By Laura Plummer
Special to the Gazette
Residents from Jamaica Plain and surrounding neighborhoods attended a town hall-style meeting at The English High School on April 12, to discuss the future of the Shattuck Hospital campus, which included suggestions to return some of the land to Franklin Park and to build housing for people in recovery from addiction.
The forum was the first in a series presented by the state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to elicit popular opinion on the development of the grounds. Approximately 80 people attended, including local state Rep. Liz Malia.
HHS announced in February that Shattuck Hospital will transition its operations to a facility in the South End by 2021. The massive move will include the relocation of some 260 combined medical and psychiatric beds and 700 employees to the new location on Newton Street in the South End. Shattuck is home to several private nonprofits that will remain on the thirteen-acre campus abutting Franklin Park, but the majority of the buildings will likely be razed. Now local residents want to have a say in what will be done with the terrain.
“We have put out a bid to hire an urban planner about what the re-use of the Shattuck campus should be,” HHS Secretary Marylou Sudders informed the crowd.
Law requires that any use of the state-owned plot satisfy a demonstrated public health need. Among the ideas that had been floated prior to the reunion were a “recovery campus”–an academic institution for young people recovering from drug and alcohol abuse–and an opioid research center. Residents had also expressed the desire to absorb the parcel back into Franklin Park.
The notion of integrating Shattuck property into Franklin Park was a common theme in the April 12 gathering as well, with leadership from the Franklin Park Coalition present. Jamaica Plain resident and conservation activist Gerry Wright proposed returning the property to the park to observe the 200th birthday of Emerald Necklace park planner Frederick Law Olmsted, a suggestion that was met with applause.
One participant wondered if the current nonprofits operating out of the Shattuck–Bay Cove, Pine Street Inn, Victory Programs and High Point Treatment Center–could benefit by expanding their services into the existing acreage.
Zack DeClerck, a resident of Jamaica Plain, told this reporter that he would like to see the space used to create longer-term housing opportunities for individuals leaving detox facilities. As an individual in recovery himself, DeClerck said he was invested in the fate of the Shattuck campus.
“Sober houses are largely unregulated and poorly managed,” he noted, adding that patients are often turned out after thirty days. He also supported the idea of a recovery campus moving into the space.
However, the main theme of the evening was not what will be done with the area, but exactly how that decision would be made.
“What people here need is an opportunity to talk about lands in their own community,” said Bernard Doherty, vice chair of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council. “We need to know how and why our tax dollars are being spent.”
“We’re the taxpayers. We’re the bosses,” he continued. “Hiring a consultant to manage us is not the answer.”
Doherty specifically mentioned a current proposal by the Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance (DCAMM) to transform a two-acre corner of the Shattuck campus into permanent affordable housing. He reported that the proposal would be voted on after only two public hearings, one of which was held April 26. Beth Rubenstein, the Deputy Commissioner of DCAMM’s Office of Real Estate Management, was in attendance and confirmed the timetable. [Editor’s note: The housing in question would be for people who are “chronically homeless,” according to the state’s website.]
“What it sounds like is that the State is fast-tracking this,” said Doherty. “I find this moving way too fast. I personally will do all in my power to fight this until we get a fair view.”
Attendees recommended that the state consider adding additional hearings and elongating the review period between each hearing before deciding on the future of the terrain.
Malia was vocal in her support of strong civic participation.
“As a resident of Jamaica Plain, I totally understand that people are protective and concerned about what happens,” she offered. “I have a lot of faith that there’s going to be a process. We will ask lots of questions. That’s what we’re like in JP.”
Secretary Sudders echoed the desire to work collaboratively with the City and with local residents to find a solution that benefits all parties. She emphasized that the chosen planner would be expected to engage with community members. “There will be an advisory council that includes JP residents,” she said.
But Roxbury resident Tony Brewer highlighted a need for representation from his own neighborhood in the ongoing dialogue.
“There’s a component that’s missing in this room,” he said. “That’s where I live, on the other side of Franklin Park.”
Brewer stated that Roxbury residents abutting Franklin Park should be deliberately engaged in the conversations. However, he asserted that he didn’t want to see progress delayed due to years of public debate.
For more information and a schedule on upcoming meetings, go to bit.ly/2F3ujhY.
[This article has been updated.]