Urban Edge files plans for housing

February 19, 2010
By

David Taber

State funds for new rink in doubt

JACKSON SQ.—Non-profit developer Urban Edge filed plans with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) last month that would create 38 new mixed-income rental apartments and 12,000 square feet for community programs to its Webb Building on Columbus Avenue.

The plans did not include a proposal for a new ice skating rink Urban Edge has long sought for the site. Department of Conservation and Recreation Commissioner Rick Sullivan told the Gazette last week he does not think there will be any state funding for the project in the next five years.

But the developer is still pushing forward. Urban Edge presented a final version of the parameters for its feasibility study for constructing an indoor recreation facility—possibly with an ice rink—at the Feb. 2 meeting of the Jackson Square Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC).

The developer announced it had filed plans for the new “Jackson Commons” mixed-use project at the same time.

While those processes are moving forward, City Councilor Chuck Turner continues to work on a broad “youth needs survey” for the greater Jackson Square area.

At the December CAC meeting and speaking to the Gazette, Turner said this is work he would expect “the planning department to do, if the city had a planning department.”

And preliminary plans for a residential development are in the works.

Andrew Winter, real estate director for the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation (JPNDC) said that the local non-profit developer plans in the coming months to unveil its first proposals for the parcel it plans to develop across Centre Street from the Jackson Square T Station.

All of those projects and others are part of a major Jackson Square redevelopment project being undertaken by a group of developers known as Jackson Square Partners (JSP). Construction is scheduled to start in the spring on a residential/retail development being built by for-profit developer Mitchell Properties, as well as major infrastructure work, including improvements to the sidewalks and streets.

Jackson Commons

Urban Edge’s plans for the Webb Building at 1542 Columbus Ave. emerged in recent months after a sometimes contentious, year-long redesign process. Two years ago, the developer planned to build a permanent facility for the state Department of Youth Services (DYS). DYS backed out of that plan, and in February 2009, Urban Edge proposed a plan that included housing for formerly homeless families on the rear of its Columbus Avenue site.

The CAC and BRA rejected that plan because of the proposed housing’s proximity to a city Public Works Department (PWD)-controlled salt shed behind the Urban Edge property.

Another part of Urban Edge’s plan—to construct a community recreation facility to the rear of the site—also had to be modified because of the PWD’s refusal to reconfigure the salt shed site.

Late last summer, at the same time it proposed the current Jackson Commons project for the Webb Building, Urban Edge also proposed to move its recreation facility to the front corner of the lot at Ritchie Street and Columbus Avenue.

In press materials at that time, Urban Edge indicated that it planned to file a Notification of Project Change with the BRA including both the new Jackson Commons project and the new recreation facility.

But, as the Gazette previously reported, Urban Edge’s plans to reintegrate that facility into its plans for the site are on hold while the developer undertakes a feasibility study.

According to its BRA filing, Jackson Commons will “integrate the existing three-story Webb Building with a four-story addition along Columbus Avenue…The project will include 38 rental apartments and approximately 12,000 [square feet] on the ground floor that will function as a Neighborhood Learning Center.”

The ground-floor space will include new offices for Urban Edge and new Urban Edge programs, including “…first time homebuyer and financial fitness classes, the youth leadership academy, food pantry…resident led education initiatives and potentially an academic credit recovery program,” the filing says.

Space on the ground floor will also be available for other non-profits to rent.

On the upper levels, eight of the units will be available to “extremely low-income households.” Twenty-two will be affordable for households earning at least 60 percent of the area median income. Another eight will be “income restricted market rate apartments available to households making 110 percent of the area median income.”

For a family of three, 60 percent AMI is $48,700, and 110 percent is $89,300. Over three-quarters of the units will be multi-bedroom units, according to the filing.

At the meeting, Noah Maslan of Urban Edge said that, pending BRA approval, the developer plans to begin applying for city and state funding for the project in the spring. It hopes to begin construction in 2011, he said.

Copies of Urban Edge’s filing are available on the developer’s web site, www.urbanedge.org. Public comments will be accepted on the proposal through March 5, and can be e-mailed to john.fitzgerald.bra@cityofboston.gov. A BRA-hosted public meeting to review the plans is scheduled for Feb. 25 at 6 p.m. at New Academy Estates at 2908 Washington St.

The project will require a zoning variance for building height and a conditional use permit for office space on the ground floor. Community review of those requests will take place in a joint meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council and Roxbury Neighborhood Council. That meeting has yet to be scheduled.

At the Feb. 2 meeting, CAC member Celia Grant requested that it be held in the Highland Park neighborhood of Roxbury. That neighborhood borders Jackson Square on the other side of Columbus and includes Urban Edge’s land.

Recreation facility

Late last year, the CAC asked Urban Edge to undertake a market feasibility study for the developer’s proposal to build a community recreation facility at the corner of Ritchie Street and Columbus Avenue.

Though it has never been explicitly stated in any of the Jackson Square planning documents that Urban Edge plans to build an ice rink on that corner, Urban Edge staffers have stated it as fact many times, and the developer is partnered with Friends of Kelly Rink.

Friends of Kelly has been supporting a state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR)-run “temporary” open-air ice rink on the Southwest Corridor near the Stony Brook T Station for over a decade.

