JPNC Raises Questions About Arborway Bus Facility Development

By Adam Swift

Jamaica Plain residents still have plenty of concerns about plans for the Arborway bus yard.

Last week, the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council’s Arborway subcommittee held an online meeting on plans for the long-awaited bus yard.

Specifically, the JPNC meeting focused on two issues, the city’s public works salt yard and the commitment to eight acres of land to be transferred to the city for future development.

A host of city officials from the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) updated the subcommittee on the status of the Arborway plans, although several noted throughout the meeting that the future of the bus yard and surrounding area is dependent on decisions being made by the MBTA.

The debate over the future of the bus yard and the public land stretches back to the turn of the century.

The MBTA signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Boston in 2001 (then-Boston Mayor Tom Menino was the signatory on behalf of the city) which promised a number of mitigation measures to benefit the Jamaica Plain community, including the set-aside of a minimum of eight acres on the site that would be dedicated for community development purposes such as housing and retail development.

However, that original MOU assumed that the city’s so-called pole yard, a 1.5 acre lot that is adjacent to the MBTA property, no longer would be used by the city. However, the city since that time has determined that it will likely hold onto that 1.5 acres for use by the DPW, which has resulted in a reduction of the area to be given by the T for community development from the original eight acres to 6.5 acres.

The purpose of the new garage is to house the T’s anticipated electric bus fleet that will serve Jamaica Plain and the adjacent areas. The MBTA has similar electric-bus garages slated for Quincy and Cambridge, though they too, are falling behind schedule. The electric-bus garage projects are crucial to the T’s goal of having an all-electric bus fleet by 2040.

At the JPNC subcommittee meeting on August 16, subcommittee member Susan Cibulski said the main goals of the subcommittee are to advocate for funding and construction of a new bus yard, to advocate for the full eight acres set aside for use in the MOU to be turned over for development, and to support bus transit.

“The subcommittee requested information from the city a while back as to why the public works site on Forest Hill Street and the Arborway was not included in the land for the MBTA’s bus facility at the Arborway yard,” said Cibulski. “It had long been our expectation, and the city agreed to include that site, which has recently been used for salt and other public works purposes.”

Cibulski said it was a significant issue if the acre and a half was not included in the project as outlined in the 2001 MOU, since it would shift the location of the bus facility on the site and reduce the amount of acreage on the site dedicated to community development.

“We have heard a strong request from members of the community to honor the eight acres of community use land that was outlined in the 2001 memorandum of understanding, the first significant document we have related to this site and how it will be used,” said Jascha Franklin-Hodge, the city’s chief of streets. “However, how we get there is not specifically resolved. We are exploring how we can reduce the size of or relocate some or all of the public works site in a way that fulfills operational needs. We are also looking at other potential changes to the facility design of the layout of the site.”

The exact shape of the future development of the parcel, whatever size it comes in at, won’t begin until the MBTA garage is completed, according to Diana Fernandez, the BPDA deputy director of design. She said the goal is to reduce the size of the DPW yard and increase the area of land for development. Using the current area zoning guidelines, she noted that a 6.5 acre site has the potential for 980 housing units, 85,000 acres of retail space, and three acres of green space.

Recent emphasis for the development of the site has been geared toward affordable housing as well as larger retail such as a grocery store.

During the public speaking portion of the subcommittee meeting, several JPNC members and area residents said they would like to see the salt yard removed from the area, both to increase the potential for development and to remove a blight from the neighborhood. The MBTA plans for the Arborway bus facility are currently at 15 percent, according to Franklin-Hodge, and that planning has not started for the development parcel. The planning will shift to the development of the site when the land is transferred to city after the garage is built, he added.

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