Changes for JP unlikely in Brookline park

February 22, 2008
By

JOHN RUCH

JAMAICA HILLS—The Town of Brookline appears unlikely to make controversial changes—including a new access road and an informal recreation area—to a corner of Larz Anderson Park that juts into Jamaica Plain, according to officials at a Brookline design review committee meeting last week.

The Jamaica Hills Association (JHA) recently expressed concern about the latest phase of the town’s master planning process, which looked at a roughly 3-acre triangle at Pond and Avon streets, among other parts of the park.

One master plan design alternative involves moving the access road for Brookline’s large parks maintenance headquarters in Larz Anderson Park from its current Pond Street entrance to smaller Avon Street. The JHA has opposed that move.

Erin Chute Gallentine, Brookline’s parks director and a JP resident, said she is also not a fan of the move at the Feb. 11 design review meeting at Brookline’s Public Safety Building.

“I actually think Avon would be really tough” due to a smaller turning radius for parks vehicles, Gallentine said. “I don’t think…that would be an improvement to us.”

“I don’t see [the design] going in that direction,” she later told the Gazette, adding that no official decisions have been made.

In any case, the entire master plan discussion is now tabled pending an internal “feasibility study” of the maintenance building, which will take at least a year, Gallentine said. That review of the building’s operations would inform any ideas about access roads.

There is also no capital money budgeted for anything at this point, Brookline officials added, so even if decisions were made, nothing would happen for years.
If the access road was relocated, the design proposal also involves creating a large, grassy lawn area in its place. Gallentine previously told the Gazette that such an area would be open to any “informal play.”

That has renewed decade-old fears of youth soccer practices being held there.

In 1997, a Brookline youth soccer group donated $5,000 to the Town of Brookline, prodding it to study the feasibility of creating a practice field in that corner of the park. The JHA opposed that idea, fearing traffic and parking problems in the semi-rural area already impacted by such large institutions as the Park School and the Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture. Brookline apparently conducted the study grudgingly and left the area unchanged.

This time around, Avon Street resident and JHA board member Don Haber previously told the Gazette, a Brookline official going door-to-door with flyers about the master plan meeting said a soccer practice field was again under consideration. The JHA is still opposed to the idea.

But Gallentine previously told the Gazette that a soccer field is not under consideration, and Brookline officials repeated that stance at the meeting.

“We don’t have plans for a soccer field. That hasn’t been part of our discussion,” Gallentine said. “While Brookline does need additional fields, that is not something that is on the table right now.”

Victor Walker, the park planner hired by Brookline to conduct the master plan, said active recreational use in that corner has been a public worry since the planning began in 1989.

But, he said, “It was dismissed at that time and has been dismissed ever since.” Active use, he said, “was never our intention.”

Brookline officials repeatedly said they will not build any type of structure or create any field with sports-related boundary stripes there.

But that does not totally end the possibility of soccer practices, because they are sometimes held on unmarked lawns.

“Yeah, we use them,” said Brookline Soccer Club president Alan Einhorn when asked by the Gazette about unmarked practice fields. His organization is a private non-profit that operates a youth travel soccer program.

He noted that Brookline soccer programs don’t get their choice of play or practice fields. They file applications with the town, which assigns fields, he said.

Einhorn added that he was unaware of the Avon/Pond corner area and any discussion about it.

Gallentine told the Gazette that the Town of Brookline’s own youth sports programs—which include soccer—do not use unmarked lawn areas. As to private programs, “We wouldn’t know about that if they did,” she said.

Youth soccer and baseball leagues already use another area of Larz Anderson Park.

In any case, a new grass-lawn area in the Pond/Avon triangle is only theoretical and appears unlikely at this point.

Design ideas

Larz Anderson Park is a large park with a wide variety of uses, including a skating rink, community gardens and open space. The Larz Anderson Auto Museum rents space there as well. While the Pond/Avon corner crosses the border into Boston, the Town of Brookline controls the entire park.

Brookline has been rehabbing all 64 acres of the park piece by piece for years under the master planning process. The master planning is done by Walker’s firm Walker-Kluesing Design Group, which is also designing the Pinebank mansion memorial at Jamaica Pond for the City of Boston.

Walker’s design suggestions are intended to set the stage for discussion and the agenda for final plans.

In the first half of the 20th century, the park was the estate of diplomat Larz Anderson and his wife Isabel, who came from the locally prominent Weld and Perkins families. Officials said that the estate’s 1920s or ’30s period has been chosen as the general aesthetic guideline for rehabbing.

The rehab work is down to its last few sections of the park. Besides the JP corner, they included the wooded slope of the park’s prominent hill and the area around a pond known as the lagoon.

Walker’s design suggestions for those areas include thinning the underbrush on the hillside and creating a path from the park’s main drive to the lagoon area.

But it was his ideas for the JP corner that drew most of the audience attention. About a dozen JP residents attended the design review meeting and appeared to be a majority of the audience.

Walker explained that the corner was originally the site of various estate outbuildings, ranging from a house to chicken coops. All have since been demolished. The access road from Pond Street to the maintenance building is the original service road for those buildings, he said.

Walker said his overall thought for the corner is that it should have an “estate character…green lawn and big trees.”
Gallentine indicated that in the short term, workers will clear out the 50 years of undergrowth in the area to open up the views Walker suggested.

Walker showed specific ideas in three alternative design proposals for the corner, known as alternatives A, B and C.

Despite the designs being public documents presented at the meeting, Gallentine declined to release the images to the Gazette for publication, saying, “Frankly, I’m concerned they could be misconstrued” outside the meeting’s context.

Alternative A showed the corner essentially as it is, just with new trees lining the access road and the public street. Walker called this the “historic restoration” option because it most resembles the original estate.

Alternative B had the access road relocated to Avon and the green space taking the road’s place. A few parking spaces would be added along the new road. Walker noted that the access road could also be totally eliminated and its traffic routed through the main park entrance on Newton Street, though he was opposed to mixing traffic in that way.

Alternative C was largely the same as Alternative B, except with 20 to 30 parking spaces added near the Auto Museum and decorative post-and-rail fencing added to the perimeter.

Hopkins Road resident Virginia Marcotte appeared to speak for the JP contingent in the audience when she called the Avon road relocation the “worst possible idea.”

She and other residents noted that Avon is narrow, lacks sidewalks and is often already packed with parking and traffic from local school events.

JHA board member Andrea Howley noted the design drawing for Alternative B did not show a nearby driveway that would make for tight access.

“A lot of trees would have to come down” to create a new access road, said Pond Street resident Venus Gray, noting that many trees weren’t shown on the design, either.

Gray also expressed concern about impact on wildlife in the semi-rural area, where institutional uses have recently expanded.

“It’s practically city life now because everything has been destroyed for modernization,” Gray said.

A few design review committee members joined Gallentine in agreeing that Avon doesn’t look like a good access point.

There were complaints about the maintenance building itself, which is not directly addressed in the master plan and showed up as a white blob on the designs.

“It’s wagging the dog” of the design process, complained Avon Street resident Richard Russo.

Adding that he is bothered by noise and fumes from the facility’s garage, Russo said, “I don’t like it there.”

“Nobody does,” Gallentine responded.

The separate study of the maintenance building will include the feasibility of relocating it, she said, adding that appears to be extremely unlikely. But all of its operations and needs will be reviewed as well.

Gallentine told the Gazette that study will be completely internal with no public meetings. The park master planning will resume with a public meeting once that study is done.

In the meantime, the Feb. 11 meeting was just a chance for public input. No decisions were made and nothing will be finalized until after the planning process resumes.

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