New streetscape and community center in focus

July 24, 2009
By

DAVID TABER

JACKSON SQ.—While the bulk of the July 21 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee was spent discussing the first phase of planned public infrastructure improvements in the area, concerns were also raised about plans to defer construction of a 30,000-square-foot Youth and Family Center.

Over 30 people, community members and members of the development team, convened at the meeting at New Academy Estates on Washington Street in Roxbury.

As the Gazette previously reported, that plan—being undertaken by the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF) and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC)—is being put on hold because of difficulties raising funds in the economic downturn.

The Youth and Family Center is part of a major redevelopment project that seeks to bring hundreds of units of mixed income rental and ownership housing; test of thousands of square feet of retail space; and over 60,000 square feet of community space to the square. It is being undertaken by a group of five developers—HSTF, a community organization; JPNDC and Urban Edge, two area non-profit community development cor-porations; and Mitchell Properties, a for-profit developer. The developers make up the group Jackson Square Partners (JSP).

HSTF has never undertaken development work before, and it is having a rough ride. Instead of trying to raise over $13 million to build the new center, HSTF plans to immediately set about raising $5 million to renovate the Cheverus Building, a former school it runs programming out of on the site of the former Blessed Sacrament Church in Hyde Square.

JPNDC is redeveloping the rest of the Blessed Sacrament site.

HSTF Executive Director Claudio Martinez estimated the Jackson Square Youth and Family Center would be delayed three to five years, but said the developers plan to move forward “as soon as other elements start moving that make a [large] capital campaign feasible.”

Urban Edge plans to institute some community programming for adults in a building it owns on the Roxbury side of Columbus Avenue as well.

CAC members David Worrell, Jen Spencer and Debbie Lubarr expressed concerns about the delay.

“You are talking about programming in Hyde Square really, and some on the Roxbury side…but [the Youth And Family Center] was supposed to be in between two large housing developments that have historically not gotten along,” Spencer said, referring to Bromley-Heath and Academy Homes.

The center is planned for the south side of Columbus Avenue between Centre and Heath streets.

The purpose of the center was “to try to balance the neighborhood,” Worrell said.

HSTF director Claudio Martinez said he did not disagree. The developers worked with “hundreds of young people,” directors of local commu-nity centers, youth workers and others over eight years on the “design and particular location they felt was the most neutral location…We had conversations about where the doors and windows would be.”

The renovation of the Cheverus Building is not intended as a replacement for the Youth and Families Center, he said. “I don’t think anyone is suggesting that this is a substitute,” he said…we have 12,000 kids [in the Jackson Square area] who need space for programming, and we have an empty building half a mile away. You can call it a substitute if you like. I call it ‘what we need right now.’”

Martinez said HSTF programming currently serves about 1,000 youths, mostly from Roxbury and JP.

BRA project manager Rodney Sinclair reminded Martinez that HSTF had promised at a previous meeting to write up a report on HSTF’s youth programming in JP and Roxbury and how it plans to continue and expand on that work.

“We never provided that. I am sorry and I am happy to do that,” Martinez said.

Lubarr asked that HSTF also provide as detailed a written plan as possible describing how fundraising for the work at the Cheverus Build-ing will phase into fund-raising for the Youth and Family Center. Martinez said HSTF would provide that as well.

Infrastructure

Jackson Square Partners laid out a detailed timeline for planned infrastructure improvements at the meeting.

Phase 1A, scheduled for 2010, will include:

• Widening the Columbus Avenue bus-way at the Jackson Square T Station.

• Installing new underground utilities to accommodate the construction of a new mixed-use residential building with ground-floor retail at 225 Centre Street on the T Station side of the Columbus avenue intersection.

• Improvements to the pedestrian crossings at Columbus Avenue and Centre Street and the installation of a planted median on Columbus

• Sidewalk expansion and improvements on Ritchie Street, on the north side of Columbus.

• Improvements to pedestrian and bicycle crossings on Centre at the T Station and at Centre and Lamartine Streets.

• The construction of a “temporary” sidewalk connecting Amory Street to Centre Street.

Other Phase 1 projects have been broken down into sub-sections 1B through 1D. They include the construction of a new plaza on Centre Street across from the T Station and the repaving of Centre Street and Columbus Avenue along with other sidewalk and street improvements.

Phase 1D is scheduled to be completed in 2013.

While phase 1A of the work and the planning for the other parts of phase 1 are being funded by a $3.1 million state grant JSP received last year, funding is still not certain for the rest of phase 1.

CAC member Jeff Fairbanks asked if JSP is prepared for delays in the future funding. “I don’t want to see half the stuff done and it actu-ally becomes more dangerous,” he said.

Bart Mitchell of Mitchell Properties said JSP is aware of that possibility.

“We asked our engineers and the Boston Redevelopment Authority staff [that reviews the design plans] to pay attention to that. This has to look good at the end of every phase,” Mitchell said.

There was some controversy at the meeting over the sidewalk improvements along Ritchie Street. Jen Faigel of the JPNDC opened the meeting by saying that one of the goals of the infrastructure improvements is to “enhance pedestrian safety and pedestrian access getting back and forth from JP to Roxbury.”

Given that, CAC members and other members of the community responded negatively later in the presentation when Faigel said the new Ritchie street sidewalk would only be three feet wide. But later in the meeting Faigel said she had been mistaken about the dimensions of the new Ritchie Street sidewalk. Reviewing planning documents, she discovered the sidewalk is actually planned to be about seven feet.

At any rate, the construction of the new sidewalk will require coordination with the city Public Works Department (PWD), which owns a salt shed on Ritchie. Mitchell said the developers planned to meet with public works officials in the coming days to review the plans, and they would push for as wide a sidewalk as possible.

Lubarr raised concerns about the redesign of the bus-way at Jackson Square, saying one of the original goals raised in community visioning about the redevelopment was to decrease traffic congestion in the square by ensur-ing buses did not have to loop around the square to separate drop-off and pick-up points.

Mitchell said the new bus-way entrance is intended to allow longer “articulated” buses access to the rear of the station for the first time, but it was unclear if that addressed Lubarr’s concerns.
Urban Edge

As the Gazette previously reported, Urban Edge has had to go back to the drawing board after its plans for a parcel it owns on the corner of Columbus Avenue and Ritchie Street fell through.

Urban Edge President Mossik Hacobian said the CDC hopes to offer detailed new alternatives for the site at the CAC’s August meeting.

In addition to a previously floated plan to move a controversial 36,000-square-foot recreation facility to the corner of Ritchie and Columbus, Hacobian said the new proposals will include renovating the three-story Webb building at 1562 Columbus to include affordable housing and community space.

The CAC appeared to have a number of members at the July 21 meeting—including representatives from Academy Homes and New Academy Estates, the youth organization Teen Empowerment, the youth writing program 826 Boston and local non-profit Bikes Not Bombs—who had not participated in previous CAC meetings the Gazette has covered.

The July 21 CAC meeting was the first the Gazette attended since April 23. In a closed session at the begin-ning of the April meeting, the CAC voted to ban the news media from that and future meetings. The BRA subse-quently said it would not attend CAC meetings closed to the press. The Gazette was prevented from attending the May 26, June 2 and July 2 meetings, the last two of which, therefore, BRA and JSP representatives did not attend either.

Best of JP 2014