Letter: Apply city vision to Washington St.

December 2, 2011
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As neighbors of the Arborway Yard, we were disappointed the project failed to win federal funding. However, across the street, another key development is happening at the former Flanagan & Seaton automobile warehouse at 3521-3529 Washington St. This 3.4-acre development, bordered by McBride and Burnett streets, could double the number of residential units on Burnett and provide needed retail services along Washington. This property represents a fraction of land slated for redevelopment that, along with the removal of the Casey Overpass, has the potential to stimulate positive change—if done well.

The Stonybrook Neighborhood Association (SNA) seeks to ensure that these projects benefit the neighborhood and support 21st century values of sustainability and livability. When the developers of 3521 Washington approached us for feedback, we formed a working group to monitor the project, inform the neighborhood and solicit opinion. The SNA subcommittee conducted surveys and held countless meetings to build consensus. Besides separate residential components, the developers propose a suburban-style shopping center and a large parking lot anchored by a massive storage facility. In contrast, the neighbors desire an urban, transit-oriented, mixed-use development with expanded green space. Over 100 residents completed an association-sponsored survey, with 90 percent agreeing that “bicycling, transit use and walking should be supported on par or better with automobile use.”

Not surprisingly, these sentiments reflect existing Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) guidelines for the Arborway Yard and other area parcels. Only three years ago, the BRA formulated its Forest Hills Improvement Initiative Use and Design Guidelines, stating, “All new buildings and uses should promote pedestrian, bicycle and public transit use, with only the minimum parking necessary…” Furthermore, the neighborhood “should be a model for green/sustainable development, including…transit-oriented, neighborhood-scaled development…” These guidelines call for 0.75 to 1.0 automobile parking spaces per 1,000 square feet of retail space. Yet, 3521 Washington’s proposed parking ratio is 2.5+ spaces, in contrast to a nearby BRA-approved parcel at Ukraine and Washington with a parking ratio of just over 1.0.

The City of Boston has its own “Smart, Green and Multimodal” initiative dubbed Boston Complete Streets (BCS), which aims to create “great public spaces,” and “address climate change and promote healthy living” by tackling transportation equity. According to its website, “approximately 75% of all trips within a neighborhood are made on foot.”

The redevelopment of 3521 Washington creates a unique opportunity to implement this initiative by establishing green space, incorporating into the Southwest Corridor the empty MBTA land abutting this property and creating community gardens. A serious-minded developer should welcome the chance to be a part of these improvements.

We request that the BRA follow the spirit of the Forest Hills Improvement Initiative and only approve forward-thinking developments. We also ask that the City uphold its Boston Complete Streets tenets to ensure a vibrant, livable Washington streetscape for all.

On Dec. 7 at the English High School Library, the Boston Transportation Department will present how Complete Streets could apply to Washington Street. We encourage everyone to participate in this conversation about its future.

Carl Lowenberg

Frederick Vetterlein

Co-chairs, Stonybrook Neighborhood Association

Jamaica Plain

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