The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

Northeastern files amended plan for 23-story residential building, increasing beds, cutting academic space

A rendering of the proposed residential building at 840 Columbus Ave. shows an entrance facing Melnea Cass Boulevard. If approved by the BPDA, the 23-story building could be ready for occupancy in fall of 2028. Photo courtesy BPDA.

A new project document submitted Dec. 18 to the Boston Planning and Development Agency, or BPDA, reveals updated details of Northeastern’s plan to construct a 23-story student residential building at 840 Columbus Ave. over the next five years.  

The proposed amendment to the university’s 2013 Institutional Master Plan drastically increases the number of beds the building will have, jumping from the 810 proposed in 2021 to 1,370 — a 69% increase — while also announcing a plan to remove 500 beds from residence halls located in Fenway, a net increase of 870 bedspaces.

Initially proposed in 2019, the project is set to cost an estimated $289 million and open to students in the fall of 2028, according to the document. It would be built on a property adjacent to Renaissance Park that is currently functioning as a parking lot. The proposal, which bears many similarities to Northeastern’s LightView residence hall, has faced years of opposition and must be approved by the BPDA, the city authority responsible for managing and approving housing and commercial developments, before any construction takes place. 

According to the filing, the residential section of 840 Columbus Ave. will include 345 units with a combination of four-bedroom apartments and some studios, geared towards third-, fourth- and fifth-year students. The aim, the document reads, is to “appeal to Northeastern upper-class students, while also fulfilling Northeastern’s commitment to reduce the impact that its students have on available housing stock in nearby neighborhoods.” Building amenities and a dedicated second-floor student space would include a social lounge, fitness center, academic success center, multipurpose room, bicycle room and laundry room. 

A floor plan depicts where student amenities would be located inside the building at 840 Columbus Ave. The amended plan for the building more than doubled the amount of student common space. Photo courtesy BPDA.

The updated amendment nixes the academic space included in the 2021 building plan, changing a proposed “five-story podium of teaching and learning” to a “community-focused ground floor” with 4,000 square feet of retail space open to the community. The revised ground level would instead be geared toward residents of the surrounding neighborhood — the result of months spent incorporating feedback from “conversations with community stakeholders/organizations” since the initial plan was filed — and will also feature “economic development space [and] a flexible floor plan for meetings and events,” according to the document.

There will not be any increase in university enrollment as a result of the additional 870 bedspaces, according to the amendment. Currently, Northeastern enrolls approximately 22,153 undergraduate students, the document reads, but the number of students on the Boston campus typically fluctuates between 16,000 and 17,000 due to “the dynamic elements of co-op, study abroad and other student activities.”

Over the last several years, the university has endeavored to increase the number of bed spaces to accommodate a growing student population — first by leasing the Midtown Hotel in 2020, then by converting hundreds of single rooms into doubles and double rooms into triples in International Village and East Village in fall 2022. In April, the university also filed plans to permanently convert hundreds of rooms at the Sheraton Boston Hotel into student residence halls. Plans to break ground on 840 Columbus Ave. have stalled for several years, and the project has not yet received BPDA approval. 

The current project at 840 Columbus Ave. would contribute to the City of Boston’s “Housing a Changing City: Boston 2030” housing plan — introduced in 2014 by former Mayor Marty Walsh — which set a goal of adding 18,500 new student beds on university campuses by 2030 to alleviate the “enormous pressure” of educational institutions on the city’s housing market. 

Since its initial proposal, construction of a residence hall at 840 Columbus Ave. has been opposed by many residents, who say the luxury building will further perpetuate gentrification in Roxbury. Over 100 people submitted statements of opposition during the project’s first public comment period from February to April 2021. The public comment period for the proposed amendment reopened Dec. 18 and will close Jan. 19, 2024. 

The proposed amendment emphasizes that the 453,800-square-foot building will be economically beneficial to the community and offer a significant upgrade to current student housing options. 

“The Current Project provides an attractive, consolidated, and more operationally manageable alternative to the several buildings within the University’s student housing portfolio that are considered outdated, many of which are apartment buildings and rooming houses that were converted for student housing 40 to 50 years ago,” the proposed amendment reads.

A table in the proposed amendment compares the building details from the initial project proposal — the Draft Project Impact Report (DPIR) — to the new project proposal (Current Project). Changes included a reduction in building hight and dedicated academic space. Photo courtesy BPDA.
About the Contributor
Sonel Cutler, Campus Editor
Sonel Cutler is a third-year journalism and political science combined major and campus editor of The News. She has previously served as deputy campus editor and is excited to continue bringing thoughtful and thorough coverage of campus life to Northeastern students. Sonel was most recently on co-op with the Boston Globe's Metro desk. You can follow her on Twitter at @cutler_sonel.
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