Brookline eyes JP parkland

January 25, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

JAMAICA HILLS—The Town of Brookline has spooked residents with its design review of a corner of Larz Anderson Park that juts across the Jamaica Plain border at Pond and Avon streets.

Resident Don Haber said a Brookline official going door-to-door told him a soccer practice field is under consideration, as well as re-routing park maintenance vehicles from the current Pond Street entrance to smaller Avon Street.

Erin Gallentine, Brookline’s parks director and a JP resident, told the Gazette that the design review is a general brainstorming process with no solid proposals.

However, she added, various vehicle re-routing possibilities indeed have been raised. If one of them were to happen, it could allow the Pond Street entrance area to become a grassy space for “any type of informal play,” including “kicking a ball around.”

“No one’s proposing a soccer field,” she emphasized. “The proposal is not to line and build a soccer field in that area at all.”

In 1997, Brookline studied the possibility of building a soccer field in the same area of the park when a Brookline youth soccer organization prodded the town with donated funds. Brookline officials seemed unenthusiastic about the idea at the time, and no field was ever built.

The Jamaica Hills Association (JHA) opposed the soccer field idea at the time, citing traffic and safety concerns. And it has already written a letter opposing one today, as well as the idea of re-routing vehicles to Avon Street.

Despite the roughly 3-acre corner on the Boston side of the boundary, the Town of Brookline owns and solely operates the entire 64-acre Larz Anderson Park. The park features a variety of amenities, including a skating rink and the Larz Anderson Auto Museum, which rents a historic carriage house.

Gallentine said Brookline has been rehabbing the park piece-by-piece for years, facing various issues familiar to JP park-lovers, such as restoring historic plants and battling invasive species. Now the JP corner is up for consideration.

A town design review committee, including members of the public and the Brookline parks department, are examining ideas. The process is being run by an outside design firm: Walker Kluesing, which is also designing the Pinebank memorial at Jamaica Pond for the City of Boston.

The design process is flexible at this point, Gallentine said. “It’s basically what’s possible, what’s feasible and if it’s a desirable outcome,” she said.

However, there are ideas about “new circulation for the maintenance yard,” Gallentine acknowledged. She added that ideas include not only Avon as an alternative, but also Newton Street in Brookline. In any scenario, there would be no increase in vehicle traffic, she said.

The area that could become a grassy lawn activity area has some drainage problems, she said. “But it certainly could be used for more than it is right now,” she added.

On the other hand, “We’re certainly not looking to erect any structure,” she said.

Ann Blair, the Town of Brookline’s landscape architect, was going door-to-door in the abutting JP area to drop off flyers about a design review committee meeting scheduled for last week. That meeting was cancelled because of a snowstorm. The next meeting is scheduled for Feb. 11 in Brookline. [See JP Agenda.]

Haber said he wasn’t pleased that the flyers were distributed only five days before the meeting and did not mention the vehicle re-routing or recreational space ideas.

“We are not afraid of public process,” Gallentine said. “As much process as it takes to get it right, that’s what we’re going to do.”

The JHA happened to be meeting the day Haber received the flyer. The issue was discussed, and the group unanimously opposed the possible changes.

Local City Councilor John Tobin attended the JHA meeting. He said he later called the chair of Brookline’s Board of Selectmen, the equivalent of Boston City Council. Tobin said he was assured the process is just a general review with no specific soccer field plans.

“I don’t think anybody was trying to pull anything nefarious here,” he said, adding there was acknowledgement that, “They have to talk to people in Jamaica Plain.”

Tobin said he will ask the JHA to invite Brookline officials to one of its meetings, so that the issue can be discussed here as well as in Brookline.

While Brookline will reach out to local JP residents, Gallentine said, there is no formal notice to the City of Boston.

“Frankly, they’ve never expressed any interest in what we do at Larz,” she said.

The Boston Mayor’s Office referred Gazette questions to the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, which had no immediate comment.

It is unclear whether any sort of City of Boston approval processes might be required for changes to that corner of the park. Gallentine said Brookline officials would examine that issue if necessary.