Point plan gains mayor’s attention

Responding to residents of Savin Hill concerned about a draft development plan for the Columbia Point neighborhood, Mayor Thomas M. Menino stressed this week that the plan – and the height of the proposed buildings – was “not solidified.” Briefly addressing a gathering of small business owners while at a Dorchester Board of Trade luncheon on Tuesday, the mayor said, “I’ve heard it loud and clear.”

Some residents are complaining that the draft proposal, put together by a task force that met in public for over two years, would, if implemented, greatly increase the area’s density and the height of potential buildings and would have a negative impact on the character of the neighborhood. The executive summary of the draft notes that buildings could rise to 20 stories near the JFK-UMass MBTA station as the area is turned into a “24-hour-a-day neighborhood.”

“I wouldn’t want a 20-story building, that’s for sure,” Menino told the Reporter during the luncheon.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority, which worked with the task force to draft the plan, said last week that the extensive public comment period had been extended to Oct. 16. “During and since the Sept. 26 community-wide meeting, the BRA has received many oral and written comments on the Draft Master Plan, including both positive comments, as well as many comments expressing concern, especially about height, scale and traffic impacts,” John Read, a BRA senior planner, wrote in an e-mail to individuals tracking the plan’s progress. “The BRA planning team will review and carefully consider these comments as we work with the Task Force to prepare a recommendation for a revised Master Plan.”

The task force, made up of community members, will then meet in November or early December before the plan goes before the board of the BRA, he wrote.

“The Master Plan would not give automatic development rights to prospective developers,” Read added. “Any new development would be subject to the BRA’s Article 80 requirements. These requirements include extensive opportunities for public review, including the formation of an Impact Advisory Group consisting of representatives of the local community. The exception to this would be Commonwealth of Massachusetts properties (such as UMass-Boston), which are not subject to BRA development review requirements.”

UMass-Boston is undergoing its own master planning process, with dorms and new academic buildings planned as the campus continues to expand past its original target of 15,000 students.

At the request of state Rep. Marty Walsh, a Savin Hill resident, Dorchester lawmakers will also receive a briefing in coming weeks on the draft plan from BRA officials.

Menino said he supports a traffic study for the area, including Kosciuszko Circle, which has continually drawn complaints for its difficult navigability. He also said he supported increased green space. The draft plan includes proposals for increasing pedestrian paths and creating paths for bicycles. “A lot of developers just want to build, build, build,” he said.

BRA officials have stressed at public meetings that the plan is fluid, given the economy and what developers want.

“With the economy the way it is, how much of this is going to happen and how much of this is a dream?” asks District 3 Councillor Maureen Feeney. “I think time will tell on that. I think there’s been somewhat of a stepping back from the project because so much has changed since we started this process.” The proposal projects the area’s revamp leading to 4,000 construction jobs and 5,000 permanent jobs, while annual property taxes could reach $23 million.

The Columbia Point peninsula includes the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the Massachusetts State Archives, Corcoran Jennison Companies, Boston College High School, the Bayside Expo Center, and a Sovereign Bank, among other institutions.