JPNC members express differing opinions on T’s Arborway Garage plans

A discussion at the October 25 meeting of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) about the MBTA’s long-delayed Arborway Garage project revealed significant differences of opinion among the members of the council regarding the T’s newy-revised proposal for the site, which is being designed to house a significant portion (up to 200 buses) of the MBTA’s electric bus fleet. The new Arborway Garage is essential to the T’s goal of having an all-electric bus fleet by 2040.

The JPNC recently created an Arborway Yard Subcommittee (which met on October 16) whose members attended the T’s meeting on the garage the day before (October 24) at which T officials presented a revised plan for the garage after receiving community input for the past year.

Garage subcommittee chairperson Gert Thorn, a long-time member of the JPNC, made a brief presentation to accompany a written report (see full text below) that touched on the history of the project, which dates back to 1999 (for housing the T’s then-diesel buses, long before electric buses were even a thought) and for which a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the city and the T eventually was developed a few years later that was signed by then-Mayor Tom Menino. 

Thorn said that the three principal goals of the subcommittee are: to reduce the size of the garage; to preserve the set-aside of eight acres for community development on the site that were part of the original MOU as mitigation for the project (the T’s original proposal for the electric bus garage reduced the community development acreage from eight to about six acres because the city decided to keep its former pole yard on the site for DPW purposes); and to allow for access to the Stony Brook culvert that traverses underneath the garage. He suggested that the T had not fulfilled those promises, noting in particular that though the new plan reinstates the eight acres for community development, they have been carved up into a parking lot, access roadways, and green space that could make the eight acres effectively unuseable for housing or commercial development. 

However, recently-elected JPNC member Katherine O’Shea, who also attended the T’s meeting on October 24, said she felt that the T’s proposed new design for the garage and redesign for the site itself were “very impressive” and that those who have a “negative” view may have come into the meeting with preconceived opinions.

Another long-time JPNC member, Bernard Doherty, who attended the T’s October 24 meeting, took a middle-of-the-road, wait-and-see approach. Doherty said he seems “favorably inclined toward the new plan,” but added a caveat.

“We shouldn’t be jumping up and down until we have time to think about it,” Doherty said. “Let’s educate ourselves to understand what they’re talking about so that we have a better understanding of how we can approach this. But I do not have a great faith in the MBTA because politics invariably enters into the process and money will have to be approved by the state legislature on a regular basis before the project is completed.”

The written report presented to the JPNC members at the October 25 meeting by the Arborway Garage Subcommittee was as follows:

Background:  20+ years ago there was a detailed community-involved process in designing a new bus facility at the Arborway Yard.  Unfortunately, the funding fell through, and the facility was never built.  Now funding is back and planning is in progress. JPNC continues to advocate for funding and construction of a new bus yard, to get eight acres turned over for community use per MOU, and to support bus transit.

At this month’s JPNC meeting, we were expecting to hear from the city and the MBTA; instead, the MBTA scheduled a public meeting for the day before our meeting, at English High. Jascha Franklin-Hodge, Chief of Streets, confirmed that city agencies would participate in that presentation.

Our biggest concern is about the disposition of the city-owned DPW lot (formerly known as the “pole yard”) at the corner of Arborway and Forest Hills St.  The city had long stated its intention to turn over that lot to the MBTA, but now has backed off.  Turning over that lot is important because:

— it allows the best location of the facility considering the Stonybrook River; and

— it gives the best shape and size to the mitigation (community development) land for future development.

We were expecting to hear an update on the disposition of this lot at Tuesday’s meeting.

Kevin Higgins, Chief of Staff for Senator Liz Miranda, attended this month’s subcommittee meeting.  We appreciate his presence.

At this past month’s meeting, we discussed previous agreements between the community, the city, the MBTA, and other state and city agencies.  Some elements no longer apply, and some are relevant today.  Design elements relevant today include:

— number of buses and services provided in the facility should be discussed; this affects the size of the facility and traffic;

— frontage on the Arborway: building design and landscaping should acknowledge that this parkway is part of the Emerald Necklace;

— traffic impacts on Arborway, Washington St., and on the mitigation land should be considered in planning;

— limits on parking on-site and use of residential side roads should be considered;

— noise, light, and pollution: how that will be managed should be considered; and

— in general, community input should be considered on building design and optimizing its integration into the neighborhood.

We have invited the Better Bus Project to give a presentation at an upcoming meeting to learn more about the overall plan regarding increased bus transportation services.

Our regular meeting time will be the third Monday of the month, with the next meeting on November 20.

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