Fairmount improvements trigger new building in Dot, Mattapan

A new commuter rail station at Four Corners is still about three years from becoming a reality, and design for one at Talbot Avenue is due to start next week, but hazy visions of the future are becoming clearer all the time in the neighborhoods along the Fairmount Line. New developments from local Community Development Corporations (CDCs) are clustering around the future stations, giving an early window on just how much Dorchester and Mattapan will be transformed by them.

Uphams Corner and Morton Street stations, both of which just received upgrades from the MBTA, give a strong hint of what's to come.

Traveling west along Dudley Street from the Uphams station, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation (EDC) is putting the finishing touches on 50 units of rental housing spread out in four buildings, and the Salvation Army is getting closer to breaking ground on the $100 million Ray and Joan Kroc Community Center at Clifton Street.

Close to Uphams Corner, private developer Paul Meehan has been talking to city officials about constructing a new mixed-use building on his vacant lot on Dudley St. at Humphrey Street, a recently renovated Strand Theatre is seeking a tenant, and the Bell Furniture building on Hancock Street is being converted into a new adult day health center.

Nearby, Dorchester Bay EDC is about to embark on another ambitious project at 65 East Cottage St. The EDC has the large industrial-use Maxwell building under agreement. Current owner Hal Cohen said Dorchester Bay plans to keep some of the large edifice and build a large amount of housing over the top. The non-profit developer i s keeping plans relatively quiet until they can gear up for a community process, but among the dreamy talk is proposals for escalators or walkways to the T station and reconnecting the property to Uphams Corner.

A new question for Uphams Corner has opened up this year: the future use of the St. Kevin School on Columbia Road. The Archdiocese of Boston is closing the school after this September's last day and has released no information about future plans.

Plans for Morton Street, though a little quieter, is also showing promise. A turbulent real estate market seems to have stalled developer John Judge's proposal to condo-ize the old city police station at 872 Morton and it has also slowed down the Poles brothers, who envision a mixed-use development on a huge swath of property they own right next to the T station.

"The concept is still alive and we're studying it basically," Livio Poles said. "It's a big money game and we're doing it with our own power. We haven't thrown in the towel yet."

But on the bright side, local businesses are becoming more organized.

Spencer DeShields, executive director of the Mattapan Community Development Corporation, and others are about to request a Main Streets program for the area to boost the efforts of the Morton Street Board of Trade, which is already doing Main Streets-like projects. A number of Morton Village storefront improvements are underway using Main Streets funded grants, including one that just finished up at MSBT president Danny Hardaway's shop, Final Touch with Class at 886 Morton.

Mattapan CDC is also applying for funding to develop a vacant lot at 765 Morton, a project that will include 8,000 square feet of retail and some 49 units of rental housing. That development in not likely to break ground until at least 2009.

At the proposed Blue Hill or Cummins Highway stop on the Fairmount Line (the MBTA hopes to start hashing out details like location with the community sometime in February) the construction scene is very quiet, unless one counts the new Mattapan Library blocks away. But lying in wait is the giant Cote Ford property and an assortment of other vacant lots purchased by The Community Builders, the largest non-profit urban development corporation in the U.S. Original plans for over 100 units of housing at the site drew complaints of too much density from neighbors. Felicia Jacques from The Community Builders did not return phone calls for this article.

Perhaps the clearest plan, although it is still developing, is around the future site of the Talbot Avenue station in the Talbot-Norfolk Triangle (TNT) just west of Codman Square. A community meeting for the design of that station is scheduled for Jan. 24, 6:30 p.m. at 193 Talbot Ave.

Recently, the focus of the TNT neighborhood association and a youth group from the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation (CSNDC) has turned toward improving the traffic situation in anticipation of the station as well as several housing developments and two large churches.

The Codman Square NDC itself has re-oriented its master plan to reflect the coming of the T station, and is now splitting its energy between its traditional focus, the square, and the Talbot station site area. The non-profit is finalizing a design for the Levedo building, named after a mechanic's garage on the site at Talbot and Mallard streets. The project would bring 23-24 units of housing with retail on the ground floor less than a block from the station. With neighborhood approval they could break ground as early as this fall.

Other housing plans are popping up in the area too. Codman Square NDC is finishing up the last phase of the New Girls Latin Academy building, a slew of rental units, and working on a number of scattered sites in the nearby Franklin Field area. Another developer recently finished around 20 units of condos at 49 Norfolk St., listed with the city as Norfolk Street Townhouses.

Churches are never out of the development mix in the Codman area, and Mt. Calvary Holy Assembly is planning to build what sounds like a large shell of a church within a few blocks of the station at 30 New England Ave. The Prayer Tower Apostolic Church also has big plans for a large church with a number of facilities further away at Norfolk and Woodrow Avenue, but it will need to acquire land from the Department of Neighborhood Development and hundreds of thousands of dollars from its members to do it.

Last but not least of the rising stars, and likely to be first to get one of the new stations early in 2011, Four Corners is also seeing a tiny boost in development including 24 units of housing and some retail from a renovation at 157 Washington St. and the Four Corners Plaza project, a large retail project that has been moving slowly. Both are being developed by Codman Square NDC. CVS has expressed interest in the Four Corners Plaza, according to Codman NDC director Matt Thall, and the project now awaits a decision by the city on a whether or not the project can use a piece of city owned land.

At the site of the future Newmarket Station, near the South Bay Shopping Center, there is very little if any development left to be done. The mall recently completed a project that brought several more stores and restaurants.

When construction on the stations themselves begin and the crowds they will likely draw become real for developers, Dorchester and Mattapan can expect to see bigger changes along the Fairmount corridor.