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Developers say Covid-19 killed plans to turn the decrepit hulk of the historic Alexandra Hotel into a new hotel, so they're proposing small condos instead

Alexandra rendering

Something like this, only with condos instead of hotel rooms. Rendering by CBT Architects.

The developers who won city approval in 2019 to keep three sides of the former Alexandra Hotel at Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue, gut the interior and add several floors to create a 13-story, 150-room boutique hotel have filed a request with the BPDA to instead turn what's left of the structure into a 13-story, 106-unit condo building.

In their request, developers Jas Bhogal and Thomas Calus said their chances of getting financing for their original hotel project evaporated when the pandemic took hold and the local hotel business collapsed - just a few months after they received their last major approval, from the South End Landmark District Commission, in 2019. In contrast, they say, financing remains possible for condo construction in Boston.

Bhogal and Calus paid $11 million for the building in July, 2019 to the Church of Scientology, which had once hoped to turn the building into its Boston headquarters. Developers and owners have been proposing new uses for decades for the former hotel, which opened in 1875, with an unusual steam-powered elevator. The hotel's decline began with the construction of an elevated subway line down Washington Street in 1900.

In their notice of project change to the BPDA, the developers say they would retain the same basic size and exterior originally planned for the hotel - essentially a glass tower that would be clad on its lower half on three sides with the original Alexandra facade. The fourth side would be extended into what is now a vacant lot where the equally historic Ivory Bean building once stood, but which had to be torn down after pieces of it began raining down on Washington Street.

Most of the units would be "compact" studios and one-bedroom condos, smaller than normally allowed by the city, as part of a pilot program to see if smaller units can help ease Boston's problem of housing people who are not financially well off. Some 14 of the units would be sold as affordable. The 13th floor, originally planned as a roof deck, would instead have the building's sole 2-bedroom unit plus three smaller units and a deck, according to the plans.

As with their hotel plans, the developers say the building, which already has a Silver Line stop outside, would have no parking. Residents would be barred from obtaining parking permits for either the South End or Roxbury - which neighborhood the building is in has been the subject of some debate.

The BPDA will hold a Zoom meeting on the proposalat 6:30 p.m. on Sept. 7.

Alexandra Hotel filings and calendar.

H/t Lisa for alerting us to this.

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Comments

development of the Alexandra Hotel is always 40 years away.

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Voting closed 57

I think someone needs to research if this building is on the site of a Wampanoag burial site or something.

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Voting closed 17

For the past thirty years or more a story about this property being redeveloped pops up in the news and I always say the same thing...I'll believe it when I see shovels in the ground.

So here it is again...I'll believe it when I see shovels in the ground.

Check back here next year when I will say this again.

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Voting closed 30

I'm fine with no parking on site but I think it's nonsense that you'd be barred from getting a resident spot if you lived here.

Residential parking should be 1) paid for and 2) a lottery if there aren't enough spots. It should obviously be a sliding scale also - a residential parking sticker by the Rosi commuter rail should not be the same as on Comm Ave. (say $50 vs $200)

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Voting closed 36

The southend shouldn't have any resident parking. You can have a villa or cathedral sticker, but not southend , backbay or beacon hill. South Boston parking shouldn't be in the seaport, or most of the point. Garage space is cheap in Boston. If you can't afford a parking space for your car then you can't afford a car. Boston wasn't built for this many cars.

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Voting closed 14

live in the South End, and outdoor private spaces that have to be shoveled out in the winter are not cheap, let alone garage parking.

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Voting closed 27

Define "not cheap". They are a helluva lot cheaper than the exact same amount of real estate devoted to housing.

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Voting closed 4

spaces go for $250-350/month, garage spaces $350-450/month and up. That's assuming you can find something anywhere near where you live.

Anyone who says, "Oh, you can just go find yourself private parking" is being pretty cavalier about it. $3000-$5400/year isn't a trivial expense to most people.

That's especially since if *everyone* has to suddenly start looking for private parking, those rates are going to be double or triple current rates. There aren't nearly enough private spaces to meet current demand.

