Study aims to link Orange Line projects

November 18, 2011
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A new study will examine all real estate projects along the MBTA’s Orange Line with the aim of possibly linking their planning and marketing campaigns in a big-picture view.

It will include major projects at Jamaica Plain’s Jackson Square and Forest Hills, along with proposals everywhere from Mission Hill’s Roxbury Crossing to Somerville’s Assembly Square.

“People at Roxbury Crossing may not know what’s happening in Forest Hills, and they certainly don’t know what’s going on in Somerville,” said Joe Kriesberg, president of the Massachusetts Association of Community Development Corporations (MACDC), which will begin the “Opportunity Corridor” study early next year.

“There’s a real power that comes when neighborhoods come together,” he said.

There are developments under way near three of JP’s four Orange Line stops. The Jackson Square area is being redeveloped by JP’s Mitchell Properties and two local community development corporations (CDCs)—Urban Edge and the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. JP’s Maple Hurst Builders has a mixed-use project at Green Street, and JP’s WCI Corp. has a commercial project at Forest Hills. None of those developers responded to Gazette requests for comment.

The MBTA did not respond to a Gazette email.

The Orange Line is a major subway artery that runs more than 10 miles between JP and Malden through downtown Boston, with existing or proposed stops in Charlestown, Medford and Somerville.

The line is studded with major developments, both proposed and under way. They include gigantic redevelopments at  Jackson Square and the former Filene’s store site at Downtown Crossing. Development is especially heavy in Boston, where the line is flanked with vacant parcels taken by eminent domain in the 1970s, when it was originally going to be an interstate highway.

The MACDC study will address both opportunities and challenges, Kriesberg said.

“We have a real, concrete, tangible opportunity along the Orange Line over the next 10 years to build thousands of home” and large amounts of commercial space, he said.

People could both live and work along the line, riding it to their jobs. And the effort could connect diverse neighborhoods and towns in advocating for projects that benefit them all, Kriesberg said.

On the other hand, Kriesberg asked, “What if we do it all? Can the Orange Line sustain that level of volume? Is it going to make trains late?”

MACDC represents CDCs—nonprofits that perform community organizing and own or develop real estate. Kriesberg said he got the idea for the study from hearing about various Orange Line projects from MACDC members.

But, he added, the study will embrace for-profit developments, as well as such major institutions along the line as Northeastern University.

“The economic viability of these [projects]—they’re all connected,” he said. He envisioned mutual “marketing and branding,” while acknowledging that some of the projects are competing for funds.

The main goal, Kriesberg said, is simply to get people involved in the various projects talking and thinking “more holistically.”

“Does Jackson Square need to be as dense if Roxbury Crossing is also being developed?” Kriesberg asked as one possible big-picture question.

Kriesberg noted that in Assembly Square, where a new station is being built to serve a massive retail development, there is a major controversy over local hiring.

“People in Somerville are fighting to get those jobs,” he said. “Why shouldn’t people in Jamaica Plain or Roxbury get some of those jobs? It’s very easy to get there. Just hop on the train.”

While it has a big vision, the study is a “very small project,” Kriesberg said. It will not propose any new projects or involve any planning. It will simply collect and compile data on existing ideas. Then MACDC will hold at least one meeting to release the report.

The study is expected to start sometime early next year and take less than six month to complete. It is being funded with a $30,000 grant from a federal program to promote “smart growth,” meaning mixed-use development connected with public transit.

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