In the span of one year, businesses like like Kirin, Patron’s, Pikaichi, Soulfire, and Sunset Grill close, to name a few, leaving a void on the streets of Allston. At the same time, the skies above Allston-Brighton neighborhood are punctured by towering buildings and condos: the construction of the Boston Landing station and nearby apartments, the plans to develop the 1,050-apartment-and-condo Allston Yards, the continued expansion of Harvard University in Lower Allston with plans to build at least four new buildings on Western Ave. City Realty Group of Brookline acquired three development sites from Jack Young Auto Parts Company along Cambridge St. in Allston.
Called “Allston Square,” the development will consist of six buildings that will house 245 condos and 108 apartments, in addition to 24,550 square feet of retail space. Condo prices will range from $500,000 to $900,000.
Fred Starikov, managing partner of City Realty Group, told the Boston Herald that the development would benefit the neighborhood by filling the void in new-construction condos with prices starting at $500,000. “It’s kind of creating a neighborhood where there is nothing right now…There’s just been a huge shortage of new-construction condos. We see a great opportunity to try to fill that void.”
The group says they focus on “repurposing urban industrial sites or vacant land into high quality residential and mixed use buildings,” but is known to residents as one of the city’s most notorious slumlords that has disparaged housing advocacy groups like City Life/Vida Urbana.
Though developers are eager to construct Allston Square, Allston-Brighton community organizations and longtime neighborhood advocates are wary of the proposed new addition, and the impact it will have on housing and the arts scene.
Jason Desrosier, manager of community building and engagement at Allston-Brighton Community Development Corporation, said that recent developments in Allston has already saturated the area with more people and cars. “Over the last two to three years there’s been a huge building boom in Allston-Brighton. A lot of it is concentrated in a really small area,” Desrosier said. “For example…the Allston Square project, the Stop & Shop proposal that just came out with over a thousand units, and then 40 Rugg Road, which is 250 or so units.”
According to Desrosier, Allston-Brighton is an easy neighborhood for developers to target. “With the young demographic in the neighborhood…it’s a hot rental market and they’ll [developers] be able to attract residents to that market because of the current demographics,” Desrosier said. “The majority of the population is between the ages 18 and 35…Allston was a neighborhood, that over the past 20 years, attracted young people because of the arts scene and music scene. That population is still well-represented.”
Desrosier also pointed out another key element of Allston life, its under-discussed diversity. “We have the largest Chinese population second to Chinatown. A fairly sizable Korean population. There’s a large Russian and Orthodox Jewish population. We are a really diverse neighborhood. A lot of people don’t know that.”
The other major reason developers target Allston-Brighton, according to Desrosier, is the investment opportunity. “I think some of it also has to do with the investment opportunities, for other investors to come in and purchase land and houses in other spaces and tear them down and create larger developments.”
City Realty Group reached out to Allston-Brighton CDC, along with other neighborhood organizations like Allston Association, Allston Village Main Streets, and Brighton-Allston Historical Society a year and a half ago to discuss Allston Square, Desrosier said. According to Desrosier, while City Realty Group changed the design of the buildings based on community concerns, there are still more issues that haven’t been addressed.
“There’s still some concerns from the neighborhood’s perspective around homeownership. A percentage of the buildings will be condos. But what we’ve found is when developers build condos, they are purchased by investors and rented out. They are not owner occupied homeownership condos, they’re just apartments so they are condos by name only,” Desrosier said. “The residents are trying to see if the developer will agree to more affordable units than the standard 13 percent the city requires. A project of this size can support more affordable units than the 13 percent.”
The main concern, according to Desrosier, is making sure the development doesn’t displace existing Allston residents. “We have to make sure the residential units fit the neighborhood character and doesn’t negatively impact people who already live there and doesn’t displace anybody.”
To Ryan Agate, booker at O’Brien’s, the Allston Square development is another nail in the coffin for the welcoming, arts-centric Allston he and many others know.
“There used to be a lot of different places that would exist within Allston that were artist collectives. There were more record shops, more bike shops, there’s always a place for somebody,” said Agate. “Now, they are turning it into luxury condos [and] the price of these condos restricts so many individuals living in that area…It’s [Allston Square development] going to push all those people out because their landlords, their owners are going to see the price of the condos and start raising the rents.”
To Agate, the Allston Square development is indicative of the continued yuppification of Allston brought on by developers, who have torn down spaces used by the community.
“I think you’re going to see more of these [developments] pop up and less and less of the things that make Allston special. The people who make Allston so special are going to be missing from the picture moving forward. It’s going to be a Disneyfied, Assembly Row-type area that doesn’t have any personality that Allston was always known for having,” he said.
With Allston Square’s proposed location so close to O’Brien’s, Agate said he is apprehensive about receiving noise complaints from the new residents. Noise complaints have played a role in shutting down venues like Church in Fenway.
“I think having someone paying almost a million dollars for a condo in Allston, is basically the death of Allston creativity and good times to be had in the city…I do think that will be the end of the Allston we know,” Agate said.
However, Agate said he encourages residents to make their voices heard by going to City Council and planning meetings. “Go to your City Council meetings, go to your planning meetings, voice your opinion. I don’t know how much can get done but I feel like things have been stopped before and that gives me hope things can be stopped again.”