Councilors to consider height of proposed hotel on Roxbury/South End line

Old Hotel Alexandra

Hotel building, with outline of former companion building, torn down before it fell down. Photo by Rosabri Mejia.

A City Council committee will hold a hearing on a proposal by Councilor Althea Garrison (at large) to urge the BPDA to quash developers' plans to renovate the crumbling eyesore of the former Alexandra Hotel on Washington Street at Massachusetts Avenue by building a 13-story boutique hotel inside a renovated facade.

Unusual for a hearing request, however, no other councilors had their names added as co-sponsors.

In fact, three councilors - including the two whose districts meet at the intersection - said they would vote against any such proposal, both because they support the proposal to renovate the hotel's 19th-century facade in exchange for building new, more modern hotel floors above it, and because they don't think it's the council's role to interfere in what they said was a robust series of public hearings and meetings on the project by the BPDA.

Garrison's resolution calls on the BPDA to reject the proposal by Jas Bhogal and Thomas Calus as a complete violation of the lot's zoning because it is too tall and too shiny, essentially. Garrison said the new building would leave nearby buildings in permanent shadows and that the glass-sheathed upper floors would be totally out of character with the surrounding neighborhood. In her request for a hearing, she wrote:

As a “gateway” to the core of the South End, the proposed addition is a poor representation of the Victorian nature of the neighborhood and its heights is found nowhere else in the surrounding area.

Garrison also objected to the lack of parking on site, which she said would lead to increased congestion in the area.

But Councilor Kim Janey (Roxbury) said the developers have also come up with a good plan to deal with what has been a neighborhood eyesore for at least 30 years and repeated, failed renovation efforts and have made commitments to hire locally, to help spruce up all of the intersections four corners, and even to promote shops in Dudley Square.

Councilor Frank Baker (Dorchester), whose district ends at the intersection, also opposed Garrison's proposal. He pointed to what he called a "very robust community process," by the BPDA and said the upper floors would help the developers recoup the estimated $6 million to $7 million cost just to restore the existing facade. He noted an earlier proposal called for a 20-floor tower at the site.

Councilor Ed Flynn, who represents a part of the South End, said he would also oppose any effort to tell the BPDA what to do. Although his district does not include the hotel, he said its current sad state came up frequently while he was campaigning and in his time as a councilor.



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PDF icon Garrison's Alexandra hearing request140.83 KB


Remember this kind of

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Remember this kind of absurdity next time someone says we should let the City Council dictate development instead of the professionals at the BPDA.


Actually neither should dictate development

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Set the zoning at reasonable levels and then let people build as of right. If there's a reasonable need or case for an exception - then go for a variance. If there's a super unique property that needs a review - then maybe the BPDA can step in - or increase the level where the BPDA steps in (say 250,000 sf or some other level that means only about 1-2% of buildings need approval). Right now we have zoning by committee - and that committee is the BPDA.


Depends on the neighborhood

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The Walsh administration pays attention to associations in some areas, like South Boston. In others, forget it. Pretty much everything is approved, with not a lot of changes.


Hahahahahahahahawhat????? World Class City?

I love my City that I'm the most important of! MR. Fitz talks about the brilliance of the professionals at the BPDA !!! It goes without saying, so hashtag it #BPDAprofessioinalbrilliance He must have read Martys report about their excellent attention to detail and bookkeeping! Asking who would possibly let the Elected body of the City decide what gets to be built in the City---Exactly! If we let the people decide what was good for them, they would get... Donald Trump! I'm with Her! or Hill ! Or Go Liz!

Daddy takes me all around Europe and I'm yet to see some of the historic buildings (many of them are even older than this one!) having a big glass tower sticking through the middle of them like a giant phallus rising through the air sticking its finger up at the zoning codes and the community decided historic district rulings. I used to be one of those posers who would do anything for a 14th floor drinkie bar (it better have one of those glass selfie boxies like in Chicago that all of my besties on Tinder have a picture at. I get one whenever we are in town to play the Cubbies!) Plus, why would someone like me pay attention to laws, just like getting your kidlets into Stanford, there is one group of rules for RICH ! and one for the posers!

If you want to be a world class city, I suggest you get out into the world of AC MILAN(nice shopping!), Juventus, Besiktas, the Bombonera, Paris St. GErman(Great shopping!), Real Madrid, etc and take a look around. No one comes to Boston to shop. Except from Revere. or my hometown.

It only took LPH 5 years to conquer Beantown, Europe is a bit harder. They aren't as receptive to someone who knows how to put on lipstick and understands #soulcycle will change the world. There are even scoucers (love that accent!) on Youtube making fun of LPH and her amazing business acumen:
They just be jealous haters because they didn't take a career path that allowed them to buy the soccer club they grew up loving and giving me their money for. Shouldn't have voted to take away the Brexit all you northerners. I can't believe they don't think I understand game and what clean sheets are all about. We have clean sheets about 360 days a year at my house.

