The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) met virtually on September 28, where members heard a presentation from the MBTA regarding the Arborway Yard.
Scott Hamwey, Director of Bus Modernization for the MBTA, came to the meeting to discuss the MBTA’s plans for the site as it prepares to electrify the city’s bus fleet.
Hamwey explained that the bus has been a “very resilient” mode of transportation during the pandemic, and is the “most flexible service we run.” However, the “mode is in significant need of reinvestment in order to deliver the type of service that our riders expect and deserve…and do that in a way that meets community goals,” he said.
He also said that the T “wants to be a leader” in electrification, as well as “support more reliable service by keeping our average fleet age down.”
The size of the fleet must be increased to meet the increased demand, he added.
“We’re optimistic that our demand will come back all the way, so we’re looking to increase capacity at our facilities through the program,” he said.
There are nine bus facilities that range in size, and “most of them are close to a half century old or much older,” Hamwey said. There are only a “couple” that are younger than 20 years old, and the Arborway Yard is one of them. The facility was intended to be temporary, but has remained.
He said that none of the bus facilities “are really set up to support a battery electric bus fleet at any scale,” and there is limited room to increase capacity as well.
“Staying ahead of the retirement cycle of our different fleets is another thing we need to consider,” Hamwey said.
“Arborway ranks at the top in terms of percentage of households of color or percentage of low income households served by the routes that we operate out of Arborway,” he added.
The natural gas fleet that runs out of Arborway currently is set to retire at the end of this decade, so the MBTA is now “in a place to convert this facility to battery buses” to “stay ahead of the retirement.”
There are currently two functions at the Arborway Yard, including the bus facility on the lefthand side of 3600 Washington St.,which opened as a temporary site in 2003, as well as the MBTA office building at 500 Arborway that was built about 60 years ago as the MBTA’s headquarters.
He said that there have been “a lot of discussions about this site over the last quarter century,” and a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was signed in 2001 outlining several provisions for the site. Hamwey said that the “most problematic MOU provision” is the fleet size, which is to remain at 118. He said that the MBTA’s current target “to advance our modernization” is 200 buses.
The redesigned Arborway site would be the MBTA’s first multilevel bus facility, and would include employee parking either below grade or on top of the facility.
“We certainly hope that the benefits of this new facility will outweigh any of the negatives,” Hamwey said.
Additionally, the new facility would be the first to accommodate both 40 and 60 foot buses, which would allow additional routes to move to this facility and become electrified.
Right now, the MBTA is working on a conceptual design internally, and will eventually gold public meetings and meetings with other stakeholders to discuss the design.
The “subsequent phases are currently unfunded,” he said, but he said the hope is to begin construction in 2024 and complete construction by the end of 2027, which “fits nicely with the retirement date” of the current buses, which are set to retire in 2028.
Hamwey said that inside the facility, buses will be charged overnight using overhead chargers, which will get electricity from underground.
“We’re committed to preserving as much space as we can for development to happen on the site after we’ve accomplished our program,” he said.
He also spoke about the Quincy bus facility, which is the first facility to undergo work to allow for electrification. That facility is expected to be completed in 2024.
Committee Reports Zoning Committee:
Zoning Committee chair Dave Baron reported on several zoning matters that came before the committee in September, including 14 and 14 Porter St., 7 and 9 Wenham St. (which was not up for a vote), 97-99 Williams St., and 7 Cataumet St.
14-14 Porter St.
At 12-14 Porter St., the proposal was to build a new two family dwelling with two parking spaces, Baron said, and several neighbors came in support of the project.
“There was really no opposition, but members of the committee thought the house looks a little funny the way it’s designed,” he said, as there is a “lack of symmetry” with the second floor, so the committee proposed to add a second floor window which was accepted by the applicants.
The full Council voted to approve this proposal.
97-99 Williams St.
Baron reported that 97-99 Williams St. “had gone through a full process” previously to build a six unit building at 99 Williams St. next to the existing three unit building at 97 Williams St.
“The original proposal had the support of the Zoning Committee and this Council, but did not have the support of the Stonybrook Neighborhood Association,” Baron said. The project was then also denied by the Zoning Board of appeal.
“This time, [the project] had the support of the SNA that certainly made our job at the Zoning Committee a lot easier,” Baron said. He said changes were made and a Memorandum of Understanding created between the SNA and the applicant “relating to open space and the maintenance of trees and of the parcel. The buildings were also made slightly smaller. The Council approved this with the same provisos in the SNA’s MOU.
7 Cataumet St.
At 7 Cataumet St., the proposal is to create a two story addition in the rear of a single family house. The Jamaica Hills Association voted not to oppose the project, and no neighbors were in opposition either, Baron said. The Council voted to approve.
Public Service Committee
As previously reported by the Gazette, the Public Service Committee heard several requests for licenses at BMS Paper on Washington St., as well as Mike & Patty’s slated for the former Sorella’s space, and Ethiopian Cafe.
The BMS requests for an all-alcohol license for a proposed two floor restaurant as well as for a deli counter did not receive a vote by the committee, as they felt they needed more information before making a vote.
At Mike & Patty’s, which is proposed for the former Sorella’s space at 386 Centre St., the applicant is asking for a common victualler beer and wine with liqueurs license, as well as takeout with Robert Powers as manager and a closing hour of 11:00pm.
Committee chair Michael Reiskind reported that the JPNC Executive Committee approved this proposal because the legal hearing for the license was at the end of August.
“Everybody felt comfortable and embraced the applicant with open arms,” Reiskind said.
Ethiopian Cafe at 377A Centre St. has asked for an all alcohol license, which also went before the city’s licensing board prior to this meeting, and was approved by the Executive Committee.
Housing and Development Committee
Sam Montano reported that Michael Kane, Executive Director at the National Alliance of HUD Tenants, presented at the committee meeting about the “gridlock” tenants are experiencing with the owner of the Forbes Building as an agreement has yet to be reached regarding the future of the affordable units in the building.
Montano also reported that the Hyde Square Task Force has chosen several developers to present their proposals for the Blessed Sacrament Church. A final community meeting was held on September 30, and Hyde Square Task Force is expected to choose a final developer this month.