Brookline is in danger of losing influence on a massive Circle Cinemas redevelopment after Boston officials promised a fast-track approval by August, according to the town’s economic development director.
The would bring a hotel, medical offices and retail space to a prominent Cleveland Circle property that straddles the Boston-Brookline border. Brookline officials have to build at least part of the new building on the Brookline side of the lot so that it would be subject to the town’s zoning process.
But unless the Newton-based Boston Development Group can settle neighborhood controversy about its project within the next month, the Brookline planning process will fall behind, Economic Development Director Kara Brewton warned at the Feb. 7 meeting of the Economic Development Advisory Board.
That could mean that most of the project would be built in Boston and pay property taxes there. Brookline could see “all of the disadvantages with none of the benefit,” said EDAB co-chair Anne Meyers.
Such a design “doesn’t make for a pretty building,” Brewton said. But, she added, Boston Development Group officials have indicated that if Boston approval comes first, they would put the main building on the Boston property and a small project requiring no zoning variances on the Brookline side. No one from Boston Development attended the meeting, and the company did not respond to Patch questions.
The development would replace the vacant movie theater and the Applebee’s restaurant at 381 and 399 Chestnut Hill Ave. Boston Development is proposing a 180-room Hampton Inn and Suites hotel, 18,000 square feet of medical offices and 9,000 square feet of retail space. The project would require several zoning variances in both Boston and Brookline, including for density and to allow the hotel.
Town officials at the EDAB meeting voiced support for the redevelopment, but also expressed doubts that Boston Development can quell Brookline residents’ concerns about traffic and building design by March 10, the deadline for filing the plan for the spring Town Meeting.
“They haven’t done anything they said they would do since the middle of September,” said Town Meeting member Paul Saner.
Brewton said the latest meeting among Boston Development and local residents was “really positive.” But, she added, “[Residents] wanted to see traffic [plans] and the design of the building before supporting it, and they don’t have that yet.”
Brewton said that the town wants to see the plan submitted to Town Meeting as a “resident-sponsored article.” She said another meeting with residents is planned for next week.
If Brookline waits until the fall Town Meeting to consider the plan, the City of Boston could already have given its thumbs-up.
In Boston, both planning and development powers are in the hands of a single, quasi-independent agency, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which answers only to the mayor of Boston. Brewton said that in a recent private meeting, BRA officials said they could deliver the city’s approval and the zoning changes by August—even though the project has not yet been formally submitted to the BRA. BRA spokesperson Susan Elsbree had no immediate response to Patch questions.
“The BRA wants to see a large project happen on this site,” Brewton said. “They’ve made that very clear.”
The BRA process includes a public comment period, and the Town of Brookline would be considered a “super-commenter,” Brewton said. But, she noted, if Boston makes the redevelopment easier than Brookline does, it is likely that most of the redevelopment will happen on the city’s side of the line.