When residents beyond Massachusetts Avenue in the South End saw their resident parking disappear virtually overnight last summer – amidst many other changes taking place in that often-forgotten area of the South End – they decided it was time to organize.
And on Tuesday night, Jan. 14, the Alexandra-Ball Neighborhood Association held its first meeting ever to discuss and address issues in the area from Northampton Street to Ball Street – and between Harrison and Shawmut avenues.
“A lot of us have been living down here for years and have been able to make things ourselves,” said Mike Fleming, secretary of the Association. “Lately, we’ve had things creep into the neighborhood that made us have to go through and form a more formal channel. We began organizing in December and had our first formal meeting Jan. 14. We’ve had great participation so far.”
Along with Fleming, Attorney James Dilday has been elected president, and Pastor Pedro Castro has been elected vice president. The group will meet at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month in the Grant AME Church basement.
Fleming said they would add more officers and board members at a certain point, but wanted to start small and build up the organization.
A key reason for the new organization was the loss of the neighborhood’s South End resident parking last summer at the hands of Councilor Kim Janey, who filed an emergency order to remove the signs and resident parking in the area without any community process. Councilor Janey has yet to return queries from the Sun about the move last summer.
“That was one of the decisions made that caused us to have to organize,” Fleming said, noting he has lived there since 2005. “In July, Councilor Janey took away our residential parking. I talked to many, many offices in the City and she was quietly looking to change a lot of the area’s parking beyond Mass Ave from the South End. Our neighborhood was the first on the her agenda. What happened is we got that stopped…At this point, we still don’t have our parking re-instituted. While we stopped the expansion, it hasn’t relieved our issue.”
The parking issue was ignited, it is said, over the naming of the new hotel on Melnea Cass Boulevard – known as the Residence Inn South End. Many opposed that because they thought it should be named Roxbury, and staked a claim on the small neighborhood as being in Roxbury and not the South End. That ignited a firestorm that has any numbers of opinions on the matter. Former State Rep. Byron Rushing, widely believed to be the expert on the matter, is adamant that the area is part of the South End.
Fleming said Boston Transportation is on their agenda for the February meeting, and they hope to address their parking issue. Other issues include the amounts of development that has come to the area, with a new hotel, new residential projects and even a refurbishment of Ramsey Park.
Fleming said they are now fully into dealing with the opiate crisis that was centered at Mass/Cass and now has migrated to their neighborhood around Ramsey Park.
“Down here it’s always had a lot of challenges, specifically with Ramsey Park,” he said. “We worked for many years to improve it – removing benches and getting the liquor store to stop selling ‘nip’ bottles. Like most of the South End, though, when Atkinson Street happened in August, we were also really impacted. At a certain point, the Methadone Mile had crept into the area by the hotel and the school bus yard. Our thing that we really want to do is figure out how to bring more positive into the area. I think Ramsey is one of the most beautiful parks in the city.”
One thing they have thought about is adding a dog park to Ramsey Park, which has been an effective way in other parts of the South End to bring positive activity into challenged parks. He said they also hope to be able to make suggestions on how to use the development mitigation money that has been tagged for Ramsey – perhaps bringing programming that the community would like to see.
That’s where the Parks Department comes in, and they are also slated to be at the February meeting as well.
Other issues include better crosswalks on Washington Street, which is a wide thoroughfare left over from the old elevated Orange Line. Children from the Grant AME Church are said to often have a tough time safely crossing from the church to the park on Sundays. The next meeting of Alexandra-Ball will be on Feb. 11, 7 p.m., in the basement of the Grant AME Church. The organization’s officers are also expected to give a presentation to the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association on Jan. 21 in the D-4 Police Station.