Didn't Adam just have an article about Flynn and Flaherty complaining about how the city was being designed?

Fitz and Flynn and Flaherty are Flip Flopping




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"Daddy" doesn't exist...

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"Trophy" is always trolling, or attempting weak satire. But for some reason I sometimes find it entertaining.


TrophyWife is meant to be a caricature of the obnoxious, vapid, shallow, wealthy woman (at least that's the way I see it).

I'm not sure if the real Linda Pizzuti Henry reads this, but if she did, I think her reaction would be more of amusement than anything else. "This TrophyWifeLinda poster is a hoot...if John ever caught me talking ragtime like this I'd be in deep trouble. What I'm really here for is the Turkey Liberation Front - those dudes are off the hook, and John always wonders why he hears loud guffaws and me coming out of the den with tears in my eyes."


Remember this kind of absurdity next time someone says we should let the City Council dictate development instead of the professionals at the BPDA.

Ideally, development would be regulated by a planning agency as it is in most cities. Changing the name to include "P" for "planning" does not magically make the old BRA into a planning agency; what we would ideally have would be a planning agency paid for by and responsible to the public.


So true

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The City Council should keep their focus on the important issues of the day, solving climate change and Brexit.

South End Resident

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As a South End Resident, I also oppose our unelected representative's move to quash this project.



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she got more votes than everyone but 4 people. If one can't serve, she becomes number 4.

It's not like an "appointed" senator etc. - she is in place because of an election and the number of votes she got. That's not a statute. It's the way the election works.



When voters had a chance to elect her, they didn't.

When one of the people the voters DID elect jumped ship, a losing candidate was elevated thanks to a stupid, undemocratic law.

No one is saying it wasn't legal. No one is saying she isn't on the council. No one is saying this is unprecedented. We're just saying she wasn't elected, which is just a simple fact. Just like Gerald Ford wasn't elected president, Althea Garrison wasn't elected to the city council.

Not sure why some are disputing this.


Not Analogous to Ford

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Ford did not actually participate in the 1972 Presidential election and therefore received not one single vote, whereass Garrison was in fact a candidate for councilor at large and received votes. She was the runner-up and became the number 4 vote recipient after one of the higher finishing candidates withdrew from the position. Ford, on the other hand, was no different from any other US natural citizen 35 years and older.

Like Gerald Ford?

I mean, no-one elected him president, right?

Having a special election for a low consequence office like city councillor is a waste of money. Now if the mayor were to step down, early in his term, then yes we should have a special election.

Try this.

Miss America is chosen by the judges (the voters). Miss Congeniality is chosen by her fellow contestants. If Miss America, say, poses for Penthouse and gets bounced, Miss Congeniality gets to be Miss America, but the judges had nothing to do with it. Yes, those are the rules, but they don't change the facts.

EDITED TO ADD: I was wrong about the Miss America rule -- thank you, Waquiot, for the correction!

You are absolutely right!

I stand corrected on the Miss America reference. But I'll stand by the fact that Ms. Garrison is unelected.

Let's try this thought experiment:

Say there were five candidates for City Council. The top four get elected, but the fifth candidate gets only one vote -- her own.
One of the winners resigns, so the fifth candidate gets elevated to the council. Under our current system, that would be legal, but it wouldn't reflect the will of the voters and it wouldn't make #5 an elected official. The system is stupid and undemocratic and should be changed.

Easy fix: keep the office vacant until the next scheduled election.

Here’s another scenario

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Let’s say that a sitting City Councilor was planning for running for Congress. She could tip her hand to a former City Councilor who helped her in her first reelection bid so the voters would have had 5 seasoned politicians. However, she didn’t, because her main concern has always been her personal political career, so we got the field we did.

My advice to anyone would be to run for City Council. Who knows what may happen?


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If Miss America wins and can't fulfill her duties, the runner up becomes Miss America as per the rules and as voted on by the judges.

You can argue the rule, but finishing 5th in votes means you are "elected" aa the first runner up. Perhaps many voters don't know the rule, but I assure you I did, so your vote is important even if your candidate isn't in the top 4.

She was elected as runner up and the fates shone upon her. She is thus a duly elected official.

The proposal

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Looks more like an eyesore than the crumbling facade currently occupying that space.

They should leave the

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They should leave the building as it is until it falls out into the street like the one that was next to it.

Garrison also objected to the

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Garrison also objected to the lack of parking on site, which she said would lead to increased congestion in the area.

