Friday, July 29, 2011

NEIGHBORHOOD NEWS: Residents want more on Herald property site

New real estate projects are usually greeted by an instant chorus of boos and not-in-my-backyard rants from neighbors complaining that a proposed development is just too big.

But National Development’s effort to redevelop the sprawling Boston Herald site in the South End has triggered a different response: It’s not big enough.

During recent informal meetings and in comment letters to City Hall, neighbors and nearby businesses have told the developer and Boston regulators that National Development could do much more with the 6-acre site than its proposed low-rise complex that would include 262 apartments, restaurants, stores, and underground parking.

“I was a little disappointed,’’ said Kye Liang of the Chinatown Coalition, a community group of residents and business owners who met with National Development last week. “I think they can go higher. My first reaction was, ‘This is like Natick Mall.’ This seems like a development more appropriate for the suburbs instead of near the downtown, urban city.’’

National Development is proposing a building that would be 68 feet tall. The Boston Redevelopment Authority and community members would like the building to be as high as 150 feet on Albany Street, or the Interstate 93 side, and stepping down to 100 feet on the Herald Street front, according to the city. The current zoning on the property limits buildings to 70 feet.

Ted Tye, a managing partner at National Development, said that since it is early in the development process, the company’s plans are “very much up in the air,’’ and his staff has been listening intently to neighbors’ suggestions.

“People would like to see more rather than less on the site. They would like to see something that stimulates the development of the area, puts more density and puts more people on the street,’’ Tye said. “They would like to see some retail mixed with some residential. We don’t disagree with that.’’

Tye did acknowledge the unusual nature of the situation with neighbors. “It does run contrary to some other development situations,’’ he said. “It’s great to have a neighborhood behind us that wants to see something happen, because so do we.’’

Residents and city officials hope that the proposed redevelopment of the Herald property would help reinvigorate a section of the city where Chinatown, the South End, and South Boston meet.
The Boston Herald is in the process of negotiating a lease to move to the Seaport Center office building in South Boston by the end of the year. A Herald spokeswoman did not return calls yesterday.

The two-story Herald building was built in the 1950s. The property also includes extensive parking for the newspaper’s delivery trucks. Some residents said National Development has erred by basing the new complex on the existing foundation of the Herald’s industrial site and leaving too much of the remaining space to surface parking - 192 spaces in all.

“It’s limiting the potential of the site,’’ said Bill Moy, comoderator of the Chinatown Neighborhood Council. “I would like to see more mixed use . . . and less of a suburban look on the site. It’s not a really ambitious project. They are not maximizing the use of the 6 acres by taking the existing footprint.’’

Residents said increasing the height of National Development’s proposed building would provide more rental units, adding more people to a neighborhood that is fast changing from a commercial-industrial area to a more residential district.

Nick Fedor of Washington Gateway Main Street, a neighborhood and development community group, said it was too early to comment on the proposal, but said that his committee members have met with the developer.

“We are very appreciative that National Development took the time to share their initial plans with our design committee, and the design committee looks forward to continuing a dialogue with National Development as the project develops,’’ said Fedor.

Johnny Diaz Boston Globe July 20, 2011

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