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Voting closed 8

Think about it this way: That's $250-450 a month that the city could be spending on other things (like social services). Is free parking for residents of the South End (where rents for housing are 2-3x that much per square foot) really the best use of that money?

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Voting closed 7

car to work and live, I imagine you'd say, "Yes, that's a great use of the money." There are endless opinions on the best uses of city property and tax revenues, driven by individual priorities, to wrangle over. I support public art but you may not: let a hundred flowers blossom.

I think the better argument for eliminating resident parking focuses on repurposing the space to make the city more bike- and pedestrian- (and, I'd argue, restaurant patio-) friendly, and weaning ourselves from fossil fuel burning autos to fight climate change, improve air quality, reduce street congestion and noise, ease snow plowing and street cleaning, etc.

At a minimum, this would require much greater investment in public transportation infrastructure and encouragement of usage, both big challenges, as well as expansion of short-term rental options like ZipCar, improvements to private services like Uber/Lyft (which don't pay workers a living wage at present, and in any event still mostly rely on gas vehicles), more Blue Bike stands, etc.

My larger question remains: how do we sensibly get from where we are today to this ideal? And how do we do it in a way that is politically feasible? I'm seeing plenty of worthy rationales but few credible paths to get there. "Eliminate resident parking, full stop" is a goal, but it isn't a plan.

Further, folks have to recognize that any workable plan is going to take decades and cost many tens of billions of dollars, making the Big Dig look like a dog park project, with all the political chicanery that implies. You may justifiably complain about the inefficiencies and adverse impacts of resident parking and our overreliance on cars, but neither is going away quickly. Inertia, and vested interests with profit motives that don't include improving resident quality of life, are powerful adversaries here.

For the record, I need a car to get to my job in the suburbs, as I have no practical public transportation options. I pay for a private space for which I had to make a trade-off to afford, a smaller living space. (A good decision in retrospect, as covid put my side-hustle income as a restaurant critic on hiatus, and it may not ever come back. I recognize I'm among the fortunate to be able to make such choices.) But I know many longtime residents for whom the disappearance of free street parking would be a real hardship.

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Voting closed 6

It is artificial entitlement for people to pretend they can afford a car. And I didn't suggest removing all parking spaces, just stop reserving them for certain zip codes. People work in the Southend.

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Voting closed 4

have to do with anything?

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Voting closed 4

People have money to spend on cars, but everyone else must sacrifice so that they can have a parking spot in front of their house.

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Voting closed 6

They just encourage car ownership among those who can afford private vehicles and make things harder for everyone else. On street parking alone is itself an abuse of public property.

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Voting closed 16

I think the problem you have with no resident parking is then the people who live in the neighborhoods are fighting for parking against people who are commuting into the city, which is a worse way to distribute public, city property. I'd rather someone who lives on St. Boltoph St. park there than someone from Weston driving in.

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Voting closed 39

I don’t care where the car parked in front of my building came from. I don’t want it there. I want a wider sidewalk that actually accommodates the number of people who walk past my house rather than space that serves as storage space for a noisy machine that spews exhaust into our windows.

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Voting closed 21

make the city more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and invest in and encourage public transportation and car-sharing solutions like ZipCar. I shake my head at lost opportunities to redevelop once more easily replannable neighborhoods like the Seaport to those ends.

Then again, I have to ask locals that complain about things like car exhaust, noise from cars and busses and Logan air traffic, aggressive rats, the neighbors' toddler upstairs whose stomping around you can hear through the ceiling, etc.: were you born in that apartment, or did your decision to live there simply ignore those pre-existing conditions?

It reminds me of recently-arrived Eight Streets neighbors who bitched about halfway houses that had been on the block for 30 years as "not in character with the neighborhood", or the richies who'd just moved into a fancy new condo building across the street from the South Street Diner, a rare 24-hour dining option here that arrived in 1947, and bleated that it was too noisy at 4am.

