The Boston Planning & Development Agency held a community meeting virtually on Tuesday, March 8, to discuss the proposed Frederick Douglass Peace Garden.
The project site consists of approximately 8,498 square feet of vacant land, comprising two parcels, and is abutted to the southwest by the Bessie Barnes Garden owned by non-profit land conservancy, The Trustees of Reservations; to the northwest by a cobblestone street and a condominium building at 1008-1012 Tremont St.; and to the east by privately owned rowhouses.
Through a license agreement with the Boston Redevelopment Authority (the BPDA’s forerunner), use of the property, which the city acquired after townhouses burned down, was granted to the South End Lower Roxbury Open Space Land Trust (now merged into the Trustees) from 2009 to 2016.
After the license agreement expired, the BPDA held a community meeting in November of 2019 to discuss the site’s future, as well as a follow-up meeting in February of 2020 to explore the possibility of building affordable housing there. Community members expressed a strong preference for the parcel to be preserved as a garden, however.
In October of 2021, the BPDA released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for the sale of the parcel for community garden uses and received one proposal in response from the Frederick Douglass Peace Park Stewardship Committee and the Boston Food Forest Coalition – a self-described “coalition of neighbors working to transform vacant lots into locally-run, public, edible parks protected by our land trust.”
Morgan McDaniel of the BPDA said the city would designate the Boston Food Forest Coalition ownership of the site and then give them a year (which could be extended) to secure funding for the Peace Park project. The land would then be conveyed to the Boston Food Forest Coalition as the permanent owner of the land, she said.
Asked about the current status of funding the project, Nataka Crayton, project manager for the Friends of Frederick Douglass Peace Garden, as well as a board member and past president of the United Neighbors of Lower Roxbury (UNLR), said they already have a $20,500 for the first phase of the project from partnering community organizations.
McDaniel added funding from the city’s Grassroots Open Space Program for capital garden construction, as well as from the city’s Community Preservation Act fund, could be potential monetary sources for the project, but the city doesn’t have the money for ongoing maintenance of the site.
Chavella Lee-Pacheco, a community planning manger for Roxbury in Motion, an offshoot of the nonprofit Madison Park Development Corporation, said the project would have two phases: the first would focus on basic needs and public safety, while she described the second phase as “a very robust process” where input would be solicited from the community over 18 months to “hear from folks what they want in the space.”
Robin Blatt-Eisengart, a resident of Greenwich Street for the past 13 years, said that any plans to offer food at the site “should be serious about the war on rats.”
In addition, Blatt-Eisengart said as part of the plan, he would like to see the creation of an accessible path between Warwick and Tremont streets.
Likewise, Mark Oliver, a Warwick Street resident, said the project is a “great opportunity for a paved, accessible, lit path…. that gets us around to Tremont [Street].”
Oliver also said he would likely only support the project if it included plans for an accessible path.
Aziz Robinson-Goodnight, chair of the Frederick Douglass Monument and Sculpture Project, as well as UNLR board member and a Peace Park team member, said while the first phase of the project doesn’t currently include plans for a path, they could be part of the second phase, depending on community feedback.
Orion Kriegman, executive director of the Boston Food Forest Coalition, said they are currently in the “visioning phase” of the project, while the “gathering of ideas” would determine what is ultimately implemented on the site.
District 7 City Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson expressed her support for the project and said she “would be happy to help in any way I can.”
Public comments on the project can be submitted until March 22 to Morgan McDaniel of the Boston Planning & Development Agency via email at [email protected].