By Adam Swift
The Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) held a virtual public meeting on a proposed 100,000-square-foot research and development and life sciences office building at 420 Rutherford Ave. on Tuesday night.
The building would replace a self storage building on the property.
During the meeting, several Charlestown residents questioned the amount of participation the BPDA has gotten for the public input process, as well as how the BPDA has labeled certain areas of Rutherford Avenue as it undergoes a development transformation.
Representatives from the project developer, Related Beal, laid out their vision for 420 Rutherford Ave.
“When we started planning for this project, there were really two things that we wanted to identify, what type of use and what kind of scale,” said Will Grosvenor, the project manager for Related Beal. “Ultimately, the demand for life science in the Boston market is in such demand and there is minimal supply at this point and because this building is here in the industrial zone, this would be a good opportunity to build life sciences.”
Grosvenor also said that given where the building is, the developer wanted to build something that is at a more modest, neighborhood scale. The plans call for three floors of usable space with a mechanical penthouse.
The community and economic benefits of the project include increased street-level pedestrian activity, improved pedestrian access, and the creation of new jobs and tax revenue, according to Grosvenor, noting the development could add up to 250 research and development jobs as well as 225 construction jobs. He said the developer will prioritize functional and aesthetic improvements in an industrial neighborhood that consider and address the future growth and development of Rutherford Avenue.
Also, as part of meeting with community groups and residents, Grosvenor said the developer has heard of a need for a laundromat in Charlestown. He said the developer will be building a laundromat as a part of the project, although it will be offsite and the location has not be identified yet.
Project architect Alan Gnani of NBBJ said the building itself is less dense than could be allowed on the property and is respectful to the neighborhood and takes its cues from surrounding buildings.
At the most, Gnani said the life sciences tenants who occupy the building will be at a biosafety level 2.
“This could be a clinical, diagnostic, or teaching laboratory,” said Gnani. “Any access to these areas are strictly secure and have oversight by security biosafety officers.”
One resident raised concerns about the building allowing higher level biosafety activities within 420 Rutherford Ave., but Grosvenor said the developers will not go to levels 3 or 4.
Resident Johanna Hynes asked if there would be animal testing at the life sciences building. The developers stated that while there are no tenants in place at this time, there could potentially be testing on rodents.
“The idea of a place across the street which is supposed to be activated for the community testing on mammals … that’s an ethical issue for me, I would prefer not to have that in my one square mile,” said Hynes.
Hynes also raised questions about the amount of public input the project, and many projects in the neighborhood, during the BPDA process. She said of the 20 or so people participating in the virtual meeting, she only recognized about three names and the rest were connected to the development team.
In addition, Hynes said that while the project has been identified as being in an industrial district, the BPDA and developers often use the improvement of industrial districts to their advantage while also touting the overall future development of the Rutherford Avenue corridor.
“Every time I hear this strip defined as industrial edge, I think to myself, that’s convenient when what you want to put in there is industry,” said Hynes. “It’s industrial when it is convenient, but the people who are paying for these apartments don’t see it that way.”