This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 1/27/2001.
© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.


More midway housing

THE MIDWAY development proposal represents a major step toward the transformation of the inland areas of the South Boston waterfront district. The Boston Redevelopment Authority needs to shape it carefully to minimize the impact on its neighbors and to enhance the planners' long-term goals of creating a lively 24-hour district.

The Midway complex, just across from the Gillette factory, would comprise the same amount of office space as two downtown high-rises. Beacon Capital, a team of experienced developers, is masterminding the project - a fact that confirms the expectation of many Bostonians that the waterfront district is the next great boom area of the city.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority had hoped that 30 percent of all new development would be devoted to housing, essential to ensure that the district does not empty after 5 p.m. Beacon proposes that only 125,000 of the 1.75 million square feet be reserved for residences, and these of a special kind - studio/homes for artists. This is less than 8 percent of the build-out.

Beacon would like to include Fort Point Place, an earlier project, in the mix, but that would still leave them 242,000 square feet short of the 30 percent goal. Beacon propposes to subsidize the equivalent amount of housing off-site, and that is certainly better than no housing at all. But the BRA will not accept Beacon's initial offer. ''Maybe there can be a bit more housing on the site.'' BRA Director Mark Maloney said yesterday. ''I want to make sure there is more housing in the immediate area.''

One obstacle might be the Gillette Company, which fears that its truck traffic on A Street will be opposed by future homeowners there. Much of the Midway development would be on parallel streets, and Gillette has an open mind on housing there. ''If our operations are not impacted, there is no issue,'' Eric Kraus, a company spokesman, said.

Developers will almost always opt for office space or hotels over housing in a fashionable district because they make more money. But housing is essential to the livability of this district, and the BRA ought to hold Beacon to 30 percent on site.

The Midway development will generate significant commuter traffic to compete with trucks on the limited neighborhood road network, which is under stress from increased traffic generated by the Ted Williams Tunnel. Beacon plans to build an underground garage for 1,200 cars, an inducement to commuting by car. It ought to consider downsizing this expensive garage and use the money saved for shuttle services and other inducements to increase use of the MBTA.

The Midway project would be a pleasing combination of rehabilitated buildings and new construction. Neighborhood reaction has focused on opposition to the biggest new building, which could be as high as 300 feet. This is too much, and the BRA will no doubt give it a shave.

Beacon is correct, however, that this project would benefit from a signature building higher than the prevailing 70 or 80 foot cityscape.

If housing space is increased and the traffic impact reduced, a taller building would remind neighborhood residents that the Midway project has permanently enhanced the waterfront district.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 1/27/2001.

© Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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