Columbia Point’s future: Lots of action, lots of questions

These are momentous days for Columbia Point and the Columbia-Savin Hill neighborhood that’s right next door. 

• The Boston Globe has a new, but still murky, agreement in place to sell its Morrissey Boulevard property to a New York-based firm.

• Auto magnate Herb Chambers has come out of a two-year hiatus to propose a mammoth new luxury car dealership next door to the Globe site.

• Robert and Jonathan Kraft continue to circle above the Bayside waterfront parcel with an eye toward building a soccer stadium in concert with UMass.

• And a brand new residential complex is about to open next to the JFK-UMass T station.
It’s enough to make one wonder: Is there any kind of coordination to all this? You know, like, a master plan?

You’d never know there actually is one from the disjointed, chaotic way things are unfolding at the moment. Over a three-year period in the latter part of the last mayoral administration, a master plan for Columbia Point was created by a group of your neighbors in cooperation with the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

When it was published in 2011, Mayor Tom Menino called it “a visionary Master Plan that accurately reflects the dreams and aspirations of an entire community and sets Columbia Point on a vital, sustainable path into the 21st century.” The document laid out the makings of a new community that could rise up from what is now the Morrissey corridor, with residential towers as high as 17 stories, a mix of businesses and amenities, open space, and a new street grid connecting to the peninsula across the boulevard.

What has unfolded, instead, has been a disappointment. The guiding principles of that document have not been adhered to; the disparate interests on Columbia Point have calcified and grown more insular; building projects that have been brought forward have been put on hold indefinitely; and the vision that volunteer neighbors labored for years to cobble together has been left in limbo.

We don’t know what the potential new owners of the Boston Globe property will do with the 16-acre Globe site if and when they acquire it. The current owner of the Globe complex — John Henry— has remained characteristically aloof. Other than being told that the Globe was decamping for new spaces in downtown Boston and Taunton, we don’t really have any understanding of what might come next. We deserve better than that from the present steward of this key site.

Herb Chambers, who eagerly engaged with civic leaders to win BRA approval to convert the old WB56 building into a BMW showroom four years ago, basically disappeared once it became evident that the Globe property was in play. Chambers has suddenly re-emerged to – voila! – raise the curtain on a new, much larger car dealership for his site, one that sits cheek to jowl with the Globe property. What’s he thinking? Is it a legitimate proposal? Or a high-roller head fake meant to put his mothballed property in play for the Globe buyer? Your guess is as good as ours, since Dot native Chambers hasn’t responded to requests for comment.

How is it that all these powerful, deep-pocketed interests – John Henry and his New York partners, Herb Chambers, the Krafts — are permitted to re-shape the contours and uses of this vital section of the city without explanation or properly engaging the community that surrounds it?

The city of Boston, specifically the mayor and his planning agency, the BRA, need to be more forceful on our behalf. This isn’t some distant shoreline far off on the horizon— it’s ‘Land, Ho’ when it comes to Columbia Point.

Don Walsh, the Savin Hill man who headed up the task force that created the Master Plan, said this week that he’s no longer “wedded” to the document. Things have changed. The BRA permitted a five-story residential building – now known as Hub 25 – to be built where the Master Plan envisioned a 17-story tower. What does that mean for the rest of the block, including the Globe site? What would it mean to plop an 80,000-square foot luxury car garage and showroom in the middle of that block where residences and streets were envisioned?

Good questions, and just two of many that now need to be renewed with an eye toward, at the very least, dusting off a comprehensive roadmap to development in Dorchester.