Concerns Raised About Height of Building Proposed for Floramo’s Site

Developers of a proposed 11-story research and development building at the site of Floramo’s Restaurant faced questions about the traffic, setbacks, and the size of the project at a Planning Board meeting on Tuesday, May 24.

The developers, Verdynt, will be back before the board at its June 28 meeting to provide more answers to some of the questions raised last week about the 213 Everett Ave. project. Planning Board members are also requesting the developer present a concept for a scaled-down, eight-story building.

At that June meeting, the Planning Board could then make a recommendation to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a number of variances and permits being requested for the project. Verdynt is scheduled to appear before the ZBA in July.

The initial concept for the 151-foot building calls for a restaurant and possible community space on the first floor, parking on floors two through four, and lab and office space on the upper floors.

“We didn’t just pick this site because someone offered it to us, or because we know the Floramo family,” said Doug Mednetz, one of the principals of Boston-based Verdynt. “We picked this site because we think it makes a lot of sense.”

One of the main draws of the site is its proximity to public transportation, Mednetz said.

In addition, the new apartments being built across the street, its proximity to the high school and nearby hotels are also major draws for the location, Mednetz said. Since the development will be a science center, Mednetz said there are possible opportunities for collaborations with the high school and other local schools.

With the size and scope of the project, Mednetz said there will need to be some variances and special permits granted by the ZBA, primarily for building height, setbacks, and parking, to make the project a reality.

“The reason we are asking for the variances is because there are some hardships here,” said Mednetz. “The lot shape, it’s very irregular and it makes it challenging to fit (with) all the zoning regulations. We want to maximize the lot, because when you run into funky shapes, it makes it a little challenging.”

Because of flood plain and soil issues, the parking needs to be above and not below ground, resulting in the parking deck on floors two through four, Mednetz said.

If the project does garner the necessary city approvals, Mednetz said the design and building permit phase should last about a year, with construction coming in at about 26 months.

“There is a huge demand for this type of building in Massachusetts, and we believe the vast majority (of the building) will be leased before we even start building,” said Mednetz.

The size of the lab and office space will range from small lab and office space for one- or two-person startups, to entire floor leases for larger entities, he said.

The entire building will be about 390,000 square feet, with about 286,000 square feet of that leasable. The estimated construction cost is $267 million and it is anticipated that the cost to lease space will be $600 to $700 per square foot, according to project architect Matthew Juros of Fishbrook Design in Haverhill.

Juros said the building is a speculative research and development building, so it’s not being built for a specific company, but to attract companies.

A traffic impact survey done by the developers showed there would not be a significant impact on traffic compared to what is there now.

However, the developers noted that there are already major traffic issues in the area, and stated there would be traffic improvements made to several high-crash rated intersections along Everett Avenue.

Planning Board member Sharlene McLean said she had serious concerns about the scale of the proposed building.

“This building is just so ridiculously outsized for the neighborhood,” she said. “It might be comparable in height to the (nearby) FBI building, but the FBI building has a lot of setbacks. Eleven stories, that’s just too tall.”

McLean said she wasn’t convinced by the argument that the developer needed zoning relief because of the awkward shape of the lot.

“You know what they are, you know that going in and you know what the ordinances are, yet you are seeking relief from every single one,” said McLean. “We’ve had other applications saying the same thing, and I find that arrogant. Somebody coming in for a project such as this and seeking relief from every single building code and ordinance that the city has is arrogant.”

Mednetz said he understood the concerns, but said the cost of construction in part makes the scale necessary. He said the construction team initially sought to put the parking underground, but was unable to because of flood zone and soil issues.

Mednetz asked what would happen if they had to go with a smaller project.

“I think it makes it more challenging,” said Mednetz. “I think the building can still be built, but there will have to be give and take. We can’t just start cutting floors off the top of the building, because that’s where the companies are going to be, that’s where the revenue is.”

Planning Board Chair Tuck Willis said he was concerned about there being no setback for the building with it abutting the sidewalk and was not in favor of lot line to lot line construction.

Land Use Planning Director John DePriest said the project also needs to present more detailed landscaping and street lighting plans.

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