Changes made to Jackson Square plans

October 6, 2006
By

LOU MANCINELLI

Jackson Square Partners outlined changes to the redevelopment plans for Jackson Square and announced their goal of filing the project proposal for review to the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) by November, at a Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council meeting Sept. 26 at Curtis Hall.

Specific changes will affect the youth and family Center and parking, as well as Amory Street and are consistent with the original basic concepts of the plan.

Jackson Square is being redeveloped by a team of organizations under one name, Jackson Square Partners, a group that beat out competitors vying for the project over a year ago.

The non-profit community developers Urban Edge (UE) and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) are the team’s primary members. Other players in the group include the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), Mitchell Properties and Friends of Kelly Rink.

“We think that it works. We think it is right for the neighborhood,” said Jen Faigel, community development director at the JPNDC.

A significant change in the plans is the entire redrafting of the youth and family Center. In previous designs the building was slated to be part of a 10-story tower at the triangular corner of Columbus Avenue and Centre Street across from the Jackson Square T Station.

The new plan establishes the youth and family center as a three-to-four story building that stands alone as the most prominent building in the project as well as the first building one sees when approaching Jackson Square, according to Faigel.

Not just the location of the center has changed.

The square footage has been cut in half from over 40,000 square feet to less than 20,000 (19,810). The change was made in order to increase the building’s efficiency and to curb costs, according to the JPNDC.

“There was a lot of discussion with other groups who had already built these types of centers,” said Faigel. “We looked at the financial model and said, how is this building going to be run? What kind of programs will take place there? How can we sustain the building? How can we make it so there is really a lot of stuff going on there all the time?”

Space, time and money are the pressing issues making it difficult to finalize designs for the center. Short-term, the issue is how to pay for the building. Long-term, the issue is how to maintain the building, she said.

The center will still have a full gym and mixed program and flexible classroom space, where activities such as dance rehearsals can take place. A computer center and meeting rooms for community use are also part of the design, according to Faigel.

Daily delivery of the center’s operations and services is the responsibility of the HSTF.

“The focus is educational, cultural and civic engagement programs and initiatives for youth and their families in the community,” said Jesús Gerena, director of community development and organizing for the HSTF.

Where the 10-story tower that was to house the youth and family center would have stood, now a five-to six-story building is planned. Staying consistent with earlier plans, retail space will be on the ground floor. Mixed income housing will fill the floors above.

Another change in the redevelopment plan is to expand Amory Street. Now, the last block of Amory Street is closed off before Centre Street. But people walk through the street on their way to the Jackson Square T Station. The new plan converts the last block on Amory Street into a one-way street that would lead into Centre Street via a right-turn-only lane.

“This could really create an opportunity for an active street-front. You could develop small artisan or coffeehouse type shops. Those shops do well when there is a lot of traffic,” said Faigel.

Above-ground parking structures, instead of underground parking, is the final, main structural change in the plans.

What was underground parking for 530-600 cars, is now two two-to- three-story above ground structures for around 500 cars.

The change in parking structures had to be made because many of the proposed places for the underground parking have water and sewer pipes already running through them. Removal costs would be huge, according to Faigel.

There was also lead, which would be another expensive removal project. Taller buildings will surround the structures assuring they will not be an eyesore, Faigel said.

Other changes include a fall in the overall percentage of affordable housing. Previous plans pinned the number at 64 percent, down from the proposed 70 percent desired by the community. New plans call for 56 percent affordable housing.

“Depending on who you ask, the percentage of affordable housing will vary because different people use different numbers to define affordable housing, said Faigel.

The city says it is anything below 110 percent of the area median. We say it is anything below 80 percent, she said.

Despite progress, unresolved issues from earlier plans remain, including the land backing up to Ritchie Street, where a Department of Public Works (DPW) street-salting facility is located.

Partners for Jackson thinks that the development of that land is compatible with the rest of the development of Jackson Square and that it does not make sense to do such a large-scale redevelopment without also redeveloping the land owned now by the city.

The BRA refused to comment on the city’s position on the land until Partners for Jackson files official plans with the city. A proposed indoor recreational facility that may or may not house an ice rink is part of the plan for the salt yard.

In the past, the building of an ice rink as part of the redevelopment has been an issue sparking debate in the community.

Friends of Kelly Rink, a group dedicated to seeing an ice rink included in the plans, is working with Urban Edge analyzing financial avenues and attempting to determine how the building can be funded and maintained.

“Our understanding is there will be an ice rink. We fully expect it to be an ice rink,” said Steve Glickel of the Friends of Kelly Rink.

There is no facility now in the Jamaica Plain or Roxbury neighborhoods that can, in its current condition, house an ice rink.

The Cass facility in Roxbury is worthless and has decayed over 20 years of neglect from lack of state funding, said Glickel.

“We are hopeful an ice rink can fit the project,” said Faigel. “We are still coordinating with folks in the neighborhood…to bring back ice to the neighborhood.”

If the land cannot be obtained, it could hurt redevelopment aspirations. “A recreational facility will not be the only thing impacted,” said Glickel.

The rest of the Jackson Square plans presented last week remained as in the past, with proposals for buildings on both sides of Columbus Avenue with ground floor retail and mixed income housing on the upper levels.

Environment
Plans call for the development to be superior in terms of environmental standing. “Early on we recognized a unique opportunity because of the scale of this project to really approach it from a high-level of environmental sustainability,” said Noah Maslan, associate director of real estate at Urban Edge.

Environmental sustainability refers to the impact on the environment around an area when new buildings are constructed. “The more you can reduce the impact and increase re-generative effects to make it more efficient, the more positive impact there is on the neighborhood, the community and overall social interaction,” said Maslan.

Green ideas for Jackson Square include green roofs, storm water management strategies and energy strategies. Solar panels and wind turbines were also discussed. “We haven’t ruled out anything,” said Maslan.

The building phase of redevelopment for Jackson Square, estimated to cost over $200 million, has yet to secure any funding. Partners for Jackson think they will receive needed state dollars as well as other charitable donations. They have talked to possible donors and showed them redevelopment plans. Ongoing discussion from both sides is continuing, said Faigel.

Jackson Square Partners plan to brief the community on the updates, plans and current standing Oct. 11 at Bromley Hall. (See JP Agenda.)

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