BRA, task force hear concerns on Columbia Pt. plan

A hearing on Saturday about a draft plan to redevelop and transform the Columbia Point peninsula drew some 65 residents, many of them from next-door Savin Hill, to the Harbor Point community center, where they expressed worries that the proposal would change the character of the ever-evolving neighborhood.

The draft, which was put together by the Boston Redevelopment Authority and a 17-member task force made up of community members, sees Columbia Point being transformed into a “24-hour-a-day neighborhood” and envisions the addition of 4,300 residential units to the site. It also projects 4,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs, with city coffers swelling by some $23 million in new annual property taxes.

Such a development would also increase the density of the area, attract significant additional traffic, and, to the dismay of many of those at the meeting, allow for the possibility of 20-story buildings near the JFK-UMass MBTA station.

“I think we continue to grapple with the magnitude of this,” said District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney said. “The height is still a great concern. The other impact is the density of the whole thing.”

Another concern of Savin Hill residents is the possible opening up of Wave Avenue, which now ends at the back of the southwest corner of the Boston Globe’s property, citing potential increased congestion in their neighborhood. Patrick Keating, a Savin Hill resident, said he supports development but this plan worries him and others. “It’s a good thing, but it’s too big,” he said while looking over some of the plans. “The scope is too big. The people who are here are up in arms about it. There’s a lot of concern in this room.”

Officials from the BRA stressed that the draft plan can be tweaked, that they didn’t expect the entire proposal to come to pass, but they also said they didn’t want to be caught flat-footed and without a city layout for the area if developers start work there. Among such considerations is the future of the Bayside Expo Center property and plans by Boston developers Synergy Investment and Development, which owns a wide swath of property that includes the Shaw’s Supermarket site, to create a mix of retail and residential space.

“I don’t think a lot of this is going to happen the way we see it,” said Paul Nutting, a member of the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association. “The BRA is right to get ahead of this. Too many things have happened piecemeal around here.” Nutting said he was heartened by the proposed creation of pedestrian and bicycle paths in the area.

Columbia Point is home to a number of institutions, including the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum; UMass-Boston, which is finalizing its own 20-year master plan; the Massachusetts State Archives; Corcoran Jennison Companies; Boston College High School, and a Sovereign Bank. About 3,500 residents live in the Harbor Point community.

Under the draft plan, the peninsula and abutting areas would undergo a “comprehensive” analysis of future traffic demands and redesigns of its roadways. Kosciuszko Circle has been a particular problem for both the neighborhood and the traveling public as have the Interstate 93 access ramps off and onto Columbia Road.

BRA officials said the MBTA station site would be expanded to handle a new influx of residents living on the peninsula. They also said that opening up Wave Ave. – a development that presumes a great deal about the future of the Boston Globe - would include setting up a one-way street scheme.

The task force, which was created nearly two years ago and has meet sixteen times while holding three community-wide meetings, is expected to hold an additional public meetings on the plan before it goes before the board of the Boston Redevelopment Authority in November for final approval.

The full draft plan is available at bostonredevelopmentauthority.org.