City needs to get planning efforts up and running

Last January, Mayor Walsh announced plans to launch a planning initiative centered at Glover’s Corner, the crossroads of Dorchester Avenue and Hancock and Freeport streets. “We need to shape growth as a community, not let it shape us,” the mayor said in his State of the City address at Symphony Hall.

BRA director Brian Golden, a few days later, was more expansive: “We’re eager to work with the community around Glover’s Corner to undertake the type of planning that is currently underway in other parts of the city,” Golden said in a statement to the Reporter. “This area is increasingly experiencing pressures to redevelop, and our challenge, as Mayor Walsh highlighted in his State of the City address, is to shape growth as a community, not let it shape us.”

Eight months later, there is no sign of any BRA planning activity in or around Glover’s Corner. The Walsh administration needs to get focused on this section of Dorchester and they need to do so soon.

This week, we report that the old Russell Engineering Works at Dewar Street and Dorchester Avenue – currently a warren of industrial buildings – has been vacated by its longtime occupants. The new owner is a company that fronts for Gerald Chan, a billionaire who controls a China-based investment firm that owns large holdings in Cambridge. It is unknown what Chan or his team have in mind for this site, which is located directly across the street from the DOT Block project, a massive mixed-use project which won BRA approval in May.

It doesn’t make sense for the city to sit back and wait for developers with murky interests to come to us with their plans for our neighborhood. Dorchester needs to build consensus around what we would like to see unfold in this key corridor. Is it time to relocate the bunker-like Campbell Resource Center, which serves Boston public school families in this part of the city? And what of the adjacent yellow bus depot – the largest in the city – leased from Robert Susi, a key landowner who told the Reporter last winter that he’s open to the discussion? A whole new neighborhood could spring up from these large parcels between Savin Hill and Freeport Street and, at the same time, possibly alleviate some pressure on Dot Ave with new streets that would cross what is now an impenetrable industrial zone. It would be nice for the stakeholders – residents, merchants, landowners – to have some sense of order to such a massive change.

Meanwhile, on Columbia Point, an existing Master Plan cobbled together after an exhaustive public process that culminated in 2011 really needs to be reviewed and, most likely, revised.

Last week, the BRA’s Golden told the Reporter he thinks its time to reconvene a working group to review the plan, especially as the sale of the 16-acre Boston Globe property now seems more imminent. That does not necessarily mean scrapping the existing plan altogether, but it will likely mean a significant modification, particularly along the Morrissey corridor between JFK-UMass and Patten’s Cove, the marshy waterway next to the Globe.

It’s time to get these planning initiatives up and running – ideally before the end of this year – to allow for sufficient time and thoughtful planning before new proposals get sprung on us. We don’t know precisely who will build on these key sites, or what they have in mind. It’s incumbent upon us, and our elected leaders, to provide some stronger direction here. The clock is ticking.