Plans for Cote Ford site remain deep in limbo

Last year, hopeful developers painted dramatic pictures of the future over the abandoned Cote Ford dealership on Cummins Highway, but the neighborhood opposed those plans on density concerns, shrinking them from 165 units to 65 and then asking for less.

On Friday, the Woodhaven Street Association met with the intention of creating a vision of what they would like to see, but were constantly interrupted by fundamental questions they could not answer.

Who owns it? How polluted is it? And how much tax is owed on it? None of those facts could be answered at the time of the meeting, even though representatives of the mayor's office and the Boston Redevelopment Authority sat in the room along with at-Large City Councillor Michael Flaherty.

Many of the answers are indeed complicated.

The property, dormant for decades, once belonged to Richard Ruben, but was foreclosed upon and sold to Cummins Development LLC in 2001. Cummins Development is controlled by Webster Engineering, whose principal agent is Theodore Webster Jr. Webster Engineering, a minority-owned construction contractor, went out of business last year and a contact number for the company or its agent can't be found. The Community Builders, which proposed development schemes to the community last summer, apparently has an option to buy the property if a future iteration of its plans are accepted by the community.

"We still have site control," said TCB director of development Felicia Jacques. "I think were looking at something that will complement the larger planning that's going on in the city."

Jacques referred specifically to the Mattapan Economic Development Initiative, a Boston Redevelopment Authority planning charette for revitalizing Mattapan Square, Morton Street and the area. She would not give any timeline for any meeting, planning stage or other next step toward conceiving a new plan for the Cote Ford site.

As to the pollution on the site, all the releases on the site are hydrocarbons or oil products, what one would expect from a car lot. The Department of Environmental Protection closed out the site in 2002, meaning it has been largely cleaned up and the DEP considers it safe even for residential use. But if construction crews start digging up the soil, they would have to take precautions for worker safety. Just how much extra it would cost a developer to mitigate the contamination is variable. According to DEP spokesperson Joe Ferson, it would depend on the scale and type of construction involved.

More onerous to potential developers than the environmental concerns is a giant tax bill that the previous owner stacked up, in the area of $1.6 million for all the various lots in the area owned by Cummins Development. Paying that would be a requirement for any project to go there, and the bill keeps getting larger every year.

Kaigler's plans to create a new vision didn't get too far. Only "Mixed-Use," "Playground," and "Green Space" were written on the big blank sheet of paper stuck to the wall by the end of the meeting. Jacques said TCB would be open to hearing from them, and definitely plans to engage with them when a new plan is eminent. "We welcome their phone calls and participation," she said.

Councillor Flaherty, who took interest in the matter, said he would like to see the true owner come forward.

"The lawful owner should come forward, introduce himself to the community, pay any outstanding taxes and liabilities," Flaherty said. "They should work with the community on the development of the site."