T to demolish 500 Arborway building

FOREST HILLS—The MBTA will issue a “site preparation” contract this summer for the Arborway Yard that includes demolishing the now vacant 500 Arborway office building.

But the full reasons and funding for the work remain mysterious, as it is preparation for building a still unfunded $200 million bus maintenance facility—a plan that has stalled for years. MBTA spokesperson Joe Pesaturo offered only fragmentary answers to Gazette questions.

The contract also includes demolishing an adjacent City of Boston pole yard site, partly explaining that facility’s mysterious planned move to Canterbury Street.

The MBTA made no announcement of its site preparation plans. The Gazette discovered them only by asking questions about the City issuing a public bid for the pole yard relocation.

The Arborway Yard at the Arborway and Washington Street currently houses a years-old “temporary” bus maintenance facility. In 1998, with no community notice, the MBTA sought bids for a massive permanent bus facility there. Amid controversy, the MBTA agreed to a lengthy public process that resulted in a community-approved design that includes roughly 8 acres of private mixed-use development and parkland. But the entire plan remains unfunded years later.

Pesaturo and City spokespeople repeatedly told the Gazette that the pole yard’s move this year is required by a 2001 legal agreement about how that future new Arborway Yard bus facility will be built.

But that document, a copy of which the MBTA provided to the Gazette, only says the pole yard must be part of the final Arborway Yard whenever it is built. The agreement does not specify any dates or timelines.

In fact, the City resisted moving the pole yard for years, despite efforts by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and other planners associated with the Arborway Yard.

Questioned further by the Gazette this week, Pesaturo revealed that the pole yard move is related to a larger site prep plan, including the 500 Arborway demolition. That demo plan has been on the MBTA’s agenda for almost three years. But its funding was packaged along with construction of a new facility, which Pesaturo confirms remain unfunded. He did not respond to questions about funding the current work, referring the Gazette to the City about the pole yard.

The City, meanwhile, still has not provided the Gazette with an estimate of what the pole yard move will cost.

As to why the MBTA is moving ahead with site preparation without construction in the foreseeable future, Pesaturo offered circular or incomplete explanations.

“The City must move the pole yard so that the MBTA can begin the process of demolishing the buildings on the pole yard site,” he said. “The MBTA is looking to put a site preparation contract out to bid this summer…The site preparation work can now begin because the MBTA has relocated the employees who had been working at the 500 Arborway facility.”

Last fall, longtime Arborway Yard activist Allan Ihrer proposed an alternative plan to build the bus facility along American Legion Highway and Canterbury Street rather than in Forest Hills. That plan has gained some community interest and support in recent weeks, while the MBTA has said no. His proposed site is exactly where the City aims to relocate the pole yard.

While the pole yard move does not make such a change impossible, it does complicate it. Asked by the Gazette about the pole yard announcement, Ihrer only shrugged and smiled.

Pesaturo said the timing of the pole yard move and related site prep have nothing to do with Ihrer’s plan.

“Did you see the date on the MOU?” Pesaturo said, referring to the 2001 legal agreement.

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