The Emerald Necklace Conservancy and the Charlesgate Alliance held a meeting on September 21 to update the public on the Charlesgate Revitalization Project.
Many hands are involved in this project, including members of the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Emerald Necklace Conservancy (ENC), the Charlesgate Alliance, Landing Studios landscape architects, MassDOT, the Conservation Commission, and the Esplanade Association, among others.
There are several projects slated to happen at the Charlesgate site, including the daylighting of the Muddy River north of Beacon St., by MassDOT the core of Charlesgate Park, where there are plans to create a playground and a dog park, and MassDOT’s replacement of the bridge above the turnpike—the last portion of the Bowker Overpass that connects back to the Fens.
“This project is important because we want to improve both the day-to-day reality of the Charlesgate Park now, but we also want to work on sort of a bigger, long term vision,” said Karen Mauney-Brodek, President of the ENC.
Parker James, a member of the Charlesgate Alliance, spoke at the meeting about some permitting that is currently underway with respect to this project, including a tree planting plan for which a Fenway Park Demonstration Project grant was given, as well as the permitting for the removal of non-structural walls within the park that would open it up for the rest of the plans.
Additionally, developer Samuels & Associates has pledged $250,000 towards the Charlesgate Revitalization Project, the team said.
Marie Adams of Landing Studios spoke about some of the design principles for the project moving forward, which aside from the dog park and playground, include improving the water quality and habitat of the Muddy River, as well as “reconnecting the park systems in this area” as they were intended to be connected by Frederick Law Olmsted.
The overall plan includes the addition of “shared use pathways” that would create “one continuous circulation path” for those on foot or on bicycles, as well as “dedicated sidewalks and pedestrian connections,” Adams said.
The project also includes “green stormwater management” that will employ “natural systems” such as various plants and soils that would filter stormwater before it enters the Muddy River. Additionally, the shoreline would be restored in areas as well, contributing to water quality and habitat.
Overall, this project would “reclaim over 13 acres of public parkland,” according to the presentation.
The MassDOT bridge projects would “eliminate unsafe traffic merges and crossings,” as well as “increase activity in the area,” according to the presentation. Proposed climate resilience contributions include eliminating the flood choke point in the Muddy River, increasing flood water storage, and the planting of 500 trees.
The project also includes some historic preservation, including the restoration of “three historic monuments in the Fens Pond Bridge, the Fens Pond Gatehouse, and the Shurcliff Bridges,” the presentation reads.
Adams then showed renderings of what the daylighting would look like and how it connects to the rest of the space.
The MassDOT project to rebuild the bridge over I-90 includes replacing the bridge, along with “re-decking the offramp from the bridge over the turnpike that runs up to the intersection of Charlesgate E. And Commonwealth Ave.,” according to the presentation.
Adams said that this “creates the opportunity to have a park connection across with a shared use pathway as well as a dedicated pedestrian pathway.”
The proposed dog park is about 17,000 square feet, “which is bigger than any other dog park in Boston,” Adams said. Additionally, there us a new underpass connection proposed for “direct entry into Charlesgate Park” at Newbury St. at Charlesgate West.
At Newbury St. E at Charlesgate East, there is currently no sidewalk, but there is a proposal for a raised intersection as well as a sidewalk that would connect to the bridge that would go over the Muddy River, Adams said.
State Sen.. Will Brownsberger and State Rep. Jay Livingstone both attended the meeting and weighed in on the proposals, stating their support and eagerness for them to move forward.
“My focus these days,” Brownsberger said, is to “build enthusiasm at the senior levels of MassDOT and above,” as well as work with other leaders to ensure these projects get completed.
“I’m just so excited,” Livingstone said, adding that he and others have been “trying to get big chunks of this paid for. We’re in this position because of several years of work by everybody. I’m really pleased at how it’s coming out and I cannot wait for the Muddy River to be daylighted; for all these parks to really be transformed.”
Mauney-Brodek said that next steps include “continuing to work with our amazing elected officials…as well as public agencies. So far, we’ve been really, really fortunate with support and partnership, both with the DCR and also MassDOT.”
The team is working towards getting permitting for the work to be done in Charlesgate Park for the dog park, playground, crosswalks, and other amenities. She said the permitting for the removal of the non-structural walls is expected to be granted in the spring.
Parker James told the Sun that while the Charlesgate Alliance is very excited to move forward with the project, “so much of it is out of our control,’ especially with respect to the MassDOT portions
He said that the group has “made an executive decision” to move forward with permitting for the Charlesgate Park portion of the project “as if nothing else is going to happen.” He said that “if everything else fell through, we still will have the permits in place to proceed with that.”
He thanked the DCR, Landing Studios, Mauney-Brodek, and others who are involved for their commitment to these projects and getting them completed.
“Everything we’re planning is beneficial to the environment and therefore word has come down,” James said, adding that “it will probably be a relatively quick permitting process.”
But, “all of this is completely out of our hands,” as the Charlesgate Alliance does “not own or control the land.”
James added, “We’re incredibly hopeful and optimistic, but we’re also trying to be realistic. We hate to promise anything to our constituency that we can’t follow through on.”
The team is thinking about the project in different kinds of phases, from budgeting for different physical phases, but also “sort of thematically,” with different “pots” of money for different aspects of the project, such as climate resiliency, stormwater management, transportation, and so on.
James did say that the first portion will be the removal of the walls, as that has its own separate permitting process that is underway.
He also spoke about some shorter term projects, including the tree project he had mentioned at the meeting. “My naive hope,” he said, is that “once we’ve been successful in one round of tree planting, the next round will be quicker and easier.”
While the park has offered more programming in the past few years with the introduction of moveable red chairs, a movie night, and some music programs, “we would love to get additional programming into the park,” James said. “If people have realistic suggestions, that would be so great,” but he added that DCR does have the “final say,” as it is their park.
“The more people use it, the more invested they will become, and the safer the park will become,” James said.
He added that Project Place’s involvement with the park picking up trash has been “tremendously successful,” as trash and sharps were not addressed prior to the group’s involvement and had been a big issue in the park several years ago.
James also thanked the Muddy Water Initiative for all of their work in helping to keep the river clean.
“Persistence pays off and we’re going to persist,” he said.