So the way to reduce traffic is to add more cars? Oh no a kinda tall building in a city?!? Althea Garrison is dumb and I'm glad the other city council members see that as well.


Oh, there would be plenty of

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Oh, there would be plenty of cars under the present proposal. They want to move Silver Line stop to make room for valet staging.

I don't get the hate for Althea Garrison on this

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She's not wrong about a 13-story building being MUCH higher than anything nearby and probably taller than just about anything at Boston Medical Center as well. Yes, this project saves the facade of the Alexandra, but several stories of shiny glass towering above the preserved facade isn't in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, either. And a building that tall will have meaningful shadow impacts on nearby residences and streetscapes.

She's not wrong about increased congestion, either: the type of clientele for a pricey "boutique" hotel won't be using the bus to get to or from this hotel, so there will be a substantial increase in cab and app ride traffic in the area.

All that said, if the preponderance of neighbors (within the area which would see traffic/shadow/visual impacts) are in support of the project, it should still move forward.


That's what happened with the Four Seasons

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My recollection is that when the Four Seasons was about to be built, the Neighborhood Assn reached out to those most likely to be impacted to get their opinion. When nobody objected to a large shiny glass tower over 3-4 story brick townhouses, they just shrugged their shoulders and said our membership has spoken - nobody cares so just build it.


We can't have traffic on Mass Ave in the heart of the city? This isn't in Fairmont Hill or something. There's already a ton of all kinds of taxi/uber, etc... around this neighborhood - this won't add more.

As for the height, buildings on Bolyston St. don't seem to have destroyed the character of Newbury and Comm Ave. I think we'll live.


If this was always out attitude...

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"but several stories of shiny glass towering above the preserved facade isn't in keeping with the character of the surrounding neighborhood, either."

...we'd literally be living in a city where the highest building was the Custom House and we wouldn't have a city.


Ever been to Paris

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or DC?

There are lots of ways to keep high density with low buildings - trade-offs for sure - but it can be done effectively.



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In my opinion, the few buildings taller than the Custom House contribute very *little* to the character and uniqueness of Boston. Sure, people like to take pictures of Trinity Church reflected in the (first few floors of the) Hancock Tower windows. But if the Hancock had never been built, Boston would still be Boston. But take away the North End, or Beacon Hill, or Fenway Park, or Newbury Street, or Harvard Square, and the city wouldn't be the same.


What those buildings contribute

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Money for the local economy.

Money for the regional economy.


But I guess that Worcester, Lawrence, Springfield, and Pittsfield all have plenty of space available if you like.


Yeah, someone's clearly

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Yeah, someone's clearly getting rich whenever a tower goes up. But the rest of us pay the price.

There are lots of ways to

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There are lots of ways to keep high density with low buildings - trade-offs for sure - but it can be done effectively.

But why?

We wouldn’t have a city!

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Yes, if we preserved the historic city, we’d be an impoverished and abandoned backwater. Like Paris ....and Rome....and

She's wrong about all of

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She's wrong about all of these things. 13 stories is not "MUCH" higher than anything nearby. BMC has a 25-30 story tower, and there's a 12 story tower at the corner of Harrison and Mass Ave. 1701 Washington St. and Mandela Homes, both a block in either direction from the Alexandra, are both 8 stories, and both are big apartment buildings with much longer frontages than the Alexandra, making them appear quite massive. Also, modern construction is already present in this neighborhood; see 691 Mass Ave. and 1672 Washington.

More importantly, all of these issues are part of the community discussion with the BPDA. Traffic and shadow impacts have been raised frequently by neighbors and the developer has made changes to the design in response. City Council doesn't need to stick its nose in here.


Please list the address of

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Please list the address of the 25-30 story BMC tower. I must have missed it in the past 15 years.

35 Northampton St.?

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Perhaps that is the tower to which anon refers, although I don't think that is an actual part of BMC, so much as something abutting the campus. However, regardless of who owns the building, it effectively makes the point that something half that height a block away isn't unheard of in that neighborhood. There is also a 15 story building at the BU Medical School.

Mass Ave on a busy Saturday evening

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I don't know if this development should go or not. It probably should given the history of the building.

But pity the fool in a car or the #1 bus trying to get down Mass Ave on. At 6pm on a Friday or Saturday evening when this hotel is hosting a wedding party, and there is an event at Symphony Hall or Fenway.

The Role of the Church of Scientology

To discuss this issue without even mentioning the Church of Scientology is a grave disservice to your readers, Adam.

