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'Greenhouse' apartment complex to rise in Boston

Construction is expected to begin immediately on the Greenhouse, a $27.2 million, privately owned apartment complex across Huntington Avenue from the Christian Science Center in Boston.

Sale of the land was announced Aug. 28 by officials of The Mother Church, The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston.

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Developers are Ronald A. Nicholson and William Maltz of New York, who represent the development group.the architect is Cossultta & Associates of New York. At the time the Christian Science Center was built, Mr. Cosutta was associated with I.M. Pei & Partners, who held the contract for the center. Mr. Cossutta was the design partner handling the project. Contractor for the Greenhouse in Blake Construction Company, Inc., of Washington.

Design of the 12-story apartment structure of precast architectural concrete was arrived at in collaboration with neighborhood citizens organizations and has their approval.

Input by the Fenway Project Area Committee (FenPac) and the St. Botolph Street Citizens Committee resulted in an earlier design for a single, long building being changed in favor of two towers separated from each other by a four-story glass atrium, which gives the apartment house its name.

Purpose of providing a visual break in the structure is to keep the St. Botolph Street neighborhood from feeling walled off from the Church Center area with its landscaped plaza and reflecting pool. The glass-enclosed lobby, which will permit interior planting of trees, will also give more light and air to buildings on St. Botolph Street behind the Greenhouse.

Site of the Greenhouse is 457 feet long, faces Hungtington Avenue, and extends from West Newton Street to Cumberland Street between the Colonadde Hotel and the Midtown Motel. For a number of years it has been used as a parking area. It is the last unredeveloped open site on the perimeter of the Christian Science Center.

As with the three other major components of the perimeter properties which were acquired and cleared by The Mother Church as part of its 1964 master plan in the Fenway Urban Renewal Area, the Greenhouse site was assembled by the church and held only until a private developer could be found who could purchase it and finance construction on the site. throuhout the development process, all these properties have remained on the city's tax rolls.

The Colonnade Hotel, an 11-story, luxury- class, 306-room hotel with 200-car in-house parking, was opened in 1971. Church Park, an 11-story, 780-foot-long apartment development facing Massachusetts Avenue with parking for 550 cars and with 20 ground-floor shopping and services stores, was completed in 1972. Symphony Towers East and West were finished in 1979 at a reported cost of $17.5 million. these high-rise apartments, which are reserved for the elderly and the handicapped, occupy the southeast and southwest corners of Massachusetts and Huntington Avenues.

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But it has taken 13 years for the church to locate a developer to build an appropriate structure on the Greenhouse block. Before the Greenhouse limited partnership purchased the land, five other private developers tried unsuccessfully to put the pieces together financially. Because of today's inflationary economic conditions -- high interest rates, and soaring construction costs, resulting in high rentals -- very little high-rise in-town residential rental construction is going on anywhere in the United States, including Boston.

Of the $27,420,000 the Greenhouse is expected to cost, $24,525,300 is financed through a Federal Housing Administration Section 220 insurance commitment, which means that the mortgage is guaranteed by FHA. Rentals are scheduled to range from $625 for a one-bedroom apartment to $1,275 for a three-bedroom unit. there are 113 one-bedroom, 48 two-bedroom, and 160 three-bedroom apartments. All have two baths, except the one-bedroom units.

Rentals in Boston have been going up at 10 percent annually for the past two years. Mr. Nicholson points out that the rents he is announcing will be effective about two years from now. Construction is expected to take about 20 months, with early occupancy to begin perhaps 17 months from that date.

Within the triangle formed by Belvidere Street and Huntington and Massachusetts AVenues, where The Mother Church is located, and on its perimeter, there is an unusually wide variety of rental property to choose from amony many different economic levels:

* Symphony towers' 404 units are totally government subsidized housing for the elderly and handicapped, who pay only 25 percent of their income for rent.

* Church Park's 508 units of mixed housing include 78 low- and moderate-income, government-subsidized units, and 330 units at market rates.

* Clearway and Cumberland Street properties, long owned by The Mother Church, contain 123 moderate-income apartments.

* St. Germaine Street, parallel to Clearway, is a privately owned, 1978 restoration of 52 row houses which contains some 200 market-rate rentals.

* The Greenhouse's 321 units are for tenants who can pay market rates.

This broad mixture of types and prices of rental housing in the Church Center vicinity has the enthusiastic approval of the Boston Redevelopment Authority. "This kind of mix is the key to any successful revitalization that has a long-term good effect," says Ralph MemeloM, A BRA spokesman. "A sense of proportion and balance gives strength to a neighborhood."

With completion of the Greenhouse, there will be 1,233 new, modern, fireproof residential units on the perimeter, plus service and commercial shops, which replace some 670 older units formerly on these sites. Of this total 582 tenants are subsidized through federal and state programs, while 651 units will be rented at market rates. All of the properties are on the tax rolls. The estimated cost of all new fireproof construction plus restoration on St. germain Street is $80 million.

Because occupancy of rental housing in downtown boston is currently so high, Mr. Nicholson sees a big demand for units in the Greenhouse rental range. "WE expect it to rent up pretty quickly," he says.

The Greenhouse was designed to blend harmoniously with its surroundings. Its concrete exterior will match the color of the new Church Center buildings. A landscaped brick terrace and small patio gardens behind the apartment house will provide a pleasant outlook from row houses at the rear. The 214-car basement garage will be serviced from Cumberland Street to reduce traffic in the rear alley. the alley will be screened off by a low brick parapet.

Some 12 street-level stores on Huntington Avenue will provide convenience shopping for the neighborhood as well as Greenhouse tenants.

A pool and tenant exercising facilities will be located on the roof. There will be not sale of alcoholic beverages within the Greenhouse. The Greenhouse is among the first new apartment buildings in Boston to include a completely automatic fire sprinkler system.

"Given the size of the building that was required by the economics of the site, we are generally pleased with the results," says Thomas P. Reardon, who was president of the St. Botolph Street Citizens Association when planning for the Greenhouse was under way.

He says his organization is also "supportive of market rental levels for th eGreenhouse." Since at least one-third of the St. Botolph Street community (750 units) is now devoted and low-income tenants, he says, "we decided we could justify a request for market rental housing on that size. This is a mix we are very pleased with."

Thomas J. Weikle, FenPAc administrator when design negotiations were going on , says: "We really did have an open forum on this project. It necessitated bringing a lot of divergent viewpoint into harmony, and I think we have achieved that."

Mr. Nicholson says the Greenhous "was a case where the community contributed to the building, in my opinion. In many cases that is not so. Often communities themselves are divided up as to what they want, and sometimes there is a lot of bitter fighting between the developer and the community. That was not the case here. Everything was done in a spirit of cooperation. There were many meetings. Many hours were spent by us and them. And I think they are happy with what came out of it."

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