Open space, housing dev. possible for vacant lots

August 5, 2016
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By Sara Selevitch

Special to the Gazette

Roughly 30 residents attended a recent Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) meeting to discuss 10 vacant City-owned lots on Mission Hill, offering suggestions ranging from open space to housing development for future uses of those properties.

DND officials David West and John Feuerbach facilitated the July 21 meeting, which is the second the City has hosted on the lots.       “We hope to put some language together to provide direction for future developers,” Feuerbach said. They plan to issue the RFP (request for proposals) this fall for each property.

The vacant lots are at 725-729R Parker St., 708 Parker St., 3 Morton Place, 6-8 Gore St., 40-42 Terrace St., 132 Terrace St., 21-23 Wensley St., 52-58 Fisher Ave., 53 Wensley St., and 8 Bickford Ave.

The first parcel discussed, 3 Morton Place, was the most cut and dry. The 1,265-square-foot site sits in the middle of the Roxbury Crossing Co-op, between the building and the parking lot.

“It was slated to be turned over as part of the sale of that land 30 years ago,” West explained. “It’s an oversight we seek to correct.”

The next parcel, 708 Parker St., was not so easily determined. At 1,487 square feet, the plot sits adjacent to a privately owned piece of land on one side, and the nonprofit ABCD building on the other.

At the first meeting in June, two possible options were discussed: housing development and designated open space. One attendee asked if anything prohibited the space from being used as parking. That raised the question of what exactly constitutes “open space.”

“It can be anything not developed,” West said. “Parking is a valid use of that.”

A resident of the neighboring Roxbury Crossing Co-op spoke in favor of keeping the land green.

“We have used it for cookouts, or just to sit and have family over,” she said. “ABCD has used it too, when they have family events going on.”

In the case of housing, the parcel would need to be combined with the privately owned adjacent plot in order to reach the city’s minimum square footage requirement of 2,000 square feet.

The discussion sparked the biggest trend of the meeting: the attendees’ unanimous and steadfast resistance to any development that could become undergraduate housing.

“The last thing I want to see…is 15 more students living in the neighborhood. We’re inundated with that,” one attendee said. “We need folks who are going to stay put.”

With regards to 708 Parker St., one woman said, “Personally I would be nervous about putting housing like that adjacent to where children are.”

Though Feuerbach assured that the RFP could specify owner-occupied housing, another attendee fired back.

“But could owner-occupied mean Mr. and Mrs. Smith from Newton buy a condo and their kid is the occupier? What exactly does that mean?,” the attendee asked

The 6-8 Gore St. site posed a similar issue. Again, the previous meeting proposed either a small housing development or a community garden. Though folks seemed to favor the garden idea, West reminded them: “We can’t have 10 abutters say, ‘Oh, we’d really love to have a community garden’ and reward it to them on that basis. There has to be organizational capacity and the ability to maintain it over the long run.” He mentioned that a successful garden group with a track record would need to be involved.

On the other side of Mission Hill, the local-industrial zoned 8 Bickford Street raised more parking questions. The 3,078-square-foot parcel is currently being used for parking, and one Bickford Street homeowner is determined to keep it that way.

“Our street has totally changed,”she said, referencing the influx of students. “That space is our only parking. We need it.”

Though West said zoning the space for parking would be rare, it is not out of the realm of possibility, but the space would still need to be “improved.” He cited new paving or planting trees as potential options.

Most of the remaining parcels offered no easy solutions. The 132 Terrace St. site, for example, is too narrow for significant development.

“I don’t think it’s an open space worth preserving,” West said.   The steep slope and possible flooding issues wrought by 21-23 Wensley St. also complicated possible designs.

As a result, the DND plans to keep the RFP language very simple and see what proposals they get in response.

“If it’s a feasible development, they’ll respond. If it’s not, they won’t,” West said. “What we don’t want to do is put out a proposal for one use and then get no response. We want to give people options.”

A third meeting will be scheduled for sometime in August or September to finalize the RFP’s language. Feuerbach says he hopes the RFP will be issued by October.

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