puppet said. This is around $309k, which is much cheaper than the current median home price in Boston of around $585k. But even if it wasn't cheaper, the truly relevant thing about that chart is the fact that it has been mostly flat for the last ten years in spite of Tokyo having a population boom. The city of Tokyo permits about ten times as many housing units in 2014 as the entire state of Massachusetts in spite of having only about 1/3rd more people.

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BCDC Commissioners

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Like most board members for the city aren't paid.

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There were thirty kids in all

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There were thirty kids in all of my grade school classes (I have the class photos), and we learned to read and write and add and subtract perfectly well. And we didn't kill each other while doing it.

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Developers love to take the

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Developers love to take the 'neighborhood' out of neighborhoods. It's the heavy-handed, big box 'Walmart' approach to residential construction: disproportionately oversized, de-humanizing and brutalist. No place for kids to play, people to sit outside at a bench with trees and chat with their neighbors. A place to avoid on foot and bike -- it screams anyone but drivers NOT welcome. Soul-sucking and cheaply designed to maximize profit for the developer at the expensive of what could be a vibrant urban community.

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In addition to the Sprague Pond park ...

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Warshaw is also proposing stuff for just what you're talking about - a "park" that would include barbecue pits for residents.

This presentation (6.7M PDF) will give you a quick overview of the greeen space in the proposal; the actual proposal (54M PDF) includes more details on just what he's proposed.

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Voting is closed. 37

?

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There is a big park in the middle and around them is more paths and greenery. The buildings allow this by being built up not out, and by burying the parking.
It looks like a great place to me. And they look so much nicer than everything being built in other neighborhoods.

My only concern is the worry that under the masonry, exterior they use cheap, pressed wood composites rather than concrete and steel for floors and framing. This unfortunately is what most residential developments in Boston have been using recently, and it should be illegal. Wood is a scarce resource and should be hoarded, to be used only for toilet paper. And wooden cores mean less structural durability and subject one to the noise of ones neighbors.

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Voting is closed. 41

What?

Wood is a scarce resource and should be hoarded, to be used only for toilet paper

You have this precisely backwards. Wood is a renewable resource and using it in building sequesters carbon. Construction is an excellent use of wood.

The currently competitive alternatives to wood, such as concrete and steel, are finite resources and are worse, environmentally, releasing vastly more carbon emissions in their production.

http://www.esf.edu/ecenter/eis/woodmaterials.htm

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Wood versus concrete

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Sock-Puppet -- do you know the primary chemical source material for Cement -- its Calcium Carbonate [aka Limestone]

[from the wikipedia]

Cement, as it is commonly known, is a mixture of compounds made by burning limestone and clay together at very high temperatures ranging from 1400 to 1600 [[ring]]C.

The production of portland cement begins with the quarrying of limestone, CaCO3. Huge crushers break the blasted limestone into small pieces. The crushed limestone is then mixed with clay (or shale), sand, and iron ore and ground together to form a homogeneous powder. However, this powder is microscopically heterogeneous. (See flowchart.)

The rest of the materials in concrete are rocks and sand -- you can't get any more natural than those. If watch the news the Kilauea volcano is in the process of providing both rocks and sand [albeit volcanic sand]

So how do you make a concrete structure you add water to the cement and aggregate and let the chemistry of "rehydration" do its thing

Water is the key ingredient, which when mixed with cement, forms a paste that binds the aggregate together. The water causes the hardening of concrete through a process called hydration. Hydration is a chemical reaction in which the major compounds in cement form chemical bonds with water molecules and become hydrates or hydration products.

Water is the key ingredient, which when mixed with cement, forms a paste that binds the aggregate together. The water causes the hardening of concrete through a process called hydration. Hydration is a chemical reaction in which the major compounds in cement form chemical bonds with water molecules and become hydrates or hydration products.

While concrete may not grow on trees its hardly a scarce resoiurse

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Simple as can be

All you need is giant crushers, incineration at astounding temperatures, and all that stuff that you dug up out of the ground becomes magic!

Good thing nobody could ever run short of sand!

One of the great things about wood is that it literally grows on trees.

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Sweetie..

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how many kids have you seen playing in your neighborhood lately? I mean outside, playing kick the can, street hockey, all those games that large groups of kids used to play in each other's driveways. Yeah, I thought so.

Look. I am all for living in a "neighborhood" but the reality is, is we need housing for the masses that is affordable and convenient (not sure if this new project will fit the bill, but I digress). I live near this area and there are plenty of green spaces for people to walk, hike and sit (for cripes sake, ya got the entire Blue Hills Reservation at your backdoor).

