JPNC agenda full to the gills

March 5, 2010
By

David Taber

Web site is up

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Presentations on the potential branch library closures, advocacy for new bike lanes and a proposed Forest Hills development project made for a jam-packed and high-spirited Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) monthly meeting Feb. 23.

Those items took so much time that the council did not have time for most of its regular committee reports during its two-hour meeting at Curtis Hall. Another significant item of business, the filling of the council’s last remaining vacancy, was hurriedly discussed as JPNC members and the about 15 audience were being rushed out of the room by Curtis Hall staff.

The launch of the JPNC’s new web site this month (www.jpnc.org) went unmentioned at the meeting.

“We will have to wait until next time,” to present the new web site, veteran neighborhood council member Steve Backman told the Gazette.

JPNC chair Andrea Howley said she knew the meeting was going to be tight, particularly because local developers WCI Corp. had a very detailed presentation of their plan to build two office buildings in Forest Hills. [See “Residents say they like groceries, hate traffic” at www.jamaicaplaingazette.com.]

She said her goal is for the JPNC to have an open door policy, but, “There are going to have to be some time constraints put on things.”

More than half of the council’s 20 seats were taken over by new members following the JPNC’s bi-annual election in September.

Both Backman and Steve Lussier—another veteran JPNC member the Gazette spoke to in the days following the meeting—said they are thrilled with the new energy on the council.

“We have a really vibrant council,” Lussier said. “It certainly is different from [any time in my] seven year tenure.”

In addition to the new faces, Backman pointed to Howley’s efforts to make sure detailed agendas are publicized prior to the meetings as another reason for renewed enthusiasm in the council.

Lussier noted that, despite the crowed agenda, the council managed to vote on items brought by the JPNC zoning and pubic service committees that required full council approval.

Still, while providing a public forum to discuss community issues is one of the council’s main purposes, “When somebody comes up to talk, we need to ask them what their point is,” he said.

Web site

The very existence of the new JPNC web site is evidence of a revitalized community, Backman told the Gazette. “I wanted to do this a couple of years ago, but there was no will,” he said. “We have a great bunch of people this time.”

Backman was joined by freshman councilors Emily Wheelwright, David Demerjian and Ben Knappmiller on an ad hoc committee that worked to build the site over the last few months. JP residents Mimi Kantor and Greg Hunt also contributed to the development of the site, he said.

Time will be allotted for a full presentation on the new site at the council’s March meeting, Howley told the Gazette.

Backman said the council still needs to figure out how to make sure the site—which has a section for meeting minutes as well as one for “latest news”—is regularly updated.

The JPNC members on the web committee have all “chosen to make their focus other committee work,” he said, but it might make sense to set up a standing council communications committee to take care of the site and explore other avenues for maintaining the council’s transparency.

Presentation

While WCI’s presentation to the council was largely a replay of the project proposal they presented at a Feb. 3 community meeting, JPNC member Emily Wheelwright brought up a new question about how the Washington Street development will affect existing bike lanes on that road.

Wheelwright said she had written a letter to the Boston Redevelopment Authority requesting that bike lanes on the street be at least five feet wide.

“WCIs proposed 4.5-foot bike [lane] concerns me. Five-foot bike [lanes] are the standard recommendation of ‘bike friendly’ organizations…” she said in the letter, a copy of which she forwarded to the Gazette.

“Five feet is considered a minimum” by many, said JP resident Jeffrey Ferris, who runs Ferris Wheels bike shop on South Street. The city minimum is 4.5 feet.

WCI head Kevin Walker said expanding the bike lanes problem would likely be a “non-issue.” WCI’s plans call for a 10.5-foot car lane, but 10-foot car lanes will probably work, he said.

WCI’s plans also include on-street parking and expanded sidewalks for the office/retail buildings they propose to build south of Ukraine Way on Washington. All of the developer’s proposed public infrastructure work will be reviewed by the city before construction starts.

WCI is slated to present at one more community meeting, March 3, to present zoning map changes it will need for the construction on the Washington Street sites. The JPNC zoning committee will also review those map changes—which would change the zoning for the lots from an open space district to a neighborhood shopping district—either in late March or April. [See JP Agenda.]

The JPNC at its Feb. 23 meeting also voted to support community efforts to keep all of JP’s branch libraries open and to get bike lanes installed on sections of Centre Street. [See related articles.]

Vacancies

As the meeting was breaking up, former JPNC member Carlos Icaza withdrew himself from consideration for appointment to the last vacancy remaining on the council following the September elections.

That vacancy is for Area A (Hyde, Egleston and Jackson Squares). Icaza lives on Sumner Hill in Area B. Another nominee, Jesse White, who lives in Area A, was also present at the meeting.

Even as he stood aside, Icaza said that he was concerned about White’s nomination because it came after what he said he understands to be a 60-day window following the announcement of a vacancy when candidates may put themselves forward.

There was some disagreement on that point from JPNC members. Council members David Baron and Ben Knappmiller plan to present a clarification of the by-laws at the JPNC’s March meeting, Backman told the Gazette.

Correction: THe print version of this article incorrectly identified the members of the JPNC’s ad hoc web site committee. Emily Wheelwright is a member of the committee, Edith Murnane is not.