'Next great neighborhood' planned for Morrissey site
November 13, 2008

By Pete Stidman
News Editor

Future visions of Columbia Point crystallized further last Thursday when Synergy, the owner of a large swath of property that includes the Shaw's on Morrissey Boulevard, unveiled its vision for creating a new "main street" on the site.

Much like developer Corcoran Jennison Cos. is promoting their Bayside on the Point development on the other side of Morrissey, Synergy is touting their own project as "Dorchester's next great neighborhood."

If the final proposal looks anything like this early version of Synergy's plan, the development will include at least four new side streets, 700 units of housing, and hundreds of thousands of square feet worth of office and retail space. The scale of the project is smaller, though comparable to Bayside, but with a smaller footprint.

"This is really a different kind of retail for the surrounding neighborhood," said architect Tim Love from Utile Design, which is creating the street plan for the project. "Old Colony Road comes there along the back side of the T station to connect to the [shopping area]. It could be a real main street. A place where you would come to do your local shopping."

Though surrounded by buildings ranging from four to 20 floors in height, retail could include local cafés and restaurants, an ice cream shop, a hardware store or a dry cleaners as well as the Shaw's Supermarket and Harbor Point Liquors that already exist on the site but would be moved. At least 14 retail outlets are anticipated by the plan, and it is likely to hold many more.

The Synergy vision is somewhat dependent on one facet of the developing Columbia Point Master Plan that is being pieced together by consultants with input from a community task force: the elimination of the frontage roads that run on both sides of Morrissey Boulevard.

The elimination of those roads serves a dual purpose, according to the consultants: separating local traffic from through traffic, thus reducing traffic congestion, and reclaiming the land to create a state-owned park on a strip along the boulevard as well as a full plaza closer to Kosciusko Circle.

Synergy's proposal is enhanced by the proposed park, an area the company's hired architects say could be attractive to large restaurant tenants.

Overall, Synergy is proposing 180,000 square feet of retail (including Shaw's), 500,000 square feet of office space, and 700 housing units with a grand total of 1,725 parking spaces - mostly housed in two large parking garages that face the Southeast Expressway.

Because Synergy is likely to apply for Transit Oriented Development tax credits from the state, the project will rent at least 25 percent of its apartments as affordable.

"One of our priorities will be housing that will meet a number of income levels," said Greaney at last Thursday's task force meeting. "It's a site that the neighborhood can really use, and it's active."

Despite the height of the project, which is envisioned to reach 20 stories on the current site of the MBTA station&emdash;a site which is loaded with engineering and financial challenges&emdash;and between four and 18 stories elsewhere on the site, many task force members gave Greaney positive feedback.

"I support this whole heartedly," said Matt Gordy, a task force member from Savin Hill. "I think the scale of the street that you're showing is just right. This feels like more for Dorchester compared to the Corcoran Jennison proposal that feels like it could be anywhere in Massachusetts."

Others had some reservations, particularly with memories of a proposal for a Ramada Hotel that was quashed by neighborhood groups years ago on the basis of excessive height.

"It seriously concerns me for precedent down Morrissey Boulevard," said Frank Baker, also of Savin Hill. If the offices and press of The Boston Globe were sold, he reasoned, developers may one day push for height on a redevelopment there.

Tad Read, project manager from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, reminded the group that they could set heights as part of the guidelines in the master plan.

"The heights that we had for the Globe property aren't as high as the others so far," he said.

Greaney and his team did anticipate height concerns by continuing the street patterns of Crescent Avenue and Harbor View Street from the opposite side of the expressway. Those walking down Crescent will not see a tall building blocking their view at the end of the street, he said.

Greaney also said Synergy would have a financially-motivated interest in beautifying the entrance to the JFK/UMass station from Sydney Street.

"I think we'd have an obligation to do it," he said, "irrespective of whether we get the T parcel or not."

An earlier request for proposals for the air rights parcel above the JFK/UMass Station was cancelled in order to wait for the Columbia Point Master Plan Task Force to complete their plan.

The task force is scheduled to present an early version of the master plan to the wider community on Saturday, Nov. 22, at a location to be announced.

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