Neighbors discuss plans for St. Andrew’s

April 13, 2007
By

LOU MANCINELLI

FOREST HILLS/WOODBOURNE—A number of residents who live in the immediate area surrounding St. Andrew the Apostle church complex say the neighborhood is already too dense and congested with traffic, and any development on the 3-acre parcel on Walk Hill Street that includes housing should match the current density ratio of the neighborhood.

They said Urban Edge’s plan to develop over 50 units and provide much-needed expansion space for the Young Achievers Math and Science School—if the local non-profit wins the bid to purchase and develop the land from the Archdiocese—calls for far too many units. Support for Urban Edge itself as a landlord was weak.

Those and other comments in support of St. Andrew’s remaining a religious or educational institution, and for more ownership, dominated a meeting hosted by neighbors who live close to St. Andrew’s at the Woodbourne Apartments on Hyde Park Avenue April 4.

Neighbors emphasized that if Young Achievers expands into St. Andrew’s they want a walk-zone. They said if not, they want some sort of public school kids from the community can attend, or a community, or elderly center located there. By walk-zone, neighbors mean they want some distinction that would give preference to local children to attend the local public school.

The meeting’s hosts hammered the point that the meeting was not to discuss only Urban Edge and Young Achievers’ current plans, but to also focus on what neighbors wanted to see done on the lot by whoever wins the bid.

“This meeting is about anyone who is doing anything with St. Andrew’s,” said Annie Finnegan to a room stuffed with over 100 people, including more than 20 who had to stand.

“In no way, shape or form are we endorsing [Urban Edge and St. Andrew’s] proposal,” said Bernie Doherty.

“If we had info from other bidders, we’d give it to you,” said Finnegan.

Finnegan organized the meeting, and handled much of the publicity and leafleting. She said she hung flyers from the West Roxbury Courthouse to the Neponset Avenue area, but many had been either torn down or destroyed by the snow.

Finnegan said she wished more of a cross-section of people from the area attended the meeting.

“I don’t know if it’s possible. I don’t know if it has ever been done,” she said. “But I honestly wish there were more renters there. I honestly would have wanted more of a cross-section.”

The church on the 3.1-acre property closed in 2000. St. Andrew’s elementary school closed in 2005. The Archdiocese plans to sell the land and is now accepting project proposals from potential bidders.

According to Michael Foley, the broker representing the Archdiocese, it has set an April 23 deadline for proposals. A review by the church will follow, then a negotiation period with the chosen bidder. He said the Archdiocese could make a decision by mid-May. Once a decision is made, there will be more community meetings and an official zoning process unless the buyer plans to use the land and building for educational and religious purposes, as the property is now zoned.

Thus far only Urban Edge and the Young Achievers on Walk Hill Street have publicly expressed a desire to purchase and develop the land. Foley said there is other interest, but the Archdiocese does not make that information public. Representatives from the school and the community development corporation have hosted a series of community meetings to gain input from the community to begin to
construct its vision for development at the complex.

Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced in early February it does not support the current plan drafted by Urban Edge and the Young Achievers School. No representatives from either Urban Edge or the school announced their presence at the meeting.

A detailed survey asking specific questions was passed around at the meeting. It asked questions like, “The Archdiocese has not yet chosen a buyer for the St. Andrew’s property. Nothing has been decided yet. What would you like to see done with or built on the property?” Another question was, “What cost level would you prefer the housing to be, compared to typical housing costs in the area? (Please give percentages adding up to 100%) Low; moderate; market-rate; other?”

Finnegan said she has gone door-to-door to hand out the surveys, and has already delivered it to 2,500 homes. She said by this week she hopes to have deposited surveys to the entire neighborhood from the West Roxbury Courthouse to Neponset Avenue, as far back as Bourne Street.

“I just want everyone to take the survey. But I don’t know how,” said Finnegan. There are a number of drop-boxes for the survey around town.

Anyone at the meeting who wished to talk was given two minutes. Finnegan said this type of meeting is efficient because once a decision is made by the Archdiocese, the neighborhood will already have an organized and thorough package of information about what neighbors want to see happen with the property. This could prove to be beneficial in a time crunch, she said.

“This neighborhood is congested enough,” said Brenda Fennessey, who said she has lived in Jamaica Plain for more than 50 years.

“I do not support Urban Edge,” said Ann Anderson of Wachusett Street.

“I want to link this to the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative,” said Reuven Steinberg of Hillside Avenue, referring to a city plan for the T station area. [See related story.] “This is not just a conversation about a 3-acre property. Together, there is enough land to move ahead in a variety of directions. I hope to continue the current socioeconomic [setting].”

Steinberg said he was nervous about Urban Edge as a developer, and that the density of the area was already too high. He also said more owners than renters equals more stability in the neighborhood.

“There are owners who don’t care, too,” said Finnegan, in a Gazette phone interview after the meeting. “I think there are renters who do care and maybe they don’t feel like it’s their place to have an opinion because they are leaving. But I say, “Yeah, but you have a place now, and can speak on behalf of the person who will be there after you.”

“The higher the ratio of ownership in the neighborhood, the longer and higher the returns will be,” said Basil Cleveland of Patten Street. “I am not a fan of Urban Edge or socially engineered housing programs but …organic ownership.”

“Could you imagine a housing development being there? I’m not talking about what type of people—low- or middle-income.I don’t care. I’m concerned about parking, traffic, density and narrow streets,” said Mariella Puerto, a 10-year JP resident.

“More traffic would bottleneck and be a nightmare for residents,” said Jim Hinsman, also a 10-year resident. “If there is housing, there should be a minimal number, and it should reflect the current character of the neighborhood.”

Joe Finnegan said he has lived in JP for 40 years and is “not going anywhere. I’d like to see a school or a senior development. I’m not into housing,” he said.

Fred Clark of Weld Hill Street said the one-way road design of the neighborhood could not support the traffic. He said the option of a school occupying the property could be good. “If there is affordable housing, I won’t be buying a house around here for sure,” he said.

“I do live in affordable housing,” said Sally Swenson, who said she has lived in JP for 13 years. “When you hear affordable housing it refers to all types of people.” She said she supports mixed housing for people of different levels of income.

“I was mortified after attending two meetings [hosted by representatives of Urban Edge and Young Achievers] to find out it was something Boston Public Schools couldn’t do,” said Denise Hansen. “They [Young Achievers and Urban Edge] knew that not once, but twice. That’s an insult. Urban Edge is no good.” She said 54 units is too dense.

“I cannot respond to comments I did not hear,” said Mossik Hacobian,
executive director of Urban Edge, in a phone interview. “We have also heard from our meetings people’s preference to homeownership over rental. Part of the reason we did the community meetings was to see what people wanted.”

Hacobian said Urban Edge has not set the ownership and rental numbers yet for its proposal, but said the neighbors’ comments would be considered.

“This is not just about our concerns but who we are ourselves and as a community,” said Sarah Whitesel. “It’s so exciting to live in a community where families live. I love seeing kids playing on our street. I want to be able to see that continue and grow.”

Finnegan said the surveys would be collected by April 17. There are drop-boxes at Forest Hills Liquors; Forest Hills Deli; Griffin’s Café; Silk Salon; Sports Dry Cleaner; Java Jo’s; Jonathan’s Beauty Supply; Klassy Kuts; Foley’s Fireside; Snack Shack Etc; Monahan’s Barbershop; Los Bendecidos; and Green Laundromat. Spanish surveys are available at Snack Shak Etc., Los Bendecidos and Green Laundromat. The survey can be accessed online at www.saintandrewsdevelopment.com.