JPNC Members Criticize New Plans for Arborway Garage, Refer to City Yard as a ‘Dump’

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting this past Tuesday evening. Chair Renee Stacey Welch and fellow members Michael Reiskind, Bernie Doherty, Sarah Freeman, Gert Thorn, Peg Preble, Leah Simmons, Peter DeCotis, Dave Baron, Purple Reign, Willie Miitchell, Katherine O’Shea, and Luke Mathew, were on hand for the session.

Also attending the meeting were State Rep. Sam Montano; Melissa Beltran, the JP liaison from Mayor Michelle Wu’s office; and Michael Giordano from the office of State Rep. Bill MacGregor.

The council initially took up the matter of filling a seat on the council that still remained open after the council’s recent election in June. After Welch informed the members that there was a vacancy in Area A, the council voted to elect Esther Beillard to take the vacant spot.

The main discussion of the evening centered on the MBTA’s proposed Arborway bus project in order to house a significant portion of its coming electric bus fleet. The project has been in the works since 2001 — long before electric buses were imaginable. The city at that time signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) (on which former Mayor Thomas Menino was the signatory) with the T that promised mitigation measures to the JP community in return for the construction of a new bus garage.

The city also stated in the MOU that it would be relinquishing its so-called pole yard adjacent to the garage. Per the original MOU, that acreage would be used to create an eight-acre site on the parcel for community development purposes, including affordable housing and retail space.

Carolyn Royce of the JPNC’s Arborway Yard Committee updated the council on the project and reported on a recent meeting with city officials.

“The key takeaway is that the city will be significantly involved with the project,” said Royce.

She noted however, that the city officials who attended the meeting said that changes in circumstances since the original MOU was signed in 2001 have necessitated changes to the original project, the most significant of which is that the city intends to retain the so-called pole-yard acreage in order to accommodate the DPW’s needs for salt storage and recycling.

That will mean that the eight acres that had been designated for community development now will be reduced to 6.8 acres. She said that the city envisions  constructing 980 units of affordable housing on the 6.8 acre parcel, in addition to retail space.

However, the veteran members of the council who were on hand at the time of the original 2001 MOU vigorously objected to the city’s change in position regarding the pole-yard site, as well as the T’s changes to the garage itself.

Doherty noted the increase in size of the new garage, compared to the 2001 original design, and warned of the potential dangers of such a large structure housing volatile electric batteries.

Thorn also questioned the enormous increase in the size of the garage compared to the original design, while Freeman suggested that given the increase in the number of buses at the new facility, there should be additional mitigation measures for the community.

Reiskind emphasized that the original design was much different from what is being proposed today. He said the original goal for the garage was for it to fit in with an urban-oriented neighborhood, but the new design has taken on the appearance of a suburban-looking facility.

The discussion culminated with members referring to the city’s plans for a DPW yard essentially as a “dump” for recycling that will include hazardous materials, along with the storage of mulch and road salt, which overall will be a detriment to the community.

Prior to the discussion of the garage project, the council heard reports from the chairs of its subcommittees.

Reiskind, the chair of the Public Service Committee, reported that the committee set its goals for the next two years in the areas of transportation, safety, and public works. He noted that bicycle safety and requesting additional police officers to patrol the business district were new priorities.

O’Shea, representing the Outreach Committee. asked the full council to approve the new roster of the committee, which received the unanimous support of the full council. She also noted that the subcommittee’s priorities included updating the council’s web site and social media and looking into establishing the council as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, primarily to raise funds.

However, Reiskind and Doherty noted that the council has rejected that idea in the past. They cautioned that establishing the council as a charitable organization would raise questions about the independence of the JPNC if it were to accept donations either from the city or private organizations.

O’ Shea said that the next meeting of the committee on September 12 will focus on educating both new council members and members of the community about how the JPNC  functions.

Welch reported that the Housing and Development Committee discussed the proposed development at the Shattuck Hospital site. She also noted that Danielle Sommer-Kieta was nominated as the new chair of the committee and Purple Reign as the new vice-chair, both of which will be voted upon at the committee’s next meeting.

The next meeting of the JPNC is set for September 19.

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