There's lots of ways to improve living in Boston: I'm in favor, for instance, of limiting the number of resident parking permits issued per household; charging income-scaled fees for them; and sacrificing resident spaces to make room for restaurant patio seating, which has been a critical lifeline for many local indies in covid times. But nothing changes overnight, so maybe do your homework about the neighborhood's existing plusses and minuses before you move here?

City living: it's not for everyone. (In its defense, we have fewer bloodthirsty turkeys here than in the suburbs.)

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Voting closed 36

…. not every resident of Boston has the means to just pick up and move out of the city? Your response ignores the fact that every resident, rich or poor, whether life long or brand new, has the right to safe living conditions. We have laws that protect those rights.
Much of the reason that Boston has become a more livable city is because of activists who put hard work into improving conditions and now many of those activists now find themselves priced out of housing as a result. Your high and mighty suggestion that anyone who objects to the selfishness of most car drivers and owners should just move away reveals how entitled you seem to think you are and how out of touch with the realties of city life you seem to be.

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Voting closed 10

So every resident has the right to safe living condition, just so long as they can take the bus, T, walk or ride to work? You know this kind of change will take a few decades right? Always funny when privileged progressives who work on their laptops insist that they have the only answers.

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Voting closed 18

Get used to it.

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Voting closed 6

less car exhaust, less automobile traffic, less ambient noise, better public transportation, more bikes, etc. I applaud the activists working toward those goals. But I knew about the state of our progress on those issues when I moved here, and didn't expect them to suddenly change overnight, because I understand that deep structural changes take time. And as I said, I have little patience for prosperous newcomers who think a neighborhood should suddenly adapt to their entitled whims, like shutting down essential services because they're uncomfortable with people in transition from addiction or homelessness living on their block.

I think we're on the same side here, but dramatic proposals like "Eliminate resident parking permits entirely!!!11!1!!" strike me as a little starry-eyed. I'm likelier to favor initiatives that have a chance of being implemented in my lifetime. I've only lived here 35 years, but I guess I have a less rosy idea of what's within the realm of political and practical possibility than you.

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Voting closed 10

I was born here. But I don’t think my seniority or whatever it is you grant yourself gives me or you any privileges.
You claim to want wider sidewalks and less pollution but not if it means losing a precious parking spot on public property. What is it about owning a car that makes people illogical and gives them tunnel vision?

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Voting closed 11

I have already cited my support for changes to resident parking that would help the less privileged. But I don't think your "Adopt my radical proposal or you are wrongedty-wrong-WRONG!1!" tone is very helpful. That's a reliable way to engender indifference or aversion in potential allies.

In any event, I've already said my piece: I'm pessimistic that what you're arguing for is politically achievable, and I'm too pragmatic to waste my limited time, money and attention on windmill-tilting.

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Voting closed 13

The tone you’re hearing in your head is your own exaggeration.
The tone in hearing in my head from you is a very defensive one and a bit condescending too.

I generally agree with most of your posts and consider you one of the more reasonable UHub commenters. We are just not going to agree about resident parking permits.

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Voting closed 5

"What is it about owning a car that makes people illogical and gives them tunnel vision?"

I think you might be a little deaf to your own tone.

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Voting closed 15

But we need to reserve on-street parking for people who live in buildings that meet the outdated 1960s minimum off-street parking zoning!

I still don’t understand what the people behind this policy expect someone to do if they plan to take transit everywhere, and then one day their job moves to an office park in Needham or their mother moves to assisted living in Norwood. Unless the goal is to create transient housing where people stay 5 years and then move out to the suburbs.

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Voting closed 15

If someone doesn't have parking on their own property and they find themselves needing parking, they can buy or rent an off-street space somewhere nearby.

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Voting closed 10

we can start from scratch, that no resident parking is already the setup, and folks can just factor that into what they can afford before they move here. But we don't live in that utopia.

For the tens if not hundreds of thousands of Bostonians that already rely on at least partial access to resident street spaces, that would be a huge problem. You can't just pull the rug out from under those folks overnight.

Further, I'd be surprised if the available private parking could meet a tenth of the current demand in the absence of resident parking, which means that the cost of private parking would immediately soar.

What's your proposed transition plan?

