One large project

There is no escaping the size of the project. It takes up most of a city block, has access on four streets and due to its bulk alone has attracted the neighborhood's watchful eye. A six-story, mixed-use development, with 208 units, room for 190 parked cars and 50,000-square feet of retail space will certainly be hard to miss.

The project is slated for the block bordered by East Pine Street, Harvard Avenue, East Pike Street and Boylston Avenue. The proposal as it now stands has to sandwich its way between several existing businesses on parcels not associated with the project. While the BMW dealership and its parking lot are included in the development, such businesses as Linda's Tavern, Bill's off Broadway and the War Room are not part of development.

Initial details of the project were presented last week at an early design review meeting. According to Department of Planning and Development planner Michael Dorcy, the turnout of roughly 30 people provided for spirited discussion.

"Most of the comments focused on the impacts that would come from a project of this size," he said. "There were questions of height, bulk and scale. The neighborhood likes the diversity of the neighborhood and favors density. But they're concerned with how the design of this building will fit in with the existing street life and vibrancy the neighborhood values and would like to see stay."

The design review board made note of the considerable challenge of creating a domestic sanctuary for the building's residents while not attempting to stifle the neighborhood's social vibrancy.

Pryde+Johnson, the company developing the project, presented three general options. These were massing studies containing no real detail and included single-, double- and four-building configurations. Dorcy said the design review board favored exploring the four-building configuration because of its potentially more appealing scale.

Pike-Pine resident Chip Wall, a member of the Pike Pine Urban Neighborhood Coalition's (P/PUNC) steering committee, said his biggest concern is that the neighborhood not end up with an ordinary and generic building.

"This is an opportunity to come up with something architecturally impressive to the betterment of the community and certainly the developers," he said. "It could be a marvelous project if Pryde+Johnson take into account and respects the culture of the neighborhood and the Hill."

Wall said it appeared that the project wasn't generating opposition as much as informed questions from an involved community, as well as concern as to how the final project will look. Design, he said, will be all important, and the neighborhood will pay attention.

"For common sense reasons, given the size and magnitude of this project, we ought to be concerned. This is an entire city block. The antenna goes up," he said.

P/PUNC co-chair Betsy Hunter said she thought a good cross section of business owners, bar owners and residents was a positive sign and provided a realistic sense of the Pike-Pine neighborhood's attentiveness to development. She noted that the developer is at this stage planning to build condominiums.

"I don't recall a new construction in Pike-Pine in the last few years that hasn't been rentals. If they're really building ownership units it's pretty dramatic," she said.

Hunter noted that the architect, GGLO Architecture, designed the mixed-use Walgreens-affordable housing project well under way at the corner of Broadway and East Pine Street next to the Egyptian Theatre. Hunter, who works for Capitol Hill Housing, the organization which will operate the affordable housing component of that ambitious project, said she thinks that whatever design is put forward will be sensitive to the neighborhood's concerns.

One concern is how well the largely residential project will fit into the nightlife that will surround it. Four bars and restaurants are on the same city block, with many others nearby. Will residents of a newly-built condo complex look favorably on a dense area of bars and nightclubs?

"This is a major nightlife zone," said Hunter. "Bar owners are rightfully hoping the developers aren't just coming out at 2 p.m. They need to come see at midnight to see what this area is like at night."

An extension of those concerns is the long-term fate of the existing night spots that will abut the proposed development. Will several hundred condo owners happily coexist with the energetic, nocturnal pace of Pike-Pine's active nightlife? Or will that nightlife, which in some ways defines the neighborhood and is certainly part of Pike-Pine's identity, serve as an attraction to those who choose to live in a dense, urban neighborhood?

One additional question is whether the developer intends to acquire the smaller properties on the block. While not a stated goal, such acquisition would make the project easier to build and possibly make way for a larger development. But if those parcels were added to the project it would come with the social cost of eliminating several well-loved neighborhood businesses. Calls to Pryde+ Johnson went unreturned as this paper went to press.

The project is still in the earliest stages. Dorcy said the next step is up to the developers to come up with a more detailed design and then apply for a Master Use Permit, a process that could easily take a year. A vague estimate on construction time is in the order of 18 months once a permit has been granted.

Doug Schwartz is the editor of the Capitol Hill Times. He can be reached at editor or 461-1308.

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