New zoning model will override plans in Glover’s Corner

It’s an out with the old and in with the new situation along a prominent stretch of Dorchester Avenue south of Savin Hill as Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) officials confirmed this week that its laboriously developed PLAN: Glover’s Corner will not move forward and instead will be tucked into the new Squares + Streets process in nearby Fields Corner.

Dozens of meetings and hundreds of hours were spent on envisioning improvements and updating in the northern reaches of Fields Corner via an official BPDA planning process that began five years ago, slowed down during the pandemic, and appeared to stand down in 2022.

That effort has now been abandoned, but it will be used to inform the new Squares + Streets effort for Fields Corner that will officially begin next month. It was at a pre-planning meeting for the new effort when community members raised the issue of the Glover’s Corner plan to BPDA staffers, resulting in the following agency statement to the Reporter.

“During the pandemic, all planning initiatives were paused, and when Chief [Arthur] Jemison was hired, we relaunched plans that staff had the capacity to complete, focusing on neighborhood-wide plans – such as Mattapan, East Boston, and Charlestown – because of the significant impact those recommendations would have.

“We are incredibly grateful for the substantial amount of time and energy that community members put into PLAN: Glover’s Corner. We will continue to refer to the foundational work that was completed with the community during the plan as guidance and context for future planning and development, and as we undertake Squares + Streets plans in Dorchester.”

Coming onto the scene in Fields Corner (and Codman Square) is a Squares + Streets planning initiative that is looking to revamp zoning and building requirements, to address housing shortages, and to achieve carbon zero goals using three pillars – affordability, sustainability, and equity.

In preliminary meetings of the Fields Corner effort, which will kick-off in mid-May and last nine months, a stumbling block has been the status of Glover’s Corner. Residents and stakeholders in Fields Corner have been confused about what will happen to all the time they invested in that now-forsaken plan.

At Friday’s meeting in the Fields Corner Business Lab – sponsored by several key organizations, including Fields Corner Main Streets (FCMS) – leaders told Squares + Streets project managers Taylor Mayes and Ben Zunkeler they needed clarification.

Kevin Lam, of the Asian American Resource Workshop (ARW), said Glover’s Corner had been a significant commitment for his organization and others under the umbrella of Dorchester Not for Sale – an advocacy group that organized around the development of Dot Block and PLAN: Glover’s Corner.

“Dorchester Not for Sale formed because of PLAN: Glover’s Corner and it was because we all heard of the process and hadn’t been invited into it,” he recalled. “People spent multiple years devoted to that previous process talking about what we need. We only found out recently in an internal meeting they weren’t moving forward with that plan. We continue to see so much development and as plans for re-developing the neighborhood come in, what is the process here?”

Bing Broderick, a resident who lives near Glover’s Corner and is preparing to open Just Bookish in Fields Corner, said Squares + Streets shouldn’t move forward without more explanation.

“I didn’t know Glover’s Corner wasn’t moving forward and I live near there,” said Broderick during the meeting. “As we’re being introduced into a new process, there needs to be some closure because people spent a lot of time on Glover’s Corner. For trust and integrity, we need that before we move forward.”

Mayes and Zunkeler said they fully intend to bring that “tremendous amount of work” forward to inform Squares + Streets – as was confirmed by the BPDA statement this week.

They have been making the rounds with neighbors and organizations in Fields Corner as a preview of the ambitious zoning reform plan that will be piloted in there and in Codman Square.

“We’re just getting started in our pre-kickoff stage,” said Mayes. “Probably mid-May we’ll have our formal kickoff open house style.”

Last week, the project team for the Codman Square effort announced they will be having their formal kick-off on May 4 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Great Hall in an open house format. The Fields Corner kickoff is expected shortly after that, and Zunkeler said both processes would run at the same time and would – at times – inform one another where applicable.

For Fields Corner, the BPDA will send out a mailer to the neighborhood and surrounding areas like Meetinghouse Hill and St. Marks.

One emerging area of interest for Fields Corner specifically is resiliency – most especially flooding. With Morrissey Boulevard taken out last week by a storm, and other side streets experiencing flooding, Fields Corner was largely gridlocked for several hours. That led to businesses not being able to open, residents not being able to get to work, and children not being able to get to school.

“I think planning for flooding and resilience is going to be a big part of this process,” said Jackey West-Devine, president of Fields Corner Main Streets.

One clarification offered by the project managers is that a parking study initiated last year to look at installing parking meters in the Fields Corner business district will be wrapped into the Squares + Streets process.

The overall Squares + Streets effort has been defined since its announcement as being efficient and fast, with the Fields Corner plan slated to be refined and adopted within nine months, or by the end of 2024.

There won’t be much wiggle room to that, Zunkeler said, as the usual slowness of Boston’s planning efforts – such as Glover’s Corner – is not conducive to producing more housing. “We do want to stick to that timeframe,” he said.

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