PONDSIDE—Watertown-based developer SMC Management Corporation need to present more specifics about its plans to turn a closed nursing home at 81 S. Huntington Ave., was the general opinion expressed at the June 7 meeting of the Jamaica Pond Association (JPA) board.
The Pond View Inn at Longwood plan calls for a 40-unit hotel, adding two stories onto the three-story former Pond View Nursing Home., overlooking the Jamaicaway and Olmsted Park to the rear. The Mission Hill neighborhood begins across S. Huntington from the site. The developers plan to find a national hotel operator to run the inn, which will largely cater to visitors to the Longwood Medical Area.
SMC lawyer Peter Fulton said the project would need to win approval from the city for a number of zoning variances before it can move forward. The new stories would not put the building above the 45-foot height limit for the area, but the existing front- and side-yard setbacks are too small, and the new floors will bring the building way above the allowed floor-area-to-lot-size ratio.
Hotel operations are also a forbidden use on the property.
Space for parking on the site is tight. Andy Hill of Valet Parking New England Parking Solutions (VPNE), which is consulting on the project, said there is little hope of adding spaces to the 9-car parking lot currently on the site.
City zoning would require 14 spots for the 40 rooms. Hill said VPNE had proposed two options to the developer. One would involve cramming as many cars onto the lot on the ground floor of the building’s sloped property as possible and having a valet on duty at all times to extract hotel patrons’ cars. The other would include the installation of a hydraulic lift to create two levels of parking.
Steep charges for parking and prominent advertising of public transportation options to and from the hotel would limit the need for parking, Hill said. If there was a major car overload at the site, VPNE “has transportation assets within one-eighth of a mile of the site,” including parking lots, vans and valets, Hill said.
But JPA members were not satisfied with the developers’ answer to JPA board member Kevin Moloney’s question, “How many [employees] does your business plan call for?”
Fulton said his understanding was the plan is to have two staffers—a receptionist and maintenance person—on duty at all times. Pointing out that does not account for housekeeping staff, the JPA board said they would like to see more details about how the hotel would be run.
JPA board members and community members also said they would like the developer to hire a landscape architect to come up with a design for the rear of building on the Jamaicaway. And concerns were raised that the initial drawings of the buildings new stories are too modern and do not reflect the original building’s design.
Rich Giordano, a Mission Hill resident, was the most critical of the plan.
“It’s a speculative venture. It’s like building an office building without tenants signed up,” he said of the hotel plan. The developer hopes to enter into a management agreement with a national hotel chain—possibly Holiday Inn Express—but has not secured that agreement.
Giordano, who is a board member of both of Mission Hill’s community development corporations (CDCs)—Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services (MHNHS) and Back of the Hill CDC—said MHNHS looked at installing a hotel at its prominent four-story One Brigham Circle commercial and retail development in the early 2000s.
Like the 81 S. Huntington plan, the Brigham Circle hotel would have served visitors to the nearby Longwood Medical Area (LMA). Despite the fact that One Brigham is right next to the LMA, they found “the financials were unfeasible,” Giordano said. The hotel would have needed 80 percent occupancy to make it work. “That is unheard of,” he said. The One Brigham Circle project was much larger and more expensive than the proposed S. Huntington hotel.
Giordano strongly recommended that the JPA request a copy of the hotel’s business plan, a request that JPA members were already considering in the hopes that it would shed more light on the complicated parking plan the developers are proposing.
Mission Hill’s Back of the Hill CDC operates a 125-unit senior housing development across Huntington Avenue from the Pond View site, and Giordano asked the developer to meet with the Back of The Hill board before moving forward.
The development team agreed to do that.
Saying that the hotel proposal is “the biggest change to the zoning parameters” he has seen in the neighborhood in 15 year on the board, JPA board member David Moir recommended that the board convene a community task force, including Mission Hill neighbors, to review the proposal.
It is unclear whether the JPA will do that, but Moloney, who head the JPA zoning committee, said he will draft a letter to the developer outlining the concerns raised at the meeting, and the board will likely take the issue up again soon.
SMC principal Stephen Chapman last month told the Gazette the company hoped to “fast-track” the project, beginning construction in 90 days.
“We’ll be back,” Tom Donnelly an investor in the project, and head of TJP Construction the construction contractor for the project, said immediately the meeting.
“We are going to retrench a little bit and try to address the concerns of the community,” Chapman said in a Gazette phone interview following the meeting.
Chapman, who said his area of expertise is large-scale residential development, said SMC still hopes to get through the approval process and begin work in September.
At the JPA meeting, Leonard Wettenberg, who, along with his wife, Carolyn Wettenberg, owned and ran the Pond View Nursing Home, said they were ”upset they had to close but we had to close because of our age and health.”
The sale of the property by the Wettenbergs to SMC will not be finalized until after development plans are finalized, Chapman told the Gazette.
Correction: The print version of this article incorrectly indicated that the JPA Board would not take the hotel proposal up again until September.