Six months after special permits were approved for the proposed Chestnut Hill Square project, developers just down the street from that site are looking to renovate and expand another shopping center on Route 9.
Representatives from WS Development, a Chestnut Hill-based development firm, presented its plans last night to take down part of a building at the Chestnut Hill Shopping Center and in its place, re-build a three-story, mixed-use structure. The presentation came during a public hearing held before both the Land Use Committee and the Planning Board.
Robert Frazier, the firm's Senior Vice President of Development, explained that the firm will also look to improve the carriageway on the south side of the shopping center (closest to Boylston Street) as well as create traffic calming measures, pedestrian improvements and landscaping additions.
During last night's meeting, both Frazier and the firm's lawyer, Frank Stearns, went through the details for the requested special permits and zoning changes needed to make WS Development's plan happen. The chamber at City Hall was filled with representatives from the firm as well as architects, a civil engineer and traffic engineer.
"A lot of work has gone into putting this proposal together," Frazier said.
Plans for a new building
The portion of the building the firm proposes to take down currently houses Century Bank and City Sports and sits at 33 Boylston St., just between The Container Store and Legal Sea Foods. In its place, the firm looks to build a three-story building that will stand 50-feet tall and incorporate retail space, office space and potentially restaurant space.
"We are a very dynamic industry," Frazier said. "We are working very hard with proposals and working with multiple types of tenants for that facility. We're going to come forward with something the city of Newton and the Chestnut Hill neighborhood can be proud of."
The project was initiated by the firm looking re-locate its headquarters, which is currently housed at 1330 Boylston St. in the Brookline section of Chestnut Hill. The WS Development offices are proposed to be on the third floor of the three-story building, with a pedestrians bridge connecting the new office to a small marketing center run by the firm that is already on the site.
Frazier explained that the bottom floor would house anywhere between two and nine retail spaces, keeping in mind that the firm hopes to retain the Century Bank and City Sports in the current building. The second floor would be open to more retail space, a restaurant, a fitness club or more office space, Frazier said.
The total footprint of the building would be around 22,000 square feet and the added space (with additional stores) would be around 48,000 square feet, Frazier said.
Aside from the building construction, Frazier said the carriageway on the Boylston-street side of the building will see some work if the proposal goes through as it is "in somewhat poor condition" and in need of better parking definition, lighting and landscaping. Sidewalks will also be improved, Frazier added.
"We see the center as part of the evolving, urban character of the village," Frazier said. "We don’t see a major change here, this is incremental, but character will improve over time."
Special permits and approval needed
The project cannot go through, though, without the necessary permits and zoning changes. Stearns outlined those changes the committee will need to vote on:
- Zoning change for the land around 33 Boylston to be changed from Business 1 to Business 4 to allow for a three-story, mixed-use building
- Change carriageway zoning from public use to Business 4; Stearns clarified that there will not be any businesses built on the carriageway and will remain as a sidewalk and travel lane
- Special permit to replace the one-story building with a three-story building that is 50-feet tall and allow restaurants greater than 50 seats
- Special permit for improvements to sidewalk and carriageway
As outlined in a memo from the Planning Department, the firm will also look for a waiver for some of the parking stalls and reduce the total number of parking stalls on the lot.
Concerns and questions from the board, public
Aldermen, Planning Board members and those from the public expressed common concerns at Tuesday night's public hearing. Following WS Development's presentation, similar questions around the following subjects began to emerge:
- Improved public access to Hammond Pond; Alderman Susan Albright asked if the firm could consider making access more "user-friendly."
- Whether the reduction of parking stalls would have a negative impact (Note: Stearns mentioned in his presentation a traffic study that showed roughly 40 hours a year where parking would max out, particularly around the holidays)
- Whether the zoning change from Business 1 to Business 4 was necessary for the entire area around the building, and how it would affect future developments in the area
- Encouraging the firm to present more of a 'master plan' for the shopping center; incorporating this project into a bigger picture of the building and space
- How the firm plans to handle or help stormwater management, as runoff from the shopping center area goes into Hammond Pond. Jane Sender, a member of the Newton Conservators, said the pond is believed to be suffering from eutrophication, or filling in with overgrown plants due to pollutants.
- How to connect the various shopping areas (The Mall at Chestnut Hill, Chestnut Hill Shopping Center and Atrium Mall) to reduce traffic. Alderman Brian Yates, for example, suggested a shuttle bus system.
The Land Use Committee will meet again on this project during a working session on July 19. The Planning Board will continue its discussion on this proposal at its next meeting, scheduled for July 11.