And ya know what makes me scream? Folks that do not have an inkling of what they are talking about in regards to what makes a community truly vibrant.

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All the time

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Surrounded by people outside talking and kids playing on our street in the city. That is not part of huge apartment building life. Well, you have screen time.

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Nice looking

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Industrial is not a bad word. It conjures up lofts, open spaces, high ceilings. Wonder what the interiors are like?

Something colonial, ranch, triple-decker, other mash-up attempts to mimic older neighborhoods, would look fake at that site.

Makes me think of those gorgeous old garment factory buildings turned into condos elsewhere.

But wait, to counter the neighborhood objections about traffic we need to *at least* bring the commuter rail in line with T pricing!! What is up with backing out on that?!

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Developer needs to include pedestrian-bike bridge over NEC

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I'm sorry, but if you expect every pedestrian and bicyclist to use the, long, industrial, sloped, and shadeless Sprague St bridge for every trip to Readville Station, Wolcott Sq, and Hyde Park; this project is not TOD. If the developer builds a ped-bike link over the NEC (which is tough, I know from experience) then the project's value leaps tenfold and Readville station sheds its park & ride status

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Totally agree with needing a

Totally agree with needing a better link to the station (and to Wolcott Square businesses), but I can't figure out where a pedestrian bridge could even go. If you get over the NEC, you land in the middle of an active rail yard or on the wrong side of the Fairmount tracks.

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A copy of the Franklin Line rail crossover

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Riders cross the at grade Franklin Line track and two industrial tracks at Readville. The Franklin Line crossover works. If you add a Fairmount track crossover, the TOD link works. The Readville skywalk is for the NEC, not the Franklin and Fairmount lines.

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An at grade crossing of the

An at grade crossing of the Fairmount line would have to be pretty far down past where the current platform ends, and even on the wrong side of the bridge that carries the Fairmount line over the NEC and has no provision for pedestrians.. I think the MBCR would say that it falls between stations and not be okay with it.

I wonder if you could tunnel under the Franklin and Fairmount lines? Probably wishful thinking.

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Yikes

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This is an enormous housing project dumped in the middle of an area full of single family homes. There will be no crossing over the Sprague Street bridge. Commercial vehicles should seek an alternative route.

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"Full of single family homes"

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Uh. Okay. Those windowless concrete structures that dominate the area are "single family homes".

Last I checked, there are about 10 single family homes in a line. Not "full" by any measure.

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Readville is a mix of

Readville is a mix of industrial buildings (mostly on Sprague Street and Hyde Park Ave) and predominantly single family homes (on every other surrounding street).

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Readville as a whole, yes

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But that stretch of Sprague Street? There are a few homes between the site and the Dedham line, but that bit of Sprague also has more auto-body-type places as well. We're not talking Chesterfield Street here. And for better or worse, it's basically cut off from the rest of the neighborhood by train tracks (the Northeast Corridor, the Franklin/Fairmount lines, the whole Readville station complex and Boston's last remaining freight rail yard).

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I agree with you, I just don

I agree with you, I just don't think taking Sprague street out of context to say that Readville isn't full of single families is accurate. At the same time, anyone who thinks that Sprague will become "a real street" because of this project must be nutty. You have industrial parks on one side of the street (on both sides of the town line), and small businesses (BBQ caterer, autobody, gas station) on the other. It's not going to turn into Newbury Street on car-free weekend any time soon.

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Not soon

Not soon, but it will eventually, and decisions we make now will influence whether it's a good place or a bad place.

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Look again. Less than a block

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Look again. Less than a block past the businesses it's ALL single family homes - on both sides of the bridge. I hope Hyde Park is ready for this.

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Yes, but ...

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To take the top photo today, I parked on Readville Street and walked up to the bridge. I've actually walked around Sprague Pond (well, partly, the side that doesn't consist of the Northeast Corridor tracks), so yes, I'm aware there are homes there.

But, again, the particular site we're talking about, which itself is today industrial/commercial, is surrounded by train tracks and a (polluted) pond, across the street from a series of industrial/commercial buildings, which are themselves next to still more industrial buildings and an abandoned rail yard that I noticed today is finally getting prepared for the new industrial park that was approved years ago. And between the site and the Dedham line are some side streets with homes, but also things such as auto-body shops.

