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Neighbors Push Back On UK Developer's Attempt To Build Housing On Beacon Street

Opposition is once again mounting to British developer Scape's plans to build housing in Boston, this time against a proposed 15-story apartment building with more than 500 units on a parking lot near Boston Children's Hospital.

A rendering of Scape's multifamily development at 819 Beacon St. in Boston.

The Boston Planning and Development Agency Wednesday extended the public comment period for Scape Boston's project on 819 Beacon St. to Oct. 16 to "allow for additional community involvement," according to a statement.  

Scape filed a project notification with the BPDA for 819 Beacon last month, which began the formal development review process. The Beacon project will offer more than 500 housing units, including 53 slated for families of patients at neighboring Boston Children's Hospital. It is located in Boston's Audubon Circle neighborhood and borders Fenway, Kenmore, and the Longwood Medical and Academic Area, where affordable housing is scarce. 

Scape, which has built college dorms across England, with a handful in Scotland and Ireland, entered the U.S. market in 2018 with plans to build 1,300 units of student housing on Beacon Street, at 1252 Boylston St. and at the site of the Trans National Building at 2 Charlesgate West. After community opposition, Scape changed its strategy last year to focus on the broader market.

The Audubon Circle Neighborhood Association argues that Scape's apartments at 819 Beacon are designed to attract college students anyway, since they are mostly studios and come pre-furnished.  

"The building may not be a dormitory by definition, but it is clear that the likely occupant would be a student willing to live in a very small space without the burden of buying or moving furniture, or, if not a student, someone who plans to stay in the unit for perhaps a year or two," ACNA President Dolores Boogdanian wrote in a June letter to Scape North America CEO Andrew Flynn.

"The building as now conceived reflects a concentration of transient occupants, fostering isolation from the surrounding community and providing just the sort of housing that is inimical to the vision and value of a strong and vibrant community."

The ACNA also argued that Scape's development would "overwhelm" the rowhouses that make up most of Audubon Circle and is more than three times the size of a neighboring residential building.

Neighbors have also expressed concerns about the trash and traffic generated by the project, according to Lauren Brody, chief of staff to City Councilor Kenzie Bok, whose district includes Audubon Circle.

Boogdanian, who said her interactions with Scape have been cordial, didn't respond to an email request for comment.

Flynn looks forward to "continuing to engage" with the ACNA and other stakeholders, a Scape spokesperson said in a statement. Scape declined an interview request.

Battles over the size, shape and location of affordable housing aren't new in Boston.

The developer of the $8B Suffolk Downs project, which the BPDA approved last week, is planning to build 1,430 affordable units, 930 on-site and 500 additional units off-site. Activists urged city officials to delay action arguing that the affordable units were still too pricey for many residents.

"We don't do enough large-scale planning, so we end up having these ad hoc battles over every single development," said Suffolk University Law School Professor John Infranca in an interview. "My own view is that we generally give neighborhoods more power and say than we should. That ultimately may prove to be problematic."

Related Topics: Audubon Circle, 819 Beacon St, BPDA, Scape