Plans for Orlando St. land take neighbors by surprise

Most homeowners take interest when vacant lots in the neighborhood grow fences and start attracting construction crews, but when the lot in question adjoins park land, that curiosity can easily change to ire.

That's what occurred on a sleepy side street next to Almont Park in Mattapan recently, when neighbors discovered four lots they mistakenly thought were city-owned had been sold to a developer that builds housing for the developmentally disabled, Bay Cove Human Services.

"Nothing has ever been built there," said Gareth Kinkead, president of the local Colorado Street Neighbors Group. "Just mother nature's got the trees there. Everyone up here is upset."

Although the four lots in question from 34 to 46 Orlando seem to have fallen in tax arrears in the late 80s, the son of the original owner apparently paid the taxes and redeemed them. He then sold them to Bay Cove in August 2006 for $201,000.

"We are looking to build two one-family houses for individuals supported by the Department of Mental Retardation who have fairly severe medical complications," said Charles Hollins, director of advocacy for Bay Cove. "I have two feelings about it. One is I'm really disappointed with the community's response to our development. To me we're serving people who are the most vulnerable citizens in the community, I just really expected a more sensitive outcome… The other feeling is hope. There are few people in the community who are supportive and believe what we're doing will build community in the neighborhood."

In Bay Cove's plan, the four lots would become two, and more open space would be preserved to meet guidelines from the Dept. of Mental Retardation.

Kinkead said he has no particular problem with the type of housing Bay Cove wants to build there, or its residents, except for the open space it would eat up.

"We have [a high percentage] of our children with Asthma in this neighborhood," said Kinkead. "It shouldn't matter to them if they're on Orlando Street or Commonwealth Avenue, but to us, we want to save our trees."

Additionally, according to Kinkead, the neighbors were given no input into what would be put there. Apparently the new construction requires no zoning variances, and is being built as-of-right. The Parks Commission rubber-stamped Bay Cove's landscaping plans at a hearing Monday, a formality that any building plan near a public park must go through.

"There are 70 trees on the combined four lots," said Hollins. "In order to build there we have to cut down 15 trees. Each tree we cut down, we have to replant a tree."

The city does own five other lots on street, including three at 22, 26 and 30 Orlando, and two across the street at 39 and 43 Orlando. Lacking costly infrastructure such as sewers and plumbing, the three city-owned lots next to Almont Park seem unlikely to attract housing plans from inside the Department of Neighborhood Development, which now controls them.

Kinkead said the neighborhood would like to see another tot lot there, to meet the growing demand for play structures for the new crop of Mattapan youngsters.