By SCOTT JACKSON
More than a dozen area residents, the local neighborhood association and five city councillors voiced their concerns over a developer’s proposal to build nearly 600 residential units on the site of Quincy Medical Center.
The project, they said, would be too dense for the Hospital Hill neighborhood with apartment buildings placed too close to abutting homes.
The Planning Board on Wednesday held its first meeting on FoxRock Properties’ plan to place 598 apartments and 5,000 square feet of retail space on the 14.4-acre hospital site at 144 Whitwell St. The project also includes 802 parking spaces, nearly all of them in garages beneath the residential buildings. The board spent more than two and a half hours listening to the applicant and then members of the public, and will hold a second public hearing on the matter at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 5.
FoxRock has proposed tearing down every building on the hospital site, except for the administration building in front, which would be renovated for retail use. They are proposing to build 36 row houses, 17 townhouses and four six-story apartment buildings on the property.
FoxRock’s Jason Ward said his team welcomed feedback from the public and would strive to address the concerns that were raised.
“We believe that the submission of our plan was the initiation of both the public process and public dialogue. We welcome this part of the process very sincerely. We’ve spent the last 10 months working with some of the best consultants, engineers, designers in the world, and we are delighted for the plan that is being presented,” Ward said at the start of the presentation.
“We love Hospital Hill. We’re going to make sincere efforts to address specific concerns expressed tonight by our neighbors and especially by our direct abutters.”
Michael LeBlanc, a principal with the design firm Utile, said the plan for the site revolves around three principles: acknowledging the site’s history and keeping the administration building front and center; creating a network of open spaces, including a green space and terrace area in front of the administration building and another green space at the center of the site; and prioritizing pedestrians over vehicles, which includes tree-lined streets.
Residents and city councillors who attended the meeting voiced their concerns about the project.
Ward 5 Councillor Kirsten Hughes, whose district includes the former hospital, said the four six-story buildings included as part of the proposal do not jell with the surrounding neighborhood.
“There are some really disappointing aspects, particularly the…larger scale buildings, which don’t fit in with the character of that neighborhood, at all,” Hughes said.
“I know [FoxRock] wants to develop the site to its fullest, but we also want to ensure that that site brings our neighborhood to its fullest potential, and this presentation doesn’t get us there.”
Ward 3 Councillor Ian Cain, whose district includes the opposite side of Whitwell Street, said the plan was too dense and too close to abutting homes.
“Though I look forward to the improvements on the current Quincy Hospital site, the current scale of the proposed project is far too dense for the encapsulating neighborhood and I would hope for the developers to revisit the setbacks as planned so as not to dramatically infringe on the direct abutters,” Cain said in a letter to the board.
“I have no doubt the FoxRock team will do the right thing, properly listen to the area residents…and come to a resolution that makes sense for all parties.”
The city’s three at-large councillors – Noel DiBona, Nina Liang and Mahoney – all raised concerns about the project as well.
DiBona said the project would negatively impact the city’s school system and police and fire services by adding upwards of 2,000 new residents. The city needs senior housing, he added, and the developer should build senior housing on site or cut the number of units in half.
“Why go to Florida when you can sell your house in the city of Quincy and go up the Hospital Hill over 55 community?” DiBona said. “That’s what I’m proposing as an alternate route – or cut the units in half, 598 units to 299.”
Liang said the project requires real collaboration between the developer and neighborhood.
“We can all agree this is a blighted property and we want something to be done here, but not done with collaboration – real collaboration – with the neighbors,” she said.
Mahoney likewise said dialogue between the neighborhood and developer was key to the project.
“I want so badly for [FoxRock] to come to this table and work with the neighborhood, because good development can happen here, but it can’t happen if it’s a one-side conversation,” she said.
Representatives from Hospital Hill Neighborhoods Association had a chance to make their own presentation during the public hearing.
Will Smith of the HHNA said the group, which represents about 100 families in the area, would like to see the overall density of the project decrease and the setbacks between the new buildings and abutting properties increased. FoxRock, Smith added, has worked with neighbors on plans for Glendale Park but not the development itself.
“We agree that this underutilized site and obsolete hospital must be redeveloped and we welcome the new residents it will bring to our neighborhood; however, the legitimate concerns of our neighbors cannot be ignored,” he said.
Jocelyn Sedney, another member of the HHNA, provided the Symmes Hospital site in Arlington as a similar example of a hospital being redeveloped. The project there includes 176 apartments and condominiums and 90 units of assisted living on a 16-acre site, she said.
“I’m not saying this is what FoxRock should do, I’m just suggesting that there are other options out there that could be beneficial to the neighborhood and beneficial to the developer as well,” Sedney said.
More than a dozen other residents voiced their objections to the project at the hearing or in letters to the board. None spoke in favor of the plans as presented.
Carolyn Long, a resident of Colonial Drive, which is located behind the hospital campus, said FoxRock’s proposal would create a city within a city that would be detrimental to the existing neighborhood.
“I believe that 114 Whitwell St. should be the jewel and the crown of the neighborhood. Instead, as it currently stands, it is a city within a city providing no real enhancement to the area other than generic places to rent. It will impact the peace, privacy and enjoyment of existing residents and abutters, and quite possibly lower property values,” Long said.
“I ask FoxRock to regard these comments not as obstructionist or as an opponent, but as a resident who loves where they live and wishes to work together to make this project the best it possibly could be.”
Ernest Gervino, who also lives on Colonial Drive, said the new buildings would loom large over the neighborhood.
“This proposal would clearly change the character of this hill by building fortress-type buildings. They would be 25 feet from my house,” he said. “It is almost as if it is a castle and we are the peasants on the outside.”
FoxRock acquired the hospital for $12 million from Steward Health Care, QMC’s former owner, in December 2016. As part of the deal to purchase the hospital, FoxRock, which is owned by Granite Telecommunications CEO and president Rob Hale, was also named the developer for the Ross Lot area in Quincy Center by Mayor Thomas Koch. Koch has said the company could build up to 1 million square feet of commercial space on that site.
The site at 114 Whitwell St. is in a planned-urban-development zoning district, which would have given the City Council, not the Planning Board, the ability to review the project. Councillors, however, amended the city’s zoning ordinance late last year to make redevelopment of a hospital site an allowed use in a PUD district subject to site-plan review by the Planning Board.
The council at that time also lowered the height of new buildings allowed on site from eight stories down to six and reduced the floor area ratio – which determines how dense new construction can be – from 4.0 to 2.5. The zoning change also required 20 percent of the site be kept as open space.