Developers offer details on Tom English site

Dorchester Market at the corner of Dot Ave and East Cottage Street. Bill Forry photo

The corner of Dorchester Avenue and East Cottage Street would be transformed in a new mixed-use building on what is now the Tom English bar and Dorchester Market site, developers told the Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association’s planning committee on Tuesday. Dorchester Market would remain part of the plan, under the same management, but in a newly-designed space.

Adam Sarbaugh of Cornerstone Real Estate and his team showed plans for a single building which would rise up to six stories at some points. The proposal includes 40 units — 20 studios, 14 one-bedrooms, and 6 two-bedrooms — two retail spaces, and 22 underground parking spaces.

“We haven't filed anything with the city, fully aware that there's a lot of process and a lot of discussions to come,” said Joseph Hanley, an attorney with McDermott Quilty Miller, who is representing Sarbaugh. Referencing a resident’s call for neighborhood preservation on another project, Hanley said, “While we don’t have buildings of architectural significance, we do have a site that has a lot of neighborhood concern, principally, in a good way, from the standpoint of the market.”

The property currently includes the bar and market, divided by a small parking lot in between. It abuts College Bound Dorchester’s property at The Little House on East Cottage Street, which is also where the Columbia-Savin Hill group meets monthly during general session.

Peter McGee, the longtime operator of Dorchester Market, a neighborhood staple, told the development team he is interested in continuing to operate out of a new building. “We want him to be part of the here, the now, and the future,” Hanley said. He later added, “Pete deserves to opportunity to also modernize.”

McGee will work with the team to design his new space, which may include a cafe alongside the market and butcher shop already in place. To every extent possible, the market would remain in operation until the last stage of demolition and construction.

Sarbaugh pitched the project to the civic group in mid June when under a purchase agreement with Tom English, III, the former property owner. A petition to transfer the liquor license from Tom English’s to Dot Liquor, LLC, managed by Sarbaugh, was granted at a June 28 licensing board hearing.

His 959 Dot, LLC purchased the the 951-959A Dorchester Ave. parcel -- 11,580 square feet, or just over a quarter-acre -- for $3 million on Aug. 1, according to the Suffolk Registry of Deeds. He now owns both the market and Tom English’s, Sarbaugh said at the planning meeting.

Tom English will give way to a casual dining option, Hanley said. It would be “more restaurant focused, less alcohol focused, but something that also works for the neighborhood as it exists and as it has. It provides a different option for folks to come to.”

The site’s proximity to JFK/UMass station is a selling point, said Kevin Deabler of RODE Architects. The site is on a stretch of Dot Ave with other markets and restaurants where “there’s this vibrancy that we’d like to maintain with the project.”

From a design perspective, architects said they took cues from some of the larger parcels around the site, including the DNA Lofts across the street and the nearby Kit Clark Senior Services building.

The preliminary rendering shown was a tall, straight-lined building, set back from the street to allow for open air seating by the intersection. Rectangular sections of varying heights settle around the tallest point, six floors at the corner, tapering down in stories as they approach other buildings along the stretch.

Civic members said they hoped materials used would be a good fit for the area. Bruce Shatswell suggested brick or other stone masonry exterior, as well as some design tweaks to avoid “the South Boston box” feel. Civic group vice president Eileen Boyle asked that they take care if considering siding, which can be dented or blown off in a harsh storm.

Concerns about traffic and density were raised as well. Attendees pointed to regular Dorchester Avenue traffic and limited parking in the area, skeptical that each unit would max out at one car.

“I think we’re all very, very excited about this project,”said Eileen Fenton, who heads the civic group’s planning committee. “We’re coming out of the box with our Christmas list. No one thinks we're getting six stories and 20 studios. My initial response and reaction is that the height absolutely needs to come down.”

Micro-unit studios aren’t ideal, she said, suggesting more one-bedrooms instead.

Hanley said the thinking behind the housing was “complimentary and a little bit different to what is already a very strong single and multi-family, more of a larger residential experience.”

Sarbaugh initially settled on condominiums, but is open to rentals based on local feedback, Hanley said. The smaller units were a counterbalance to the surrounding residential areas with a lot of larger units, he said.

The team will come back with updates and changes. At about 45,000 gross square feet, excluding parking, the project would have to fo through the Boston Planning and Development Agency’s review process.
As a concept, it was received well by the committee, pending alterations.

“One of the big things that I’m taking out of this that I really like is just working with Pete. All of us go there now,” City Councillor Frank Baker said of the Dorchester Market owner. As kids, “these markets sustained us all, all of us, and Peter was part of that.”

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