Community to get last look at Forest Hills plans

March 7, 2008
By

DAVID TABER

FOREST HILLS—The Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and the MBTA have agreed to host one last community meeting before issuing the invitation to bid (ITB) for the redevelopment of a handful of MBTA-owned parcels around Forest Hills Station.

After over a year of community planning, the MBTA plans to sell three parcels outright and sell development rights to a fourth—the Forest Hills station commuter parking lot—through the ITB, which will be issued in April, said MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo. Over 6 acres of land will be on the market. Close to 400 residential units and 64,000 square feet of retail space will potentially be developed.

Francesca Fordiani, who sits on the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) and chairs the council’s Housing and Development Committee, announced at the JPNC’s Feb. 26 meeting that the two authorities have agreed to the final community review. In the past, BRA officials had been opposed to a final community review, saying they did not want to re-open the community process right before the ITB is to be issued.

But the final meeting will allow community members to confirm that the ITB for the parcels square with recommendations outlined in Use and Design Guidelines. The guidelines were developed in a BRA-led community process known as the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative (FHII) that began in November, 2006. Six FHII meetings were held between November 2006 and November 2007.

The ITB will describe the type of development deemed acceptable for each lot. They will include particulars like what the height and massing of the developments should look like; what mix of commercial and residential use is expected; what proportion of residential units should be made affordable; and how much open space should be left.

The ITB will contain three bidding opportunities, Pesaturo said. One for a large parcel on Hyde Park Avenue south of Ukraine Way; one for two smaller parcels flanking Washington Street south of Forest Hills station and one for a long-term lease to the MBTA-owned commuter parking lot. “Bidders may submit proposals on one or all,” Pesaturo said.

The MBTA is required by law to sell the lots to the highest reasonable bidder. Bidders with proposals that do not meet the standards laid out in the ITB will not be accepted.

BRA spokesperson Jessica Shumaker said the next FHII meeting, to discuss the BRA’s draft proposal for streetscape design in the area, will take place March 13, but could not confirm if the ITB would be reviewed at that meeting.

The decision to hold a final meeting to review the ITB represents an apparent change of heart for the BRA. Many community members, including Fordiani, have repeatedly told the Gazette that they wanted a final review.

In the past BRA Senior Architect John Dalzell, who is leading the FHII process has expressed concerns about reopening the process right before the ITB are due to go out.

“I think John Dalzell’s concern was just about endless meetings,” Fordiani told the Gazette. But the BRA agreed to host the last meeting after the Housing and Development Committee clarified it is not looking to drag out the process, she said.

“I think [the BRA] realized all the credibility [it] can earn with the community is going to be worth it in the end,” she said.

Dalzell was not available to comment for this article.

In a letter sent to city and state officials by Fordiani and Housing and Development Committee vice-chair Pamela Bender, they expressed support for the project.

“The BRA has agreed to make requested provisions for public review of the [ITB], before its release by the [MBTA], that we are quite comfortable with,” the letter said. “Overall, we are quite pleased with the community process that has taken place regarding this development, as well as with the content of the Use and Design Guidelines as we currently understand them.”

The FHII process began in 2006 with the three surplus parcels south of Forest Hills Station that the transportation authority had originally hoped to sell by last fall.

After the BRA began the community process, it expanded to include developing guidelines for two other MBTA parcels—the commuter lot and the nearby Arborway bus yard—and the privately owned Fitzgerald parking lot across Hyde Park Avenue from the station.

The FHII also developed guidelines for redesigning the streetscape around the station, including potentially adding bike lanes to nearby roadways and turning the roads around the station into a one-way loop.

The timelines for the redevelopment of the other parcels and the roadway design were never clearly stated in the course of the community process. But at the last FHII meeting in November, 2007, when the draft Use Design Guidelines were unveiled, community members raised concerns about making sure that retail is expanded to serve the neighborhood in conjunction with residential expansion. In response to these concerns, the MBTA agreed to sell development rights to its commuter lot at the same time it sells the three surplus parcels, with the understanding that it would not lose commuter parking.

The guidelines for the surplus parcels, known as U, V and W, were not finalized at the time of the November meeting. They called for the construction of 198 residential units, 28,000 square feet of retail space, and 6,000 square feet of community space, including a possible extension of the Southwest Corridor Park to south of Ukraine Way.

The November, 2007 draft guidelines for the commuter lot, between Ukraine Way and the station on Hyde Park Avenue, called for 200 units of housing, 37,000 square feet of retail space and 25,000 square feet of office/commercial space. A “Village Green” will cover 22,000 square feet of the site slated to remain open space. It will include a “pedestrian plaza and pedestrian connection between Hyde Park Avenue and Washington Street,” the guidelines said.

At the Feb. 26 meeting of the JPNC, Fordiani also reported that the BRA had agreed to strengthen the language in the guidelines, and presumably in the ITB, around housing affordability.

The draft guidelines recommended that between 15 percent and 75 percent of new housing on public land be deed-restricted affordable, with a goal of 50 percent. The BRA agreed to delete the 15 percent to 75 percent language and simply state that the goal for affordability is 50 percent, Fordiani said.