JPNC Housing Comm. votes to send letter to the MBTA regarding new Arborway garage

The Housing and Development Committee (HDC) of the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting this past Monday. Chairperson Danielle Sommer-Kieta and committee and community members Purple Reign, Esther Beillard, Bernie Doherty, Gert Thorn, Willie Mitchell, Jaia Aiyer, Pam Bender, Carolyn Royce, Renee Stacey Welch, Allan Ihrer, Susan Cibulsky, Sarah Freeman, and Sam Naylor were on hand for the meeting.

The main business before the committee was a request by the Arborway Garage Subcommittee for approval by the full HDC of a motion to send a lengthy letter (see full text of the letter below) to the MBTA concerning the T’s Arborway garage project that will house 200 of the T’s proposed electrified bus fleet. The T is hoping to have all of its buses be electric-powered by 2040 and the new Arborway garage, which will replace the existing bus depot facility in Stony Brook at 3600 Washington St. adjacent to the Arborway, will be among a few hubs in the T’s system that will be capable of storing and recharging the new electric buses.

Thorn, who is a member of the garage subcommittee, presented the letter to the full HDC. The letter demands that the MBTA keep intact the eight acres of community development land that was part of the original Arborway Garage project that was developed more than 20 years ago and which were referenced in the original Memorandum of Understanding signed by then-Mayor Tom Menino and the MBTA. Further, the letter demands that the T rescind its proposal for 150 employee parking spaces within the eight acres and relocate the employee parking to the nearby Forest Hills T station.

The other requests within the letter pertain to landscaping, the exterior siding of the garage, access ramps, limiting the roadways through the community development land, and regular communication by the MBTA’s architects with architects chosen from within the community.

Doherty pushed back on sending the letter, particularly objecting to asking the T to construct a new garage for employee parking at the Forest Hills station, which Doherty said will be detrimental to the residents of the Forest Hills area. 

“The residents of Jamaica Plain should be made aware of this letter before we act on it,” said Doherty, who also suggested that the T’s proposal to house 200 buses in the garage — which is a much-larger number than what the original garage project from 20 years ago envisioned — should be used as a bargaining chip by the community.

“In addition, there are light issues, noise issues, and congestion issues, among others, that need to be addressed by the full Jamaica Plain community. We are moving too fast and need to receive input from the residents we are representing before we take action on a letter such as this,” Doherty added.

Cibulski agreed with Doherty regarding not moving employee parking for the new garage facility to Forest Hills. She also stated, “for the record,” that those who represent the JP community at the meetings with the T should be respectful toward city and MBTA officials.

After some more back-and-forth, Royce circled back to the larger picture, namely, that the new garage will house a large number of the MBTA’s new electric bus fleet that will be of tremendous benefit to the entire area and that the project should move forward as expeditiously as possible without being impeded unnecessarily by the community groups.

The HDC voted in favor of adopting an amended motion that struck the language recommending Forest Hills as the sole alternative for employee parking and also removed the request for meetings between local architects and the T’s architects.

The letter was scheduled to go before the full Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council for approval at its meeting this evening (December 21).

The original letter, without the amendments, is as follows: (Please note that the committee voted to amend the letter by not specifically endorsing the relocation of the employee parking for the new garage facility to Forest Hills and by striking item #5 altogether.)

“On December 18, 2023, the Arborway Subcommittee approved the following motion, and moves to have the JPNC Housing Committee adopt this motion:

“The JPNC Arborway Subcommittee acknowledges the improvements by the MBTA to make the design and size of the Arborway Bus Yard more compatible with the JPNC community, and reflecting responses to community concerns.

“However, for JPNC’s concurrence with the Current MBTA’s Proposal, we request that the following conditions be adhered to:

“1.To keep intact the 8-acre commitment by the City of Boston and the MBTA as the ‘no less than 8 acres for Community Development,’ and unburdened, except for the two bus access lanes. The MBTA’s proposed 150 employee parking spaces will be housed either as structured parking or as revised surface parking at the Forest Hills Commuter Lot, and provided by the MBTA.

This maintains the commitment by the City of Boston and the MBTA to the ‘no less than 8 acres for Community Development.’

Note that any potential MBTA garage structure on the 8 acres Community Development Site would have substantially impeded and financially burdened any Community Development including moderate costs housing.

“During the construction of this MBTA employee garage at Forest Hill Station, temporary commuter surface parking can be provided by the MBTA on the 8 Acre Community parcel.

“2. The new MBTA Bus Facility will be clad on all sides with an attractive full height wall to enclose the buses, and reduce light and noise pollution.

“3. Landscaping, including berms and ‘living green walls’ will be used to obscure the bus and maintenance facility, including a green buffer including additional trees on adjoining streets.

“4. Additional issues remain to be resolved between the community and the MBTA such as the Stonley Parking, design of the access ramps on the Community Parcel, and the actual design of the building in the upcoming Design Phases.

“5. The MBTA will meaningfully facilitate regular design interaction between their Architect/Design Team and the Architects/Planners representing the JPNC Arborway Subcommittee and the JPNC. This is in addition to regularly scheduled meetings with the JPNC Arborway Subcommittee and the public.

“The current MBTA Design Scheme for the Arborway Bus Yard, as noted in the attached drawing, highlighted in red, includes housing for 200 electric buses in a one story structure, and with an adjacent two story structure containing the maintenance facility and offices with bus access from Washington Ave.

“All of the relevant JPNC committees are asked and encouraged to support this motion, with final approval requested of the JPNC for issuance to the MBTA and the City of Boston.”

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