Mayor, others push for bus yard funds

March 19, 2010
By

John Ruch

Real Estate Today

FOREST HILLS—A new Arborway Yard bus facility has been left out of the MBTA’s draft budget once again, leaving the project—and community-based redevelopment of 8 more acres of land—potentially stalled for at least another year.

Mayor Thomas Menino is among the officials joining the local Community Planning Committee for the Arborway Yard (CPCAY) in calling for the $197 million project to go back into the MBTA’s capital budget.

In a letter to the Gazette last week, CPCAY chair Henry Allen said the five-year-old “temporary” bus facility now on the site at Washington Street and the Arborway is “blighting” the area. He urged Jamaica Plain residents to push the MBTA and the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT) to “do what is right for this community and include the $200 million for construction of the facility.”

“We’re hoping to move it along so it just doesn’t stay on the back burner,” CPCAY member Allan Ihrer told the Gazette.

The MBTA, which is still working on the final design for the Arborway Yard, did not respond to Gazette questions for this article.

Arborway Yard planning has already dragged on more than a decade. In interviews with the Gazette last year, Menino brought up the Arborway Yard, calling it “the issue that frustrates me so much…Let’s get it done.”

In a March 1 letter to MassDOT provided to the Gazette by CPCAY, Menino and other local officials urged funding for the project and anything else required to get construction started in the next fiscal year.

The letter was also signed by state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz; state Reps. Liz Malia and Jeffrey Sánchez; and City Councilor John Tobin.

CPCAY is holding a community meeting next week intended as an update on the planning and funding situation, Ihrer said. [See JP Agenda.]

Arborway Yard planning has involved heated controversies and big surprises. It began over 10 years ago as a surprise announcement by the MBTA that it would build a new, gigantic bus garage and maintenance facility on the current site. With strong backing from Menino and other officials, residents were able to form CPCAY and get design review.

That led to years of complex negotiations and an agreement that several acres of land would be given to the city for redevelopment into housing, commercial space and green space.

In 2007, CPCAY met to approve a final design. But MBTA officials then stunned everyone by announcing that, despite their previous agreement to the plan, it would not work. Instead, the MBTA demanded a facility 1 acre larger.

In 2008, CPCAY finally approved a final design with a more modest expansion in a controversial vote. Since then, it has pushed for full funding to complete the design and enter construction.

Meanwhile, the MBTA has spent about $30 million on design and on building the temporary bus facility, which consists of fenced-in prefabricated buildings and a large parking lot. The 8 acres of the site pegged for community redevelopment also went through the Boston Redevelopment Authority’s Forest Hills Improvement Initiative planning process for land in the Forest Hills T Station area. That means there are various guidelines and recommendations in place for use of that land.

Ihrer noted that a complex of light industrial properties across Washington Street from the Arborway Yard is for sale, adding that the bus facility’s future could impact the uses of other property all around it.

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