190-200 rental units planned for Home site

A huge, high-end apartment building with 190 to 200 units is being proposed for the Home for Little Wanderers complex at 161 S. Huntington Ave.

“It will extend the residential character of JP down to where it really hasn’t been before,” said Curtis Kemeny, president and CEO of Boston Residential Group, in an interview this week at the Gazette office.

The Home announced last summer that its Jamaica Plain site, known as the Knight Children’s Center, is relocating to Walpole. Kemeny plans to knock down all three buildings currently on the 3.5-acre site and erect a four- to five-story, all-rental building.

Kemeny is aiming to start construction in about a year. But first, the project requires changing the site’s zoning from institutional to multifamily residential use. It would also require Boston Parks Commission review because the property abuts the Jamaicaway and Olmsted Park. And the Boston Landmarks Commission would review the demolition of the 1920s-era main Home building.

“The Emerald Necklace is a beautiful amenity to us. So what we will want to do is embrace the Emerald Necklace,” said Kemeny. The main building would be on S. Huntington, not the parkway. It would keep existing trees along the parkway and create resident-only pedestrian access there.

The project would include a surface parking lot underneath the building, likely with about 150 spaces under City of Boston guidelines. Kemeny said he would do whatever the City requires, but added that he wants to minimize parking because residents increasingly use alternative transportation. He also would seek to add a Zipcar car-sharing station.

The traffic flow would keep the Home’s configuration of a two-entrance driveway on S. Huntington and would not have any Jamaicaway access, he said.

Most of the units would be studio or one-bedroom apartments, with some two-bedrooms. Kemeny acknowledged that the smaller units are aimed at singles and couples rather than families. He added that his company does not accept undergraduate students as tenants—a major quality-of-life concern in neighboring Mission Hill.

Under Boston Redevelopment Authority guidelines, 13 percent of the units would be rented at affordable rates. The project also would include a fitness center, a patio and a “common room” with a kitchen for use by residents and caterers.

The three existing buildings cannot be reused to their configuration and age, he said.

Kemeny said he has met with two neighboring senior homes, Goddard House and Sherrill House, and with the park advocacy group the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC). All had a “positive” reaction, he said, repeatedly declining to elaborate.

“We did have a positive meeting and we would welcome the development as a new neighbor,” said Dolores Schermer, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the company that operates the Goddard House, in an email to the Gazette.

“I wouldn’t say we had a positive response. We had a ‘thanks for coming’ response,” Sherrill House CEO Patrick Stapleton told the Gazette. He said Sherrill House has no position on the proposal at the moment, adding that Kemeny is doing things “the right way” by meeting with abutters.

ENC President Julie Crockford said Kemeny’s team has been “open and informative,” but that the ENC needs to see traffic, wind and shadow studies before taking a position.

Kemeny’s Boston Residential Group is a large developer and property manager with no other JP projects. Its other buildings include the Back Bay condo building with Best Buy in the lower floors. Under Kemeny’s father, the company 40 years ago built the Church Park development next to Symphony Hall, which includes a Whole Foods Market and other notable businesses.

Kemeny said he considered adding retail space to the Home project, but then noted how close it is to the Hyde Square business district. “We want to support that neighborhood,” he said.

A Home for Little Wanderers spokesperson told the Gazette that the Home cannot talk about the project under the terms of a purchase-and-sale agreement.

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