By Rebeca Oliveira and John Ruch/Gazette Staff
The American Legion Highway site where a City pole yard is moving—and where some residents would like to relocate the Arborway Yard bus facility—is already occupied by two private businesses and partly controlled by Zoo New England (ZNE).
And as further complication, the businesses are embroiled in an eviction and boundary-line dispute.
The parcel at 415 American Legion Highway is owned by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR). But part of it is controlled and maintained by ZNE, which operates Franklin Park Zoo. The site’s use is split into three parts.
The westernmost end is leased by DCR to Landscape Express, Inc., operated by Greg Kaknes. The smallest, middle part is leased by ZNE to City Soil & Greenhouse LLC, operated by Bruce Fulford. The easternmost part of the property is a parking lot slated to become the new home of a City pole yard currently located at 327 Forest Hills St.
Relocating the existing pole yard is a critical step in the construction of the MBTA’s planned permanent Arborway Yard bus facility at the Arborway and Washington Street. However, that facility’s construction remains unfunded and it is unclear why the pole yard is moving now. MBTA and state Department of Transportation officials previously said it is unrelated to upcoming construction of the adjacent Casey Arborway project. But DCR spokesperson Bill Hickey told the Gazette it is indeed related to that project.
Earlier this year, JP resident Allan Ihrer proposed that the future bus yard be built instead on the entire American Legion Highway parcel, allowing for the Arborway property to be developed into transit-oriented housing instead.
ZNE’s control of part of the site dates to many years ago, when the now independent zoo was managed by DCR’s predecessor agency, the Metropolitan District Commission, according to Hickey. ZNE designated the site as overflow parking, though it is over a mile from the zoo site.
The pole yard is moving under agreement with ZNE, Hickey said.
Meanwhile, City Soil is in an eviction dispute involving DCR and ZNE, according to Fulford, who also has boundary disputes with the neighboring business.
Fulford said he received a one-day eviction notice from ZNE on April 4. The eviction has been stalled, but Fulford is still fighting it, he said. He alleges that DCR intends to lease the property to Landscape Express instead. Hickey said that DCR has no involvement in the lease and that ZNE is in charge of that.
“The Zoo did not want to evict us. They are strongly supportive of us. [But] they are not in a position where they can resist DCR effectively,” Fulford told the Gazette in a phone interview. “We understood we could be terminated by the Zoo if they had another use for it, [but] our competitor convinced DCR to give them the land.”
“They’ve essentially cut the legs out from under us,” he said.
“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Kaknes, the Landscape Express owner, told the Gazette. “It’s really dispiriting to hear him say these things. Bruce has been nothing but confrontational with us. The problem is, we’re competitors.”
Kaknes said neither he nor his employees have interfered with Fulford’s business in any way. He said Fulford is failing to recognize the properties’ boundary lines.
ZNE said, through a representative, that, “there was some confusion about the delineation of boundaries. For the time being, we have come to an agreement on these boundaries. We have verbally modified and reduced the space currently available to City Soils.”
Hickey said DCR also worked on resolving the boundary dispute. DCR is the landlord of Landscape Express, which pays $10,000 to use the site under a five-year permit, and also provides DCR with free processing of organic material.