Whether this project affects traffic north of the Sprague Street bridge is a good question (same with the Amazon warehouse). But it's not like they're tearing up an entire neighborhood or a park to build an apartment complex.

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Agree

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521 new apartments, that's going to be some major gridlock.

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Not nearly as much gridlock

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Not nearly as much gridlock as 521 new single family homes out in Randolph/Canton/Stoughton and miles from any public transit would cause...

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Conversely

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If a developer proposed a 521 home subdivision in any of those towns, the same cry would be made.

Also, all three of those municipalities have public transit on par with what this area has.

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1. That's not how it works.

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1. That's not how it works. Developers propose projects one at a time and municipalities approve them one at a time, and over time, traffic gets worse and worse, and everyone blames someone else. Everyone who would live in one of these 521 units is going to need to live somewhere, chances are if they can't buy in the city (because it's too expensive) they're going to move further out, where they will almost certainly end up driving.

2. Yes, but that doesn't matter if because none of those towns allow large developments like this one near their train stations either, so instead everyone just ends up living in widely dispersed single family homes and driving to work. The further you go from downtown, the more likely people are to drive, and the further most of those people will have to drive to access basic services.

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Have you ever been to a suburb?

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Towns do permit subdivisions, but due to the pattern of land use in the past (small versus big farms,) permitting 521 in one go in the towns referenced doesn't happen, but only due to lack of land. In Weymouth, however, they are working on a project that big.

And while I'm asking questions, have you ever been on Sprague Street in Readville? Or anywhere near the John Hart Bridge? Unless you understand the area, you really don't understand why people in the area are reacting as they are.

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Is the Universal Hub a dog kennel?

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Because there are so many bitches here! The builder, in my opinion, is right on the money. Too bad the City of Boston can’t see it...

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Meow!

Catty remark!

But dead on - this is just more evidence of why we don't see more interesting designs offered up in the housing market: BUT IT DOESN'T LOOK LIKE A GIANT SINGLE FAMILY HOME WITH GIGANTISM.

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I don't get it......

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I will admit, it might be me.....but.........I am against the AirBnB regulations coming to the city of Boston, when I have posted on here about that previously I was lambasted due to the "opening AirBnB's to long term tenants," then this gets proposed and all people do is complain about the looks, traffic or whatever else...........I don't get it.

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Adam,

By on

Adam,

My point is the issue is about housing. The people who want major restrictions regarding AirBnB's state it is due to the lack of housing in the City. A developer wants to take this old Maxwell Shoe industrial park and build 500+ apartments and people complain about aesthetics, location, park/no park - I mean you get what you get and you don't get upset.

Also - Wolcott Square is right there - and there are plenty of buses that run in and out of there. I think you are alienating your neighbors in Readville.

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Yes, I know where Wolcott Square is

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When we need Munchkins to supplement our Sunday bagels, we go down to the Dunkin' Donuts there. I've even partaken of curly fries from Olympic Pizza. Hell, I've stood on the platform at Readville station on a frigid winter night just to video an Amtrak train blasting through the snow.

But when referring to Airbnb, I wasn't referring to the things that make Readville a place where somebody might want to live; I was referring to the proximity of the sorts of things a tourist would come to Boston for. Those curly fries are really good (and now I'm hungry), but, sorry, they're not the sort of thing you'd rent an Airbnb unit to be near, and Readville is kind of expensive or annoying for access to downtown (hey, I've taken the 50 bus, too - it's the closest one to our house - speedy it is not).

I'm not dismissing the overall Airbnb issue, but no, I don't think it has anything to do with the merits of a housing development in farthest, remotest Readville. There's a reason Lydia Edwards (North End, East Boston, Charlestown) is the most vocal district city councilor on the issue.

As for Readville residents hating me, well, the Readville Neighborhood Watch already has its watchful eye on UHub; whadaya gonna do?

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Nice development, wrong location

Redesigning this project to make it more bland is a shame. Readville residents claim to be proud of their industrial heritage, so maybe an industrial-ish design would make it more palatable to us.

Unfortunately, this project is in the worst possible spot. It would look great on one of the formerly industrial parcels along Hyde Park Ave north of the Father Hart bridge. That would allow easy pedestrian connectors to the commuter rail station, and most car commuters would probably start out heading north up HPA. Locating it south of the Sprague Street bridge means anyone trying to access the station, especially the Fairmount tracks, has a circuitous route to walk, while any cars exiting the development have only one way to go: directly into the gridlock that surrounds the Father Hart for hours every day.

