White Stadium proposal criticized at JPNC meeting

The Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Council (JPNC) held its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, March 26, via Zoom. Chair Renee Stacey Welch presided over the session that was attended by Jordan Frias from the office of new District 6 City Councilor Ben Weber (a former member of the JPNC) and Caroline Peters, the new liaison to Jamaica Plain from the mayor’s office.

The council heard from its various committees. 

Dave Baron, the chair of the Zoning Committee, reported that there has been only a “trickle” of applications for zoning relief in recent months. He said the project for 305 Chestnut Ave., the condemned house known as the historic Finch House at the bottom of Chestnut at Green St., is under agreement with a development team that is trying to convert the structure into units with six parking spaces. Baron said the developer’s proposal includes a design that will maintain the historical facade of the current building in the front,

He said that there were both opponents and proponents of the proposal at the committee’s most recent hearing. One aspect of the project is that the developer, as a condition of the purchase and sale, has to offer a unit for the current owner, which is why the developer could not reduce the number of units below six, as some opponents had requested. 

The upshot is that the Zoning Committee did not make a recommendation about the proposal and therefore was not seeking a vote from the full JPNC. The developer thus will have to go before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals without any recommendation from the local council.

Michael Reiskind presented the report of the Public Service Committee. He said the committee heard an update from the city’s Route 39 Transit Priority Corridor program representative, who presented the draft plans for the project.

“The plans are sensitive to the issues along the street and there will be very little removal of parking on-street spaces in the central business district,” said Reiskind, who added that bus lanes are being proposed along South St. and at the Kirby School. He said there will be a priority of improving the light signalization, especially along Forest Hills and Huntington Ave. Reiskind also said there will be improvements to the bus stops with sidewalk repair and shelters along the busy route, which is the fifth busiest in the entire MBTA system and serves the city’s exam high schools and the Longwood Hospital area.

Reiskind and the other committee members who were on hand for that meeting lauded the city’s Transit Planner, Maya Mugdal, a recent graduate of Northeastern, for her straightforward presentation to the committee.

Reiskind also spoke briefly about the Better Bike Lanes project and said the committee is seeking input from the community regarding a list of streets and sidewalks that need repairs in JP. He lastly noted that the annual Love Your Block event is coming up on Saturday, April 27, and asked for requests if someone wishes to be included in the event.

Chair Katherine O’Shea presented the report of the Outreach Committee. She noted that two new attendees from the community were on hand for the committee’s March meeting. She also said that the committee’s flyers and business cards, which have the goal of getting more JP residents involved with the council, were to be ready for distribution on April 9.

She finally noted that the committee has reserved a table for the annual Wake Up the Earth Festival on May 4 from 12-5 in the afternoon for which she was seeking volunteers.

The report of the Housing and Development Committee was presented by its chair, Danielle Somer Kieta, who noted that the meeting was a brief one and touched on two big topics in the JP community, the Arborway Yard and the White Stadium proposal.

She noted that there was a question among her committee members as to which of the JPNC’s committees should take on the White Stadium matter. However, the full JPNC took no action regarding assigning the issue to a committee. 

Nicholas Chaves, the co-chair of the Parks Committee, noted that White Stadium is a large project that may require more involvement than what a single committee can provide.

He noted that the Franklin Park Coalition conducted a survey of residents regarding the plans for White Stadium and said he is hoping that city officials will make a presentation to the Parks Committee about the exact scope of the project. He also added that city officials are planning to conduct a series of informational meetings in the coming month. The city is proposing to have the stadium become the home field for the new professional women’s soccer team that will be coming to Boston in 2026.

Carolyn Royce voiced support for the notion that the JPNC should become involved with the White Stadium proposal (as well as the re-use of the Shattuck Hospital), at least to the extent of providing information sessions to the JP community.

Gert Thorn suggested that the city is not providing the full scope of the project to residents, and that his fellow council members should be aware of what the city is doing, which he referred to as “segmentation” in order to win approval from residents in piecemeal fashion, which he said is “unethical.”

Reiskind expressed the hope that the Shattuck and White Stadium issues do not divide the various communities and neighborhoods in the area, which he said include JP, Dorchester, Mattapan, and Roxbury. 

“This is a shared park among multiple neighborhoods and everyone has an equal say,” said Reiskind. “Let’s not have neighborhood against neighborhood and see if we can come up with a shared consensus.”

Doherty said White Stadium impacts JP greatly and that the stadium — where he ran track meets 50 years ago in high school — has been ignored for many years. “This is public land and people need to understand that this is a commercial operation,” said Doherty. “The reality is that we in JP will be greatly affected by this proposal and it is our job to make sure we get the word out to make sure residents understand what the impacts could be. We can’t rush it, but this is what is happening with White Stadium, which is being pushed and pushed on us by the city. And Shattuck will have an even greater impact.”

Resident Michael Epp said the city is being deceptive in its approach to informing the community of the project and that the lack of community input is “not democratic. Women’s soccer should be in a fabulous stadium with access to public transportation,” he said.

Carla-Lisa Caliga echoed that sentiment, saying that B.U.’s Nickerson Field is a much better place for a women’s soccer team.

In other Parks Committee-related matters, Chaves said that the annual Muddy River Clean-Up day is scheduled for Saturday, April 20. Chaves said he reserved a time frame from 10-12 AM for the clean-up of Olmstead Park and is seeking volunteers to participate in the event.

Thorn asked Chaves to have the Parks Comm. become more involved with adding signage to the walkway around Jamaica Pond to make it clear that bicyclists are not permitted. Thorn noted that yet another person on foot was struck by a bicycle this past week.

Royce said the Arborway Yard subcommittee of the Housing and Development Committee recently met and requested that the full council approve the appointment of the members of the subcommittee and the inclusion on the JPNC’s website of a description of what the committee does. After some back and forth among the JPNC members, the full council voted in favor of both of Royce’s requests.

Under the new business portion of the meeting, Epp said he opposed the proposal to turn the Shattuck into the “largest drug rehab facility in the country.” He also suggested that the city should have a more democratic approach to imposing speed humps on streets in JP.

The next meeting of the council is scheduled for April 23.

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