Why Urban Edge is wrong for St. Andrew’s

March 16, 2007
By

On a street corner nestled between Forest Hills Cemetery and the Woodbourne/Wachusett neighborhoods sit two institutions that strongly impact the urban fabric and experience of living here, near Walk Hill Street. The first is the Young Achievers School, a highly sought-after citywide school occupying the old Parkman School building. The second is the campus of St. Andrew’s church and school, which the Archdiocese is now selling.

Young Achievers, as part of a campaign to expand its successful program, has teamed with Urban Edge to take a joint bid to the Archdiocese for the property. The basic premise is that Young Achievers will occupy the church and school buildings, and Urban Edge will develop the rest of the 3-acre site with affordable housing.

I still support the expansion of Young Achievers, as long as it is sincere about becoming more of a neighborhood school by implementing a walk zone policy that many neighbors desire. But Boston Public Schools has publicly stated it doesn’t support this proposal for financial reasons. It also implied that Young Achievers’ expansion could even precipitate their moving out of the Parkman School building entirely. This is a very different scenario than the neighborhood had hoped for, because it is the expansion of Young Achievers that makes the Urban Edge housing even marginally palatable. Having lived next to an Urban Edge property for eight years, I speak from firsthand experience regarding the quality-of-life issues (at best) and crime (at worst) that were a constant reality for the abutters of the property. This is not necessarily the fault of Urban Edge, but it is the reality of many Urban Edge properties.

If Urban Edge were the sole bidder and had shown plans for 50-plus affordable units on that property, as they did at a March 1 meeting, support would be a fraction of what it is currently. The community’s number one desire is for the St. Andrew’s property to become a public school that will service the children of this community. Whether it will be Young Achievers or not remains to be seen. But 50-plus Urban Edge rental units on the St. Andrew’s site will do nothing but further fracture a community already fragmented by its geography. And for those who would read this and cry NIMBY, keep in mind this neighborhood has already absorbed many other social services, including an Urban Edge rental property on Walk Hill Street, just doors away from the Young Achievers School.

In Richard Heath’s comments at the March 1 meeting, he referred to this as a critical opportunity to maximize the creation of lower-income rental units and change the tide of Boston’s dwindling numbers of rental housing stock. I disagree. Developing housing for all is a worthy and correct thing to do. But given the location and nature of the St. Andrew’s property, what is most critical is that its future use must stitch this community together, much like the church did in its glory days. An Urban Edge property will not do that.

Scott Hoffert
Jamaica Plain