Flood of Western Avenue Development Raises Questions About Allston’s Future


When Mahoney’s Garden Center moved to its current site on Western Avenue 15 years ago, the area didn’t look promising.

Dotted with auto repairs, car washes, and car rentals, the commercial strip running through Lower Allston and Brighton amounted to an “industrial-looking wasteland” to James P. Hohmann, the general manager of the garden center. Business dropped for several years after they arrived.

But the longer they stayed, the more their move seemed poised to pay off.

What looked more like “a collection of parking lots” to Hohmann — busy during the day and empty at night — is now undergoing a frenzy of residential, commercial, and office development.


Seven buildings — three of them laboratory and office space and four residential — are currently planned or under construction on Western Avenue itself. Three more are under construction as part of Harvard’s Enterprise Research Campus, and one other is being built just off Western Ave.

The developments promise to bring more than 1,000 housing units, more retail space, and a large influx of people — and with it, an infusion of life into a once-bleak stretch.

But as Western Avenue becomes a center of the kind of transformation playing out across Allston, residents, officials, and advocates say the developments must preserve family-friendly housing and transit — and that the well-being of the neighborhood can’t be left behind.

‘Boston’s Latest Hot Neighborhood’

The transformation began in earnest in the 2010s as a result of the convergence of two major trends, according to Barbara M. Parmenter, an Allston resident and former urban planning lecturer at Tufts.

In 2011, Harvard opened massive new plans for its Enterprise Research Campus, which will become a hub for life science research, housing, and retail once finished. In it, they made clear they saw Allston as an opportunity to create a new center for one of Boston’s biggest industries.

“The University plans to develop the ERC in conjunction with development partners along Western Avenue’s emerging corridor of creativity and innovation,” the Harvard Allston Land Company now says on its website.

At the same time, firms eager to plant more profitable lab space around the country’s life science capital began shifting their gaze from Cambridge’s Kendall Square, itself “bursting at the seams” with development, Parmenter said.

Many landed on Allston, just a short distance away and with considerable room for new construction.

By 2015, an article from the Boston Globe declared Western Avenue — running just a mile across Allston and Brighton, starting and ending with the Charles River — “Boston’s latest hot neighborhood.” The street is now a mix of steel frames and cranes next to scattered older buildings now occupied by cafes, community services, and art projects.

Projects currently under construction will bring a wave of new residents, workers, and consumers to the area. Just on Western Ave, 840 new units of housing are set to arrive over the next several years — a number that rises to 1400 when including developments just nearby.

Tens of thousands of square feet of retail space will arrive too. Almost all the buildings are six or seven stories, a major departure from their one- to two-story predecessors.

For Najeeb Rostami, the owner of an Afghan restaurant across the street from an upcoming lab development, the change is a boon.

“I see all the developments of the construction, I’m so excited to see more businesses coming, more people,” Rostami said. “I can’t wait.”

“It’s definitely exciting,” said Mia C. Lazarewicz, the owner of Amplify Fitness, located just off Western Ave. “There are a lot of developments going on all around us, actually 360 degrees around our building.”


A Hub for Who?

But as development on Western Avenue has boomed, some advocates and officials have raised concerns over dwindling housing for families and the transit capacity on the thoroughfare.

An Allston-Brighton Needs Assessment recently released by the Boston Planning and Development Agency found that “recent development efforts along Western Avenue were a popular topic of concern.”

The assessment says residents interviewed considered the “rapid” change in the area “a prime example of family-oriented housing being eliminated.”

Of the 800-plus new housing units planned for Western Ave, only about 100 are certain to contain two or three bedrooms.

“They’re turning Allston into a neighborhood of transients that are just here for a short period of time,” said Paula M. Alexander, a local resident for 50 years and board member of the Allston Civic Association.

The hundreds of parking spaces accompanying the new lab development also suggest that a high proportion of the new jobs coming to Western Avenue could be filled by non-residents.

In an interview, Boston City Councilor Elizabeth “Liz” A. Breadon, who represents Allston and Brighton, warned that relying on commuting workers instead of nearby residents would hurt the growing neighborhood.

“They come in, they go to work, they have lunch somewhere, they get in the car, and they drive home, and you have a neighborhood that’s like a twilight zone after dark,” Breadon said.

The influx of residents and commuters could also put a strain on the transit capacity of an already congested street, according to Kevin M. Carragee, a member of the Coalition for a Just Allston Brighton.

Two of the bus lines that travel along Western Avenue — the 86 and 70 buses, the latter among Boston’s most frequented bus routes — are already regularly delayed. A 2022 rezoning study by the city suggested a possible dedicated busway for the avenue, on top of wider sidewalks and bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“Too much development without improvements in public transportation creates a traffic nightmare,” Carragee said.

Breadon echoed Carragee’s concerns, saying that improving transit will be “a critical piece” of the evolving area. Still, she said, there remains immense potential for the neighborhood.

“If we do it right and get the balance right with terms of mixed-income housing,” she said, “or locally owned commercial businesses — it will revitalize that neighborhood.”

Correction: March 22, 2024

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to the gym located off Western Avenue as Amplify Gym. In fact, the gym is named Amplify Fitness.

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.