Activists Aim for Local Sovereignty in Site Fates

Frothy, occasionally bitter, and ever-percolating.

Relations between local civic groups and would-be developers? Maybe, but more immediately in Adams Corner, those words could describe the future wares of what is now a Sovereign Bank.

Looking to exert community influence over the fate of two soon-to-be vacant properties, activists have moved to abandon hopes for a municipal parking lot and are entertaining other ideas for the Adams Corner property, including a Starbucks coffeeshop.

While Sovereign looks to consolidate its business from two branch offices into a developing structure in Neponset Circle, community activists from Cedar Grove and Pope's Hill are hoping to influence the disposition of the branch office sites, one at the corner of Freeport Street and Morrissey Boulevard, the other at the corner of Adams Street and Gallivan Blvd.

According to a letter sent to Dorchester customers last week, Sovereign plans to move into the new Neponset Circle building, which will replace the little-used edifice formerly known as "the world's largest ATM."

In June, Sovereign succumbed to neighborhood pressure to halt the sales of the two properties, after local leaders had criticized the Philadelphia-based institution for reneging on a promise to include residents in decisions. Activists had threatened to boycott the bank.

At a planning meeting Tuesday night at the Neponset VFW Post, residents hashed over ideas for the two sites. Citing tight parking in Adams Corner, some pushed for the Sovereign building, which one man claimed has been deemed of historical significance by the city, to be razed and turned into a municipal parking lot.

City officials have resisted the plan, reluctant to spend what activists said could be $700,000 to create the parking lot, and not eager to sacrifice what they say could remain a productive commercial venue.

"We'd like to explore with the community a viable business for that site," said Michael Kineavy, the city's director of neighborhood services. "The more business growth there is there, where appropriate, the more foot traffic."

John O'Toole, president of the Cedar Grove Civic Association, said Sovereign has said Starbucks is one of several suitors interested in the property, which activists say would fetch a price of $500,000-$600,000, less than the $700,000-$800,000 for the Freeport St. site. O'Toole said, "Would [Starbucks] be a shot in the arm for the village? Would it raise the bar for what we can do down there? Maybe."

Pope's Hill Neighborhood Association President Phil Carver continued pushing for the parking lot, saying "You only have one chance like this in a lifetime, to mitigate that type of congestion in Adams Village."

But a nearly unanimous vote turned down the parking lot idea. Pope's Hill resident and architect Hank Wassman said a municipal parking lot, zoned for fewer than 40 spaces, would be "a big urban mistake."

"If you go cutting it open with a big swath for parking, no matter what tricks you put on it, it's going to create a void there," Wassman said.

O'Toole said local Knights of Columbus groups have shown interest in acquiring the Freeport St. site, which is one in a string of Morrissey properties in flux, including the abandoned Tagliente Burger King property and the under-construction Stop & Shop.

"What we have now is an opportunity to be stewards to the community and hopefully entice some businesses that we want into these sites," O'Toole said.

Sovereign Vice President Thomas Kennedy said the bank had not been in touch with Starbucks, but said he planned to work with the community.

"That's the whole purpose of our going through the process, to hear their issues and concerns," Kennedy said, adding that the bank still must meet its "financial targets."