Almost unanimously, scores of neighbors from the Castle Square and New York Streets neighborhoods told the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) they would like open space on a lot of City-owned land at Shawmut Avenue.
The BPDA held the initial meeting for the sale of the 8,543 sq. ft. lot – with 50 feet of frontage – on Tuesday night, Jan. 30. BPDA planners Reay Pannesi and Marie Mercurio explained that the zoning for the parcel would allow a building up to 100 feet high, though stepped back. Most recently, the lot was rented for use as a construction storage yard for The Lucas. Now that The Lucas has been completed and the construction equipment moved, the City said it was ready to sell the property.
While mixed-use residential projects are in the zoning, the BPDA said they were there to hear from neighbors, and neighbors said from the get-go that they wanted a park.
“That’s something we want to hear from you,” said Pannesi. “Obviously, the zoning is for how a building would be set up, but if open space is a concern, we could have the emphasize in the RFP that people would like a garden or public spaces.”
That brought about widespread clapping from the audience of about 50 people.
“Well that sounds popular,” she quipped.
One of the major concerns is that the block already houses a redeveloped building in The Lucas, and there are other proposed, permitted or possible large buildings that could emerge on the block – making it tower over Castle Square. Many in the New York Streets side and the Castle Square side felt that the little piece of open space on Shawmut could be the last hope for green space.
BPDA officials did indicate there are no public green space areas in the New York Streets district either constructed or planned.
Deborah Backus, the executive director of Castle Square, said her tenants and businesses want to see green space on the lot. She said there are so many buildings planned or possibly planned, particularly the property owned by the Druker Company, that large buildings could cut them off from the rest of the neighborhood.
“At some point the Druker Company does plan to build a commercial building on the parking lot,” she said. “From our perspective, really 142 needs to be open space. That is the position of 1,300 residents here and 13 commercial properties.”
She further said that if it does come to be open space, then the City should transfer it to a non-profit or Land Trust for a nominal fee, like $1.
“I don’t think we need to get into talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars to get control of that land,” she said. “I think it should be more like $1. To me, that is already our land because we are the City of Boston.”
Jamie Curtis, who lives in the Ink Block and is heavily involved in the New York Streets area, spoke of a “pedestrian experience” that starts at Sepia in Ink Block and travels under 345 Harrison Ave. and on through the parcel in question, and ending at Tremont Street after walking through Castle Square.
“That pedestrian experience along that corridor is very unique and needs to be preserved,” he said. “Having these interconnected pedestrian spaces is critical to the overall neighborhood.”
Said Pannesi, “What the community says is very important to us. If it’s a building we would make more money, certainly, on the land sale, but that’s not our primary concern with pubic land. We want the pulse of the neighborhood and we’re here to see what that is now.”
She and Mercurio said they would take the sentiment back to the BPDA and let them know that a park or open space is unanimously desired. That RFP process is what will begin now, and many in the audience were curious about who it would be that would reply to an RFP for a park.
Mercurio said such replies could come from a non-profit, a land trust, garden groups or a private developer in the area. The key, she said, is proving that there is a plan to update and maintain the parcel into the future.
If it is sold for open space, it would be deed restricted. Both also said the BPDA would score a set of criteria when selling the land, but they can make open space the top priority.