More confusion was expressed at the meeting about a 2008 state bond bill authorization that Urban Edge has said it plans to use as a funding source for the facility.

The bond authorizes about $5 million for “for construction of a permanent ice skating rink in Jamaica Plain,” but, as state officials and others have said, the bond bill authorization does not guarantee inclusion of the funding in the state’s capital budget. It merely authorizes Gov. Deval Patrick to include an approprition for the project in the state budget.

In a new twist, City Councilor Turner told the CAC at the February meeting that he had learned from DCR Commissioner Rick Sullivan, that DCR does not plan to fund the construction of a new rink.

According to Turner, Sullivan had said DCR felt it had fulfilled its obligation under the bond bill by investing close to $1 million in improvements to the temporary Kelly Rink last year. Those improvements are intended to keep the rink running for at least another decade.

In a Gazette phone interview with Sullivan last week, the commissioner did not describe the improvements to the current Kelly as fulfillment of the bond authorization. But he said he is not currently optimistic about the $5 million being appropriated for the new rink.

“The vast majority of the projects in the environmental bond bill won’t be completed,” he said.

DCR’s capital budget has already been laid out for the next five years and it “does not include any more work on the Kelly,” Sullivan said. But, “The bond is authorized so if there is any money that is made available, something could happen.”

The 2008 bond bill also calls for close to $4 million to improve the Cass Rink in Roxbury. That rink is scheduled to see about $500,000 in improvements in the near future. A community meeting about those improvements was scheduled for Feb 17.

The state funds all of its capital improvements—including the improvements to the Kelly and proposed improvements to the Cass— through bond issues. That funding is divvied up among departments, Sullivan said.
Market study

The Friends group has been working for years with Urban Edge in the hopes of getting a new permanent rink for JP to replace the old Kelly Rink on the Jamaicaway, which was torn down in the 1990s.

But Friends of Kelly members and Urban Edge staffers have stated repeatedly at recent meetings that they are not interested in building a rink if it is not going to be a community benefit.

That means both subsidized access for the local community and making sure that the rink is available for community uses a significant amount of the time, said Steve Glickel of Friends of Kelly.

Funding to maintain the rink and to provide affordable community access would largely come from things like rental of the rink to hockey leagues. “We are looking for the right balance of community time and rental time,” said Urban Edge CEO Chrystal Kornegay at the Feb. 3 meeting.

“If it comes down to it and it has to be, just for the sake of argument, rented for 23 hours a day, that’s the option you would work towards?” asked CAC member David Worrell.

“We wouldn’t build that,” said Urban Edge staffer Noah Maslan.

“If it’s not one hour, is it 12 hours?” said CAC member Rodney Singleton.

Urban Edge staff declined to describe what kind of balance they were looking for, but Glickel gave it a shot. Optimally, the rink would be available for community uses—including school and after-school programs, programs for seniors, and open skating times—between about 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. during the week and later on the weekends, he said.

It would be rented out to meet its costs in the evenings “from 6 or 7 p.m until 10 p.m.,” he said.

Urban Edge President Mossik Hacobian said a main consideration is going to be whether the rink can be constructed without accruing too much debt. “Ideally, we won’t have debt to service. We will just be paying operating costs,” he said.

Maslan also noted that the study—being conducted by a company called the Ice Management Group—is not set up to “just give us an answer.”

It will also explore the feasibility of a “dry” recreation facility, including things like basketball courts and a weight room, he said. Urban Edge and the community will have different scenarios to look at to guide their decision making, he said.

Despite its name, IMG “has worked on dry facilities, too,” Maslan said.

While the CAC only asked for a feasibility study in November, JSP apparently had IMG waiting in the wings. Maslan said the consultant was the successful bidder when JSP put out a request for proposals “about a year ago.”

The two-part study is now under way. It will include an eight- to 10-week market analysis and a second six- to eight-week phase when the IMG will develop operating plans for the feasible options.

Another planned piece of the Jackson Square development, a 30,000-square-foot Youth and Families Center was put on hold last summer because the developers JPNDC and the Hyde Square Task Force (HSTF), determined it would be impossible in the current economy to raise the $10 million in private funding needed to get the project off the ground.

HSTF instead elected to try to raise $5 million for renovations to the former Cheverus School, a JPNDC-owned building on the former Blessed Sacrament Church campus in Hyde Square, which it now occupies.

Needs assessment

At the CAC’s December meeting, Turner announced that he planned to begin trying to conduct a “youth needs assessment” for the area around Jackson Square, including Egleston Square, nearby sections of Roxbury and Mission Hill.

He told the Gazette earlier this month that he has begun gathering demographic data and has started setting up youth meetings at local housing developments, including Bromley-Heath, Academy Homes and New Academy Estates.

He is working to identify available under-utilized resources, he said, including things like a gymnasium at the Dimock Community Center in Egleston Square that is now shuttered for lack of programming funds.

He is also working with partners to develop demographic map data to see if there is a correlation between neighborhood youth crime rates and proximity to a community center, he said.

Speaking to the Gazette, he said his effort will be a “rough and dirty” version of work “the city should be doing but isn’t.”

Turner said he plans to present the results of his efforts in the spring.