Hotel planned for former nursing home

May 28, 2010
By

John Ruch

S. HUNTINGTON AVE.—A 40-room, national chain hotel could be coming to a former nursing home at 81 S. Huntington Ave., which overlooks the Jamaicaway and Olmsted Park.

The proposal for Pond View Inn at Longwood would require significant zoning variances, especially because a hotel is a forbidden use in the area. The renovations would include adding two stories to the existing building, pushing its height on the Jamaicaway to five stories.

The developer, SMC Management Corporation of Watertown, is scheduled to present the proposal at a June 7 meeting of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA). [See JP Agenda.] The project is aiming for fast-track work: a construction start in 90 days and completion a year from now.

“We like the site a lot because of its proximity to the Green Line and also because it overlooks [Leverett] Pond,” said SMC principal partner Stephen Chapman in a Gazette phone interview.

Chapman said that the proposal is for “affordable hotel rooms for visitors of the VA Medical Center, Faulkner Hospital and the Longwood Medical [Area].” The developers are hoping to draw a national chain such as Best Western or Holiday Inn Express to operate the hotel, he said, adding that a local operator is still a possibility. “Affordable” means about $95 to $125 a night, which would be low-cost in Boston.

A flyer for the JPA meeting posted in the area gives the basic details of the hotel proposal. It also lists a variety of required zoning variances: forbidden use; excessive floor-area ratio, or density; insufficient off-street parking; and lack of open space. The flyer also notes that the property falls under a special review district because the Jamaicaway doubles as a historic state parkland.

There are some features the hotel would not have: “No restaurant, no bar,” Chapman said. He said the hotel also would not become a rooming house or a college dorm. A dorm “would be another natural” for the property, he said. But in conversations with some local elected officials, “We committed not to allow it to devolve into another dormitory for local colleges,” Chapman said.

The existing building is the former Pond View Nursing Home, which closed two years ago. It has been vacant and for sale since then. Former owner Leonard Wettenberg could not immediately be reached for comment.

Due to a slope, the building is two stories on S. Huntington and three stories on the Jamaicaway, with surface parking lot of about 15 spaces tucked beneath part of the structure. An alley known as Craftson Way runs alongside the 6,900-square-foot property.

Chapman said the hotel would retain at least some of the surface parking, but would plan on visitors using public transit and shuttle services.

The existing building has more than 40 rooms already. But to get the same room-count for a hotel, the redevelopment needs more space. Adding two stories is key to financial viability and drawing a hotel chain operator, Chapman said.

“You need some substance. You need some meat on the bone,” he said.

SMC’s background is in multi-unit housing development, and that was the original idea for the former nursing home, Chapman said, adding that the lack of parking made that unrealistic.

“We have not had experience in developing a hotel or a motel,” which is why SMC is seeking a chain to operate it, he said.

The issue of affordable accommodations for hospital visitors is personal for Chapman, who said he recently had heart surgery at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He said he is fortunate to live in the city, but that visitors face high hotel and parking costs.

SMC officials met with Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) staff to informally present the proposal, according to BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker. It appears that the hotel proposal would not require a full BRA public review process because it is just under the 20,000-square-foot size threshold, Shumaker said. But, she added, “There’s a chance they might do [the full BRA review] voluntarily if the community asks for it.”

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