Southie Residents Have Beef with a New Condo Development

A new condo project means the end for a long-time neighborhood restaurant.

Photo by John A. Keith

Photo by John A. Keith

The Liberty Bell Roast Beef restaurant has been open at 170 West Broadway in South Boston since 1979, meaning the family-owned business has been feeding generations of Southie families. But now, perhaps sensing the tides of change are strong, its owners have decided what their neighborhood needs is less food and more housing, and the restaurant will be torn down to be replaced with condos, parking, and a new and different street-level restaurant.

The headline writes itself (“Give Me Liberty Beef or Give Me Death!”), but the story is anything but humorous for some South Boston residents who are opposed to the 33-unit condominium project, which was approved last week by the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Board of Directors.

Few Southie residents were unhappy with the loss of the existing building—although many will miss the Bell’s King Beef sandwiches—but were concerned about what would take its place. City zoning regulations for the area limit buildings to a 35-foot height, but the approved project will rise to 59 feet, or 68 percent, higher. The floor area ratio is more than two-and-a-half times what zoning allows. And, the building will be closer by half the acceptable distance to the homes behind it on Athens Street. This was a lot to accept by neighbors who have had to deal with the negative effects of constant construction of condos and apartments during the past decade.

In the beginning, South Boston residents were presented with plans for a much larger project. Some of the neighbors’ wariness is a result of this. When first unveiled last summer, the proposal was for a larger building-14,000-square feet larger, or 30 percent, with 47 condos proposed, and 11-feet taller. Facing strong resistance from the neighborhood, the developer sent his architect back to the drawing board, and ended up reducing the number of units, increasing the number of parking spaces, and moving resident parking access from Athens Street behind the lot to West Broadway in front.

After eight months of meetings with abutters and members of the St. Vincent Neighborhood Association, the developer had enough public support to submit the proposal to the BRA on April 30.

South Boston residents have had their opportunity to talk with the developer and the BRA about the proposal, but it seems not everyone is satisfied with the final result. Comments on the Caught in Southie blog have been pretty furious. A sample:

liberty bell
So now the people who have lived/owned Jones on athens street lose their view & gave to have a giant ugly condo building. That’s awful! Southie is turning into Cambridge where nobody knows anyone. The only place there’s any right knit community in Southie anymore is the projects & even that’s getting pretty slim.

i think the assholes should
i think the assholes should go to the north end and try to run them out whay southie you got money move somewhere else leave so boston places and homes alone

170 West Broadway Development
Please, NO MORE CONDOS OR LUXURY RENTAL BUILDINGS!!!!! There are too many building developments in South Boston already. There will be more traffic, noise, pollution and in an already dense crowded overdeveloped area.. How about a beautiful park on that property. There are no green spaces on Broadway. I am so sick of every single space being developed with ugly buildings! If you must build there, how about a multi-level pay for parking area for visitors and give back all the street parking to residents. This would shoppers & customers a place to park that do not have a resident sticker & they would have easy acess to the bus & trains within one block to get to other areas of South Boston. We need parking not more buildings …

Some commenters did support the project, though:

Onward and upward. I for one welcome the development. The tract of land is grossly underutilized and bringing in space for new residents as well as commercial space will brighten up the desolate section of Broadway. Southie is changing and I know that bothers many but I believe its for the best. Calling this place a “landmark” is overvaluing a typically desolate business and tract of land.

Parking Lot
To the person who suggested making that area a pay parking lot…..would you want to live next to that? People in and out of their cars at all hours of the day/night? I doubt it!

After all has been said and done, it’s unclear what’s driving the neighborhood’s resistance to projects such as this one. In countless meetings and public forums, South Boston residents have focused on the negative effects of construction-density, congestion, and parking, but on this project, nary a word was uttered concerning the new restaurant opening up-a 100-seat restaurant with zero off-street parking.

The discussion will continue as plans for two more mixed-use projects located on the same block of West Broadway move forward over the coming months.