Local councils come together

November 30, 2007
By

DAVID TABER

JP, Roxbury to consider Jackson Square zoning

Jackson Square Partners asked the Jamaica Plain and Roxbury Neighborhood Councils to develop a joint review process for the neighborhood-straddling Jackson Square redevelopment plan at a joint meeting on Nov. 27.

The plan, which recently received phase one approval from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, will “connect Roxbury and JP like they once were before the highway tore them apart,” said JP resident Bart Mitchell of Mitchell Properties, one of the developers working on the project.

In addition to Mitchell Properties, the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), and the community development corporations Urban Edge and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) and others, including Gravestar Inc., have joined forces to tackle the four-phase, six-year, $250 million project.

The plan calls for 436 new units of housing, 60,000 square feet of new shops and restaurants, 60,000 square feet of community and recreational space and 30,000 square feet of office and institutional space at the intersection of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue.

The team, is striving to, “get out of each others way,” with each member working on their own projects and hiring their own architects, partly in the hopes of constructing a visually diverse new neighborhood, said Jen Fagel of the JPNDC.

But they came to the meeting, held at the Julia Martin House Community Room in Jackson Square, asking the two neighborhood councils to devise a plan to develop a joint zoning review process.

While only one of the proposed development projects, the new Department of Youth Services Facility on the east side of Columbus Avenue, falls within Roxbury Neighborhood Council (RNC) jurisdiction, both councils were eager to work together.

“In a way, [much of the development] is none of our business, but I agree both councils have common concerns,” said Julio Henriquez, head of the RNC zoning committee.

Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council member Michael Reiskind agreed. The development plans “clearly concern the whole neighborhood so much I would feel uncomfortable making decisions about it [without input from Roxbury],” he said.

For now, Fagel said, Jackson Square Partners will be seeking individual variances for the development projects, because it is harder to finance a project without approved zoning. But they eventually plan to propose rezoning of the whole area.

When the redevelopment of Jackson Square was originally proposed in 1999, the existing mixed use zoning farther down Centre Street was extended down to the Columbus Avenue intersection on the JP side. But that zoning “failed to anticipate the kind of development we are trying to do with this project,” she said.

After presentations by Jackson Square Partners, the two councils agreed to hold joint zoning committee meetings to consider the various variances the different projects will need. Each committee will come up with its own recommendation for its respective neighborhood council and the councils will make separate recommendations to the zoning Board of Appeal (ZBA).

The ZBA is the final arbiter for zoning relief, but recommendations from affected communities carry a great deal of weight.
Phase One

The first phase of building includes two buildings on the northwest corner of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue. An L-shaped building on the corner will be developed by Mitchell properties with 103 mixed-income rental apartments and 16,700 square feet of retail/commercial space. Further up Columbus, behind the Jackson Square MBTA Station, the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) and Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) will be building a 30,500-square-foot youth and family center.

Meanwhile, Urban Edge will be working on three buildings at the northeast corner of the intersection. Thirty-seven mixed-income homeownership residential units and approximately 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space are planned for 1562 Columbus Ave. Urban Edge will also renovate the existing Webb building next door at 1542 Columbus, which houses the development corporation’s headquarters, throwing 13,500-square feet of office/commercial space into the mix and construct a new, two-story, 13,500 square-foot Department of Youth Services (DYS) facility on the site.

The DYS facility will replace a similar facility that currently stands on the site. It houses “pre-court involved” young men under temporary custody of the Commonwealth. It has “been there for a long time, and we heard from the neighborhood they wanted to make sure those services remain in the community,” said Chrystal Kornegay, Urban Edge’s director of real estate.

The current DYS facility has a use variance, but Urban Edge will need a new one for the new facility. It will also need a variance to construct a temporary parking lot during construction.

Mitchell Properties’ mixed-use building on the northwest corner of the intersection, which has the official address of 225 Centre St., will also require a number of variances, including for height and density.

In addition to members of the two councils and the presenters, the meeting was attended by about 15 other people, and some expressed concerns about later phases of the plan.

Cecilia Grant of Highland Park, who sits on the Jackson Square Community Advisory Committee, said she was shocked that what she said looked like a proposal for a new skating rink was still in the plan. There is already a rink in Highland Park, the Melnea Cass Rink, blocks away from the proposed site she said.

“Its been neglected, but this year there was some splash,” she said, and resources should continue to be devoted to making it “the best it can be for both neighborhoods.”

A summary of the development plan made available at the meeting calls for a 30,750-square-foot indoor recreation facility sized for ice, tennis or basketball.

Phase one will include over 3 acres of new open space, including a new 1.5-acre public park next to the Southwest Corridor, and bike path improvements. The plan also calls for expanding sidewalks in the area and a streetscape redesign that will “create streets for people and bikes, not just cars,” Mitchell said.
Other Business

At the JPNC meeting following the joint meeting, council member Edmund Cape announced the launch of a new online calendar listing the council and council committee meetings and agendas. The calendar can be accessed by going to www.google.com/calendar/gallery and entering “JPNC” in the search field.