Almost one year after developer Tuankhan "Tony" Vu paid $5 million for a large, oddly shaped property near the intersection of Dorchester Avenue and Pleasant Street, civic groups are rejecting his early drafts for a redevelopment there.
"I feel bad for Tony Vu because I know he's in a financial crunch," said Jones Hill resident Matthew Strauss. "But it's been a lot of frustration. CVS won't budge. I guess they figure they're the only player in this It's almost like they want to put a suburban mall on this lot."
The property itself, and the challenges Vu faces as a developer of it, are complicated.
The lot has frontages on Dorchester Avenue and Hancock Street, but doesn't include the corner gas station or a long sliver of land on Hancock that nearly cuts Vu's property in half. An auto body shop currently occupies that site and owner Frederico Donato is said to have named a very high price to move it elsewhere in the neighborhood.
As a possible solution, Vu proposed to move the shop to Greemount Street, another street-frontage on his strangely shaped lot, at a Columbia Savin Hill Civic Association (CSHCA) planning committee meeting on Monday night. Many were opposed to that idea however, as the other side of Greenmount is entirely residential.
"People are going to look out of their windows and look out on a junkyard," said Strauss, who attended the meeting.
Also complicating potential construction plans is a sewer easement under the property. An old creek that once ran into Dorchester Bay now runs underneath the property in a culvert. Parts of the creek shown on an 1894 Bromley Atlas show it on the property and the place where it spilled in the bay on the other side of Dot Ave., but nowhere else.
According to long-time civic activist Joe Chaisson, the source is a spring on Meetinghouse Hill. After passing under Vu's lot, he said, it runs down Dewar Street and now collects under the front yard of the Spire building between Dewar and Bay Street, an area once under the bay.
CVS, so far the most interested potential retail tenant on Vu's property, has proposed a store that floats in the middle of the site towards Hancock and Dot Ave., with parking lots facing both streets.
"As it is right now, the plan is just a cookie cutter plan," said Dierdre Habershaw, president of the Columbia-Savin Hill Civic Association. "It is the same CVS that's in Cedar Grove, they just placed it here."
The CVS at Gallivan Blvd. and Hallet Street that Habershaw refers to sits in the middle of a parking lot with the look and feel of a strip mall. Pedestrian access at that site, as in a sidewalk that leads from the street to the front door, is non-existent.
"We have a number of concerns about how suburban the place is, a lot of parking, very low-density, and we are concerned about the placement of the auto body shop," said Habershaw. "We asked Tony to go back to CVS with our concerns."
The Reporter called two attorneys known to have dealings with Mr. Vu, and one said they would relay a request for comment to him this week. Vu did not call back. Several requests for comment have also been placed with the same attorney over the last year and multiple messages have been left with Vu's employees at his King Do Bakery at 1225 Dorchester Avenue. Over the last year since the property was first purchased, none of these requests to talk to Vu have been returned. Mr. Vu's contact information is not listed, nor is it included with his real estate filings at the Suffolk Registry of Deeds or the Secretary of State's corporate database.
To get closer to a proposal Columbia-Savin Hill civic could approve, Habershaw said a more urban-style CVS right up against the sidewalk on Hancock might be appropriate, as well as a different future location of the auto body shop.
Until Columbia-Savin Hill civic and other abutters approve of a plan, it is unlikely that the city's Zoning Board of Appeal would allow any required zoning changes, and as a result it is unlikely that CVS would sign a lease with Vu. There is also a question of whether other local civic associations should be involved in early planning, as the site sits on the very edge of Columbia-Savin Hill's self-defined territory.