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Voting closed 4

Treat parking permits like we treat liquor licenses right now: Cap the number and require that people buy them off of one another if they want access to them, then have the city gradually buy them back from people as we reduce the number of on-street parking spaces. Charge an annual excise tax on them to discourage people from hoarding permits they have no intention of using (or require that they be sold if you get rid of the car).

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Voting closed 4

from no cap to capped work, exactly? A lottery? What do the thousands of people who rely on their cars to get to work, etc., do when they're abruptly shut out of resident parking?

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Voting closed 2

A "cap" doesn't mean you're abruptly shut out, it means anyone who has one now gets to keep it, and anyone else who wants another one has to buy it from someone else. The city could even run an exchange where they could take a cut of the transaction fee for things like sidewalk maintenance and to cover the operating cost of the program.

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Voting closed 3

I'd imagined. I still wonder about unintended consequences of the sort we've seen with capped liquor licenses and taxi medallions, like a shadow auction market emerging that can be exploited by profiteers, prices ballooning out of the reach of residents of lesser means, etc. How could we prevent such side effects?

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Voting closed 6

High prices are the whole point. City property is insanely valuable. Why shouldn't a parking space also be similarly expensive? It's not like there's some god given right to a cheap place to park your car.

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Voting closed 7

tend to get really angry if you try to take something away that you gave them earlier. This is one of the political realities I keep trying to remind the utopians here about any plan to get there. You may have a great reasons why to do it, but if the hows are political poison, you won't get the support you need to make it happen.

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Voting closed 3

Yeah, it's unlikely a mayor would ever be recalled over this. It's called leadership. The next mayor of Boston needs to just make it happen. Yes, people will complain about it, but at the end of the day they'll get over it.

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Voting closed 9

is frankly delusional, in my book. You underestimate both the scale of such an undertaking and what a hot potato it would be for a mayoral candidate. You want to get people to the polls to vote for your opponent, try taking away their free parking. Without a better plan than "just make it happen", it's political suicide here.

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Voting closed 4

The politically expedient thing to do would be to start a city-wide sidewalk shoveling program and use parking fees to pay for it. Studies show that people sometimes don't hate new taxes and fees as long as they feel like they're getting something in return.

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Voting closed 5

no parking permit for the SouthEnd doesn't mean no parking by the way. new residents are not 2nd class. Just let everyone look for parking equally. You can still get a car if you like.

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Voting closed 7

I don't get why parking spaces somehow get different treatment than bedrooms here. Most people start out in a studio or a 1-bedroom apartment. When they have a kid, they upgrade to a bigger place. If you live in a place with no parking and you get a job that requires you to own a car, you rent a parking space or find another apartment with parking.

The problem with the existing system is that we have to have all of these extra parking spaces sitting empty for all of the people that are "pre-car". It wastes an enormous amount of (very expensive) real estate that we all end up paying for.

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Voting closed 8

spaces you're referring to exist. Not sure of the multiple (5x wouldn't surprise me), but there are many more parking permits issued than resident spaces available. I'm sure it varies by neighborhood, but I've spent countless hours circling the block looking for an available resident space in the Back Bay, the South End and City Point after a long day of work -- it gets horribly worse after snowfalls, especially in neighborhoods with the hateful practice of space-saving -- and I expect it's more dreadful in the North End and Beacon Hill, maybe others.

Finding a home that includes private parking is an expensive luxury in many neighborhoods here. Sure: include that into your affordability equation before you move here, but what about people of lesser means that rely on their cars and lived here before the pressure on resident parking became acute?

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Voting closed 4

…. even lesser means that cannot even afford a car so they have to rent or borrow when they can’t do without one? Or what about those people who could afford to own a car but chose not to own a car and use public transportation instead? What about when some of those people may need a visiting nurse or social worker or food delivery? Some of these people have also lived in their neighborhoods since before residential parking permits were required. What do they do when they need to park that car in their neighborhood even possibly in front of their home but they can’t because those spots are reserved for residents who have permits?

