Columbia Point plan draws big crowd

Despite the down economy which has sapped potential financing for two massive development proposals on Columbia Point, neighborhood folks came out to view the progress on the Boston Redevelopment Authority's Master Plan for the point on Saturday.

Their conversations were the best window yet on what might be agreed on in the plan and what has yet to be hammered out.

Although all were civil, the most animated conversations surfaced around the character of the neighborhood that will be created when Corcoran Jennison builds 900 residential apartments along with hundreds of thousands of square feet of office, hotel and retail space in the Bayside on the Point development, and Synergy adds as many as 700 apartments as part of their plan for "Dorchester's next great neighborhood" which also includes workplaces and shopping outlets.

Opinions seemed to differ along neighborhood lines. Abutters to Bayside on the Point in the Harbor Point development strongly advocated for a higher than minimum affordable housing percentage in the new development and units that could support families with three and four bedrooms.

"I think that what the task force needs to do is decide what this neighborhood is going to look like," said Dan Driscoll, director of Harbor Health Services which runs the Geiger/Gibson Health Center on the point. "If we are okay with the area turning in to the South End, or the equivalent of what's happening in the North End right now we cans stay with the [city mandated] 15 percent [affordable housing]. Do we want it to be like Allston-Brighton, or like the rest of South Boston and Dorchester?"

Folks from just outside the point, like those from Savin Hill nearby, were considerably less vocal on affordable housing but pushed for condo ownership possibilities.

"We'd like to stay here," said Crescent Street resident Andrew Laudate, "and not get driven out… by people who have tons of money and just live there on the weekends or by people who are subsidized."

A new idea to build senior housing was added to the mix in a discussion that included City Councillor Maureen Feeney, who also managed to find a point of agreement for all.

"We don't want people to come to Columbia Point and say well, 'What part of town is this?'" said Feeney. "We don't want to lose that identity of 'This is Dorchester.'"

For some, the sheer amount of 6, 10, 14 and even 25 story buildings evoked comparisons to the West End, or Crystal City in Washington D.C. - comparisons that made consultant H.H. Smallridge cringe.

"We don't want to see a wall on Morrissey, we want a variety of building heights," he said.

The 25-story tower, proposed as a possibility next to the MBTA's JFK/UMass Station - a site that will be put out to bid after the planning process is over - did draw some comments, particularly from Feeney, who felt it was too tall.

Shadow studies from the consultants have shown, however, that the tower would rarely, if ever, darken the streets on the other side of the highway.

Residents also stumped the consultants when they asked whether any study had been done to determine how the new buildings would affect wind patterns and how they would reflect sound from the highway, two problems that residents nearby already deal with daily. Smallridge said his firm would study the issues.

These and many more comments from neighbors will be compiled by the BRA and reviewed by the task force in a meeting next month and used to guide the task force in creating guidelines that will influence future development via the BRA. Each individual project will still need to be approved by BRA's Article 80 process however, which includes a requirement for community support.