Underused industrial parcels and generally underdeveloped swaths of land along a mile-long stretch of Dorchester Avenue are prime for new planning, residents and city officials agreed during a tour of the PLAN: Glover’s Corner sites last week.
After soliciting feedback on the area through a question campaign earlier this year, the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) took a boots-on-the-ground approach to identifying critical sites and noting specific problem areas.
Two walking groups made the evening trek on Thursday, May 4 from Fields Corner to Savin Hill. BPDA project manager Viktorija Abolina led one group walking through some of the residential areas and industrial fronts before coming back to Dorchester Avenue. A bike tour circled the site, beginning and ending in Savin Hill.
“We are here to listen and to ask questions, so feel free to share your perspectives,” said Abolina before the tour kicked off from outside homestead bakery and cafe. “It’s really an opportunity to look at the study area so we know at what we’re talking about when we sit around the table.”
The Reporter joined a group led by Dorchester BPDA planner Cecilia Nardi, focused on the Dorchester Avenue commercial core, passing through the commercial core that includes the DotHouse Health center, dipping into the yellow school bus depot on Freeport Street, and circling the future Dot Block site.
Stopping outside DotHouse, participants suggested changes that would boost the cohesiveness of the stretch. Ashmont resident Sean Wheeler said the city might consider improvements “in terms of design or things, or things where you could get that, yes, you are on this route that’s connecting all the neighborhoods,”
Traversing the road itself — about a 25-minute walk along Dorchester Avenue — is not the most aesthetically pleasing experience, others added.
“As you walk down Dot Ave, you realize it’s not a place that you can stand or hang out,” said Kristine Acevedo of Granger Street, which is inside the planning radius. She pitched benches, tables, a small park, or other outdoor features that would make the area feel more habitable for people who walk between the two T stations.
Better lighting at night would also make her more likely to walk rather than take the train one stop, Acevedo said.
“Why am I going to hop on a train to go to Freeport? I live right here,” Acevedo said. “It is the ugliest walk. There’s a whole lot of nothing -- well, there’s a lot of cars -- but there’s a whole lot of nothing.”
Tour members recommended better walkways and intersections, noting the intersection where Hancock Street meets Dorchester Avenue as an example of a confusing crossing for vehicles, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike.
“So, what I’m hearing is that there needs to be a public realm, a sense of place, and I think that might help what you’re talking about to create an inclusive feel,” Nardi confirmed, to nods from the group as traffic roared beside them.
Chinese billionaire Gerald Chan now holds the deeds to two large properties within the planning study zone. Chan’s entity Serama LLC bought the Russell Engineering property on Dewar Street for $5.2 million last year in 2015, and his Wintergold LLC purchased parcels on Dorchester Avenue, Pleasant Street, and Hancock Street intended for the 362-unit mixed-use Dot Block site in December 2016, according to city records.
City officials say Chan’s representatives have not been in contact regarding plans for the sites, which cover about six acres of the planning study.
Dot Block is in progress, according to Catherine O’Neill, who represents the development team. “We’re tweaking design, going full steam ahead, and looking right now at demolition contractors,” she told the Reporter on Tuesday. Now pursuing demolition permits, O’Neill expects to see movement at the site by the end of June.
The Dot Block project will contain new retail space, and developer say they are considering a grocer for one of the larger commercial parcels. A walk attendee last week said the area could use a market space between the Savin Hill and Fields Corner nodes.
Increasing density in the area, especially as the city continues to push for more housing units, would be best focused around a commercial core, people on the tour said.
“So I live in a side neighborhood,” Wheeler told Nardi as they walked, “but I want to see more density on Dot Ave to avoid neighborhood teardowns. So we know we need density, right, so the question is about light industrial, what does density-friendly light industrial look like… I was trying to imagine if there’s a way to do light industrial that doesn’t add to this kind of missing tooth effect.”
“That’s a great point,” Nardi said. “There’s a sense that there are established neighborhoods right around here along Dot Ave, and they have a particular character.”
Managing the balance of neighborhood integrity with the best locations for increased density will be dealt with in more depth at the community workshops stage, she said.
The first community workshop for the Glover’s Corner plan is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on May 18 in the IBEW union hall at 256 Freeport St.
Participants agreed that their priority is not solely to make Glover’s Corner a notable destination, but to enhance the area for the people that already depend on it or pass through. Nardi said finding ways to support small businesses through coordination with the Department of Neighborhood Development is a part of the visioning process for the study.
“I don’t think I need to be drawn here,” said Erin Corie, who has lived on the northern edge of the planning study for two years. “I think we need more infrastructure for the people who live here, you known, both jobs and affordable housing. More than pretty spaces or public art or anything else, I think it’s important to support the livelihoods and the ability to live of the people who are here.”