City to study vacant lots in mid-Dot business districts

At the behest of Mayor Thomas Menino, the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the Department of Neighborhood Development and other city agencies are gearing up to study the future use of dozens of vacant lots to revitalize the business districts of Bowdoin-Geneva, Four Corners and Codman Square.

"Part of what we've heard from the neighborhood is there are a number of privately and publicly-owned parcels that they'd like to see something happen on," said Susan Elsbree, spokeswoman for the BRA.

Some speculate that the idea for the initiative was sparked by last year's debates about whether to locate a CVS pharmacy on a city-owned lot near the City Fresh Foods building at the corner of Bowdoin and Washington streets.

Rather than a full-blown planning study along the lines of those happening in the Columbia Point neighborhood and Roslindale this year, this group of studies will focus exclusively on defining the best uses for the empty lots, creating an action plan to revitalize the business districts, occasionally reaching further to include new Fairmount Line stops, analyze markets and reach out to nearby communities.

"The action plan will be a document that will list a series of actionable measures to revitalize and enhance the business districts of mid-Dorchester," said Department of Neighborhood Development DND spokeswoman Lucy Warsh of the still-developing plan.

Taking community desires into account, the agencies would attempt to find the "highest and best use" for the lots. Among other possible actions, the document would guide the BRA when approving new projects and inform DND when they release requests for proposals on city-owned lots.

The city plans to begin reaching out to the communities in question as soon as August, beginning with Four Corners, followed by Bowdoin-Geneva and Codman Square. Meetings will be held in the individual neighborhoods, with a wider community meeting tentatively set for September.

From there, a six-to-nine month period of analysis, info-gathering, and plan development will ensue, identifying the major issues in the respective neighborhoods. Land use, urban design, retail market analysis and economic and business development will all contribute to the final Mid-Dorchester Action Plan.

"I think there could be some good that comes out of it," said Shelly Goehring, director of Four Corners Main Streets. "We just hope that the existing work that's happened in the neighborhood is fully respected and included in the new process. Six to nine months is much better than 18 to 24."

Goehring said her Main Streets group has already done some market analysis of the Four Corners district, and at a meeting with DND and BRA in April, community members expressed some frustration at the idea of waiting through another planning process.