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Voting closed 7

Having a car in the city is an expensive luxury. One that relies substantially on the tax dollars of your fellow non-car-owning residents to support. If you decide to acquire a car I see no reason why the rest of us should pay just so that you can keep living affordably in a place where the burden it imposes on everyone else is so high. People pay a premium to live in places like the South End because they are close-in, walkable neighborhoods. If you're going to pay that premium even though you own a car and drive it to work, why should the rest of us pay to subsidize your decision not to move?

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Voting closed 5

I wonder why Scientology didn't do whatever it was they planned to do with that building?

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Voting closed 7

N/t

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Voting closed 23

unwanted "personality tests"?

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Voting closed 13

It turned out to be a mission impossible.

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Voting closed 13

The local church thought it a good idea (and bought it) but the main office did not and wouldn’t pay for the rehab. The main office was probably right for once.

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Voting closed 11

One two-bedroom apartment? One?

Boston desperately needs housing to attract and retain families. With the trendy no-parking spaces or neighborhood parking permit mantra, the developers must be expecting financing as well as future traffic congestion from Uber.

$11 million was a small price to pay for real estate in growing Boston. Despite all the history in getting development of the site off the ground, the city (albeit next Mayor) should *not* let this project move forward without adding on-site AFFORDABLE FAMILY HOUSING. This means increasing the number of bedrooms for some of the units.

SCAPE and Madison Realty Capital put the micro apartment model (with the urging of the neighborhood) aside in the Fenway. Jas Bhogal and Thomas Calus should do so also.

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Voting closed 17

Boston has MASSIVE amounts of family housing. Street after street after street of it. What's happened, however, is that landlords take that family housing, turn a dining room into another bedroom, and rent it out to four students/young grads, because they can charge 800$ / head instead of 1600$ / family, and make bank. And since the student/young grad population needs someplace to live and certainly isn't going anywhere, the only solution is to build alternative housing that is more attractive for that population. Most 20-somethings would much rather live in a studio or a 1 bed with a partner than share a whole floor with 4 other 20-somethings, but none of those units have been build until relatively recently. So they make due and take up space in family housing and families (whose children cannot financially contribute, obviously) lose out.

If the city puts their foot down and goes on to demand the building of more 2/3/4 bedroom units, do you honestly think those are going to go to families, or will they get filled up with a gaggle of young adults who can each pay more?

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Voting closed 7

In South End costs well over a million to build and wouldn't be affordable unless sold for under $200,000. You sound generous, want to build 100 or so of those? Or are you only generous with someone else's money?

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Voting closed 4

Boston already has far more family housing than it does families (think about it: we built all of this housing 100 years ago before the suburbs even existed as a concept). The problem is it's mostly being occupied by single people living together as roommates. That's why these micro units are actually helpful: They give those single people a way to move out of the family housing, thus freeing it up for actual families.

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Voting closed 7

will fit nicely next to the 19th Century brick bow fronts. BPDA will support anything which increases the tax base so they can continue adding to the hack roster.

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Voting closed 11

It's an abandoned, deteriorating hulk right now and nobody has ever presented a viable plan to rehabilitate the structure that was less tall than this. So you're either in favor of hazardous neighborhood blight that will eventually require the demolition of the building, as already happened with the Ivory Bean next door, or you'll accept the basic framework of this proposal and push for improvements like more affordable units. Those are the options.

Oh and there's already a 20-story building a block away.

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Voting closed 12

The ZBA has been hearing from a number of developers that are crying poor-mouth that they cannot get a bank to back them if they go with rental properties, but the Banks will back condos. Highly suspicious.

The developers meet with the city, meet with abutters, and sell them on rental units, and get approvals from the BPDA and even ZBA. Then they wait a while and return to the ZBA with an amendment claiming the banks says no, and asks to change to condos. The ZBA then feels sorry for them and allows it. Affordable housing is suddenly market-rate condos.

This is happening all over the city per testimony of area residents and neighborhood group leaders. Make a pot of coffee and listen to the whole of the City Council Hearing on the ZBA process of August 17.

It's as if the development community has figured out the way to get by the people in their own neighborhoods.

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Voting closed 8