Arsenal Yards Developers Seek Biotech Tenants, Planning Board Wants More Details

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Boylston Properties

A rendering of the new proposal for Building A at Arenal Yards.

Boylston Properties

A rendering of the new proposal for Building A at Arenal Yards.

The latest plans by developers of Arsenal Yards to add biotech research and development space to the multi-use development have been put on hold by the Planning Board.

Until now, the focus of the development has been creating new retail and residential space on the former Arsenal Mall property. Developers also have plans to renovate the historic brick buildings on the site, including Building A (where Marshall’s is located). Wednesday night Boylston Properties presented a request to change the approved plans for Building A to allow biotech tenants on the second floor.

Mark Deschenes of Boylston Properties said that plans changed since Phase 1 was approved by the Planning Board in May 2017.

Building A, the historic building on the south side of the property, was originally permitted about a year ago essentially to be all retail space,” Deschenes said. “Over the last several months we have worked to convert it to office space.”

Other changes include moving Chipotle to another location, creating new entrances, and change the River Green space to give some space for office workers to eat lunch and sit outside, said Laura Portney of PCA.

Boylston Properties has had success of finding biotech tenants for another of its Watertown Properties, the Linx Building on Arsenal Street. They seek to lease the second floor of Building A to similar companies, which would require the installation of specialized equipment for the lab space, including special chemical showers and air changers.

Planning Board Chair Jeffrey Brown noted that the amendment calls for having Biosafety Level 2 labs.

Deschenes said there are four Biosafety Levels with four being the most serious.

“They are not going to be spreading highly infectious diseases or anything. It will be largely contained to labs,” Deschenes said. “We don’t have specific tenants. The things being done at Linx, or other buildings, is working with localized experiments, research and development to develop proteins, develop pharmaceuticals.

“They have higher requirements for air changes, other equipment, which is why we have so much mechanical space.”

The equipment would in mechanical spaces in the form of large boxes that would protrude out of the top of the south side of the roof, which faces Arsenal Park.

Boylston Properties

The back of Building A would have two areas where mechanical equipment for the planned biotech labs would be located.

Resident Elodia Thomas said that she is concerned with what Biosafety Level 2 would mean, and she does not want the Planning Board to rush into approving the changes. She said that not many residents heard that the biotech request was going to be discussed at the meeting, and what it would mean.

“How many of you toured the Linx building? It is a stunning building, and it has all the safety equipment: special showers and air control. It has all these things because it is a lab building,” Thomas said. “Now you are adding a Level 2 use to this building, a new use to land that is public park, retail, a hotel and apartments. I don’t know where there Level 2 labs are in the Boston area in similar settings.”

Thomas also noted that some examples of things that Level 2 lab could be working on include equine encephalitis viruses and HIV, and staph infections.

East End Town Councilor Angeline Kounelis had similar concerns. She said she believes more information is needed before the Planning Board makes its decision.

“Linx and the other lab buildings are stand alone properties. Everyone in those buildings understands what’s going on around them,” Kounelis said. “Here we have retail, with hundreds of people coming in and out, and the park. There will be deliveries being made, with chemicals and who knows what, for use in that parcel. All of this would be in the confines of the park, retail and residential areas with customers of the parcel who won’t know whats going on there.”

Deschenes said there are plenty of examples of Level 2 lab space built next to residential buildings, including Blackstone Science Square in Cambridge, the Alewife Research Center in Cambridge, and the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square.

Brown said that members of the Planning Board and the public have questions and concerns about the labs.

“I am hearing concern over something that a lot of us don’t now anything about,” Brown said. “It was in the report but we need to feel comfortable with it and we need to know how much of it is going on in Watertown and around the area — and that it works. Continuing (the hearing to the next meeting) is a reasonable thing to do if you are coming back next month.”

The Planning Board voted to continue the hearing and bring it back at its September meeting, when Boylston Properties will also be presenting its amendment on the requested additional height amendment for the planned residential tower.

4 thoughts on “Arsenal Yards Developers Seek Biotech Tenants, Planning Board Wants More Details

  1. Seriously, what is it going to take for town officials to tell these people to either stand by their original, approved, agreed upon plans, or pack their bags and go home?
    Enough already with the bait and switch tactics. How many times does this make it now? 3-4? It probably doesn’t really matter because given BP’s history there
    will be more demands to follow.

    I honestly have no concerns about the safety aspects of a Level 2 research facility, if I had to guess, these facilities are subject to strict federal guidelines and random safety
    inspections that a hazardous threat to the community is minuscule compared to Chipotle’s public health track record.

    What I AM concerned about, is the loss of retail space… retail space that would have offered employment opportunities for less skilled, less educated people…
    Watertown residents and non-residents alike. What we will get in return are jobs with salary levels that the less fortunate will never see, and raise current housing
    prices even more than they are now.

    The plan here is pretty obvious… BP needs to find tenants to fill their overpriced, grandiose luxury residential units (units, by the way retail employees
    could never dream of even with affordable housing guidelines). What easier and simpler way could they not achieve that goal?

    “Change the River Green space to give some space for office workers to eat lunch and sit outside”? If I’m reading and understanding this correctly, this would involve corralling
    off a portion of the green space from the general public. What’s up with that? At the most recent public meeting held by BP concerning the change in building G height ,
    there was much praise and selling points about how it would create more open space allowing better access to green space for all. And now they want to pull THAT rug out
    from underneath us too?

    Time to wake up Watertown, the virus here isn’t in any lab… the virus is the developers that are proposing the labs along with everything else they’ve brought down on us.

  2. I agree with Henry K., but I do have real concerns about the Level 2 idea. These buildings are close to the Charles River and if any contamination were to be released, this could potentially extend any problems.

  3. This hasn’t seem to be a concern for Cambridge? The Novartis and Pfizer buildings both have first floor restaurants and retail. Many buildings in the Kendall square area are similar, Alnylum, Takeda, etc. The biotech industry is booming, we don’t want to miss this opportunity. All biotech labs are predominantly BL2 or higher. There are scarier bacteria on your kitchen sponge and nastier chemicals under your sink.

  4. Having Bio Tech any level so close to homes and restaurants worries me, even with inspections because we all know those are not perfect. It has taken years to clean all the radiation from the reactor that was at the Arsenal. Hell they are still required to do checks because there might still be some long term effects for it. Now we want to add other bio hazards to it?
    The Planning board really needs to make sure they have all the facts and they truly thing about and understand them before they make any decisions.
    Also keep in mind that Henry is right and they keep changing their plans each step of the way. These are only the things they are asking for . It sounds like they may have made some changes they did not ask to make.

    Remember these developers Do Not live here. They only care about the bottom line….how much they will make off this project.

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