BPDA Moves to Codify Open Space on New York Streets Vacant Lot

For a small piece of vacant land, Parcel 5 attracted an outsized number of voices.

Few development meetings in the South End have been as unanimous as the meeting more than a year ago at Castle Square regarding a small, vacant piece of city-owned land on Shawmut Street between the Lucas and the telephone building. Residents by the dozens came out to call for it to remain open space – the only piece of foreseeable open space in the rapidly developing New York Streets sub-neighborhood.

Now, after 18 months of limbo, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) has recommended that the parcel be deeded as open space, putting the matter on the Feb. 14 (today) Board meeting agenda.

The agenda seeks approval to designate the parcel for open space officially, and then put out an RFP for the disposition of the parcel to a caregiver – such as a gardening group or a Friends group.

“The principal use of this parcel shall be open space,” read the recommendation by the BPDA.

The community reacted very positively to the news, as the open space keeps an historic walking corridor within the block and also creates the first – and likely only – public open space in the New York Streets.

“With so little green space amongst a sea of new buildings, it is very encouraging that the city (BPDA) considered this carefully – and took recommendations from neighborhood associations like East Berkeley under advisement,” said Ken Smith, East Berkeley Neighborhood Association president. “Our board is very pleased with this good news.”

Ted Tye, of National Development – which built the Ink Block, said he was very glad to see the BPDA make the move to provide open space.

“Many in the neighborhood have been strong advocates of creating this much needed open space,” said Tye. “It makes the New York Streets area a more livable place and also helps reinforce the cross street connections for pedestrians that have been incorporated into recent projects. I am thrilled to see it approved.”

The idea of the BPDA using open land in a hot real estate market for a park was not received well by the agency a few years ago when residents of the newly emerging neighborhood began to call for it. Over time, that position evolved and the BPDA began to see Parcel 5 as an opportunity to provide some green relief to what was quickly becoming a sea of concrete and bricks – with the only open space coming within private developments.

The design objectives highlighted in the BPDA order including landscaping the entire lot, but particularly along the Shawmut Avenue frontage. The objectives also called for lighting to keep the area safe at night, and it stipulated that the lighting should match that already in the area.

The RFP that will be advertised, once approved, will look to farm out the open space to an appropriate group – likely a non-profit such as the Trustees.

“The objective of the RFP is to create a permanent, landscaped open space, open to the public to benefit the community, with the future intention of helping to enable an east/west pedestrian connection between Harrison and Shawmut Avenues,” read the BPDA memo.

The parcel is 8,543 square-feet and was most recently used when The Lucas construction crews rented it to store their heavy equipment.

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