Dorm delayed by historic review

By Rebeca Oliveira
Gazette Staff

Demolition of part of the YMCA’s complex for Northeastern University’s (NEU) dormitory project has been delayed by the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC), which says the college did not submit proper alternatives to its demolition plan.

No estimate of how long the delay could be was made. The demolition was originally scheduled to begin in late June.

According to an MHC letter addressed to dorm co-developer PPC Land Ventures, Inc. dated June 3, “[NEU’s] submittal did not include a good faith study of alternatives.”

“Since we’re received that letter, we’ve worked diligently and effectively [to address those concerns],” Tobin said. “We took that request very seriously…We want to show we really made a good-faith effort.”

NEU submitted a new proposal to the MHC on July 1. It has not received a response yet, Tobin said.

The GrandMarc at Northeastern project, located at 316 Huntington Ave., would allow NEU to keep its promise to Mission Hill residents of 600 more on-campus beds, a goal widely supported by Mission Hill residents and elected officials.

The letter lists adverse visual effects of “size, scale, and massing of the proposed new tower” as being “out of character” with the surrounding historic properties and area. It asks for an “Alternatives Analysis Study that details the feasibility of constructing a number of smaller-sized dormitories at other locations.”

The required MHC consultation cannot take place until NEU’s proposal and analyses are accepted.

Opposition to the development, mostly from YMCA members, comes in large part due to the buildings’ history. The entire Y complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as having local significance, a designation that provides limited protections like extra reviews by the Boston Landmarks Commission’s (BLC) and MHC.

While the BLC no longer has any hurdles for the project, there are other approvals NEU must get, including from MHC and from the city’s Inspectional Services Department.

The MHC must meet with the developers and approve the project, a step that can only take place after the MHC accepts NEU’s proposal for mitigation measures. As previously decided by the MHC and the BLC, the proposed project would have “adverse effects on historical properties” in and around the Y complex, a problem NEU needs to address.

Phone calls to the MHC were not returned by the Gazette’s deadline.

“The to-do list is down to one page now,” Tobin said.

The development plan would allow NEU to create 720 new student beds, reducing the pressure on the Mission Hill housing market, which already holds over 1,300 NEU undergrads.

PPC would purchase and demolish the Y’s gym, then build a 17-story dorm tower in its place. PPC would then lease the dorm to NEU long-term.

The dorm is slated to open by fall 2013 to accommodate that semester’s incoming class. Starting that year, all NEU freshmen and sophomores will be required to live in university housing.

The Y was first suggested to the NEU Task Force as a possible site for more housing five years ago, though it was eventually abandoned in favor of more suitable sites. After the economic downturn in 2008, however, NEU could not afford to build a new dorm without help. The deal NEU forged with PPC is the first of its kind in the nation.

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