Our city councilor swears that the BTD is studying how to add traffic lights at the Father Hart bridge to alleviate some of the traffic backup, but I'm not holding my breath.

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Yeah, I'll drive up to Cleary

Yeah, I'll drive up to Cleary Square to avoid having to turn onto the Father Hart. And God help the pedestrian who tries to cross at the crosswalks at either end. Traffic doesn't even pretend to stop until a good 10 feet past the crosswalk. I will cut through the commuter rail station using the bridges, even if it adds a lot of distance to my walk/run.

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Mixed decision

I'm not usually one for design review, but half of the decision makes sense. I happen to like the look of the buildings themselves, but even if I didn't, that shouldn't be open to review. I also think the interior open space looks ill-defined and poorly thought out, but again, the city shouldn't be able to stop the project for that.

What the commission got right was about how the project shapes the public realm - the street. Building 1 looks like it's set back about 60 or 70 feet, which creates a really uncomfortable environment for anyone walking.

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Ah yes, the "industrial" look

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Ah yes, the "industrial" look! In other words build a square box with no architectural character to warehouse people in. Much cheaper.

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Warehouse?

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This isn't a state hospital or public-housing project where people can be forced to live. It's a market-rate apartment complex (granted, market rate in Readville will be lower than, say, downtown), where people have to choose to live.

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Build It!

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The building fits right in unlike many of the others that have been approved lately.

Now correct me if i'm wrong but the tracks that go under Sprague St bridge are no longer in use. They could easily build a trail from the back of the property that leads right to the Readville platform.

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The tracks are no longer in use, but ...

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The road that goes alongside them is very much in use, by some pretty large vehicles (school buses and dump trucks for one), and likely will get even more use once the new industrial park (granted, aimed at small "maker" companies) comes online.

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The siding to the old

The siding to the old railyard is defunct, but the other tracks are active. This parcel is wedged in between the Northeast Corridor and the junction between the Fairmount and Franklin lines. Getting pedestrians to the platform means bridging some combination of the three of them.

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The Industrial Look is simply

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The Industrial Look is simply code for building this on the cheap and putting zero money or effort into actually making it livable. This is going to be 500+ shitty apartments that do nothing but add congestion to the area and cause urban blight as those single family homeowners flea for some place else where they can actually get to and from their driveways. There's obviously a lot of money to be made here and efforts to quiet the non-supporters but this will literally kill Readville.

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Still like the design

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but I hear you about the traffic... fancy traffic lights will only go so far... add 500 apts here and another 500 on the other side of the bridge and forgetaboutit... they need to extend the orange line or add a DMU or something. I am closer to Cleary Sq so I can avoid that area if need be but if they don't do something to actually fix the road to accommodate more cars AND improve the public transit then those residents are right to fightt!!

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I'm wondering

What did the developer say in response to all of you when you brought these concerns and comments up during the many neighborhood meetings and hearings?

Oh, wait.

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You read the document, right?

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Lots of comments. Tons of them. Mostly by actual Hyde Park residents.

In short, residents made their concerns known.

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Any public meeting in

Any public meeting in Readville about apartments draws hundreds of residents (and usually a handful of people from Dedham who have something to gripe about), and they are almost universally against apartments. At a meeting about another development north of the Father Hart bridge, Tim McCarthy rhetorically asked whether they'd rather see apartments on that site or toxic waste (which is what is there currently). One resident stood up and enthusiastically endorsed toxic waste, then the whole room erupted in cheers of support.

People in Readville go to these meetings. They give comments that are at least 25 to 1 against apartments (I don't know why they hate apartments so much), and yet this project seems to be moving forward.

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Thankfully, unlike some west

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Thankfully, unlike some west coast states with even more ridiculous housing shortages, we have a system in place that is not *completely* deferential to the opinions of the immediate neighbors.

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Maybe too much crying wolf

When neighbors show up en masse to protest the likes of a 24 unit affordable development near Logan square, predicting a traffic apocalypse, nobody listens when they say the same thing about a 500 unit development that may actually have a catastrophic traffic impact.

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"Sprague could become a real street..."

Am I the only one who caught the veiled commentary? Sounds like the BPDA has its sights set on redeveloping the entire stretch of road into a more urban (well, urban for Hyde Park) street -- think lots of mixed use development, apartments and condos, and far fewer warehouse/industrial buildings.

If that were to happen, this development would indeed be set too far back, and would be out of place. 10 years from now, it'd be re-redeveloped to fit the neighborhood.

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