Peter Bakas sold the building to the Church of Scientology in the fall of 2008, when the stock market was shaking but before the real estate market crashed, for $4.5 million. The Church had planned to renovate it as its Boston headquarters. However, because of the financial crisis and because the building was in worse shape than it had anticipated, it never renovated it but put it back on the market in 2014. Real estate prices in this area have risen about 50% from the fall of 2008 to the present, so it should be worth about $6.75 million. However, because the Church overpaid for a fragile property and because it neglected to maintain that fragile property, it is worth much less. The current buyer, Alexandra Partners, estimates that stabilizing the façade will cost between $5 and $7 million dollars, $2 to $4 million dollars more than the $3 million the previous bidder, Eric Hoagland, estimated just two years ago. And that $3 million was already more than the Scientologists calculated when it bought the property, since it certainly deteriorated in the intervening eight years. So if the building is worth $3 million as-is, I would be surprised.

However, the Church will not sell the property for a loss. If the team managing the real estate sold at a loss, the team members’ bonuses and jobs would be on the block. As long as it holds the property, the loss is not recognized. So for internal reasons, the Church will not sell. To move them to sell, the BPDA, with some support from South End leaders and residents, is proposing to alter the zoning current when the Church bought the building, 70 feet, to 140 feet, which makes the building worth the $12 million the developer has agreed to pay. In other words, the BPDA is arranging to bail out a billion-dollar real estate empire (attached to a small and vile cult) from the consequences of its incompetence and its neglect of this tarnished nineteenth century gem. The thirteen-story boutique hotel will shred existing and long-standing zoning and give every owner of derelict property under the oversight of the BPDA every reason to hold out for zoning changes and the highest price, which will damage what makes the South End special, its architecture, not its people, that is for sure.


You mean this is like Chiofaro?

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Minus the cult?

He massivelly overpaid for a garage on the then mistaken belief the city would roll over and let him build what he needed to make money.

Not sure the current status, but I think the city is finally caving. The city is running out of places to build thar keeps the property tax base growing fast enough.


Chioforo is a cult of one. Thanks for the information, I had been following that story but I did not know (the Globe never thought it was worth revealing?) that he needed to roll the city to save his investment. Maybe this sort of thing is so common that no one thinks it is worth mentioning or criticizing.

Building has 22,000 square

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Building has 22,000 square feet. Call it 20,000 square feet living space and 2,000 for common areas. 20 apartments at 1,000 square feet. developers need to spend $3M to restore the façade and 500,000 per unit. That’s $13M before you talk about a purchase price. they acquire the building for $7,000,000. Developer is in the hole for $20,000,000 on 20 units. developer wants to recoup so sells units for $1,300,000 to 1,700,000.

$1,300,000 minimum to live on a busy intersection without deeded parking. And people wonder why developers need to build up.

you missed the ivory bean

The Church allowed the Ivory Bean next door to fall apart and then removed the remnants. But that is part of the parcel. The project site according to the 2002 Plan filed with the BRA, before the Ivory Bean fell down:

"The project site, located at 1759-1769 Washington Street which is situated on the corner of Washington Street and Massachusetts Avenue, contains approximately 8,025 square feet of land in the South End Urban Renewal Area, Project No. R-56 (“Site”). The Site is currently occupied by two mostly vacant historical buildings: a five-story Hotel Alexandra located at 1759-1761 Washington Street and the three-story Ivory Bean row house located at 1767-1769 Washington Street. The first floor of the Hotel Alexandra is currently occupied as retail space. The upper floors of the Hotel Alexandra and each floor of the row house are currently vacant. These existing buildings, built in the early-to mid-1800’s, will be restored as a part of this project."

The total square foot was to 38,007 square feet, maintaining the first floor as retail space and adding 23 residential rental units. Within the original zoning. You might want to run your calculations again, this time with the right parameters.

So basically the Church is

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So basically the Church is holding the historic building hostage. They know there are a lot of people who would be really upset if they let it deteriorate to the point where it could no longer be restored or needed to be torn down. But they want to sell at the price they want, so they're basically saying "Better increase the zoning on this property so we can sell. It would be a shame for something bad to happen to this building..."


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The city could condemn it and take it by eminent domain. Granted that's a whole different kettle of worms.


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Declare it blight and eminent domain is a pretty reasonable thing, although it would then be tied up in courts for years.

Restore the building as is it

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Restore the building as is it is.
It is historical for a reason.

Often we forget the weight of buildings and the impact on the surrounding land.

To recoup the do not have to hack up a historical building. Consider insuring it as a historical landmark and having it appraised as an artistic historical monment. There are 1000's of grants that can be donated.

Already hacked up?

After 40+ years of neglect and disuse, I doubt there's much of anything left inside to restore. The developer would restore the façade.

The Liberty Hotel (built into and around the shell of the old Charles Street Jail) might be a useful comparison to make here.