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BOSTON-Archstone-Smith is ready to break ground on the 420-unit, 28-story building it is developing at 660 Washington St. in the city’s downtown area.

In its recent filing with the SEC, the Denver-based company says it expects to start construction in late 2003 and a local representative of one of the company’s subsidiaries, Charles E. Smith Residential, tells GlobeSt.com that the groundbreaking will happen next month. The project, tentatively titled Park Essex, involves tearing down an old hotel and café that are currently vacant. Archstone estimates that the development–the largest rental housing project in downtown Boston in nearly 20 years–will cost approximately $152 million.

In the filing, R. Scot Seller, chairman and CEO of the company says that the project “is expected to create substantial incremental value for our shareholders.”

But the project also stirred up a lot of controversy in the Chinatown neighborhood where it is located. When it was first proposed as an office project, residents objected, insisting that the area needed more residential units. After the project shifted gears local activist groups opposed its height, density and lack of affordable housing component. In the final agreement, 66 of the units in the project will be earmarked for affordable housing and the developer will provide $650,000 to develop 25 to 30 units of single-room occupancy units in the Chinatown community. It is not yet clear what site will be used to develop this housing.

Archstone currently owns or has an ownership position in 252 apartment communities, representing 88,624 apartment units, including units under construction. Approximately 88% of the company’s portfolio is now concentrated in its eight core markets including the greater Washington, DC metropolitan area, Southern California, the San Francisco Bay area, Boston and Southeast Florida.

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