Sketches outline new-deal for Columbia Point

A hand-drawn schematic shows new roads and traffic flows envisioned by city-hired urban planners. The two double-pointed arrows in blue indicate a new road through the proposed Bayside development from Day Blvd. to Morrissey Blvd. and a Mt. Vernon Street without 'the chute.' In orange is Morrissey without its frontage roads. In green is the proposed refiguring of the road around UMass-Boston as well as a new road that would go either behind or in front of the Shaw's Supermarket, the Boston Globe and other buildings on the western side of Morrissey Boulevard. The red arrow indicates I-93.

The bare skeleton of a master plan that would transform Columbia Point from a sleepy, car-centric side street area to a destination for shoppers, nature lovers and sightseers alike in the next 20 years hit paper last month. The rough ideas were shown for the first time last Thursday at a Columbia Point Master Planning Task Force meeting.

A series of sketches drawn by consultants were projected on a screen in the Loyola Room at Boston College High School, showing entirely new roads, bike paths and open space weaving and bobbing through the point. For the most part, they were tentatively well received by the task force and public who were present.

"You have my stamp of approval on the network," said Paul Nutting at the meeting, a member of the task force and a Savin Hill resident. "One of the main goals we had was to separate the regional traffic from the local traffic and you've done that and also provided a lot of pedestrian and bike access."

Some parts of the plan could significantly change the Bayside on the Point development planned by Corcoran Jennison Companies at the site of the old Bayside Expo Center, including a road that would cut through the project from Day Boulevard to Mt. Vernon Street to Morrissey Boulevard; and a public square on the scale of Copley Plaza, half of which would occupy space where what is known locally as 'the chute' exists today - a small connector from Day to Mt. Vernon.

Urban planners from the city's consulting firm, Crosby Schlessinger Smallridge LLC (CSS), stressed that the plan would be realized in pieces over decades, not all at once.

Other highlights of this early draft plan included a bike path running through athletic fields and the UMass Boston campus for the length of the peninsula; an extension of Harbor Point's main street, Harbor Point Boulevard, to connect to Morrissey; and chopping off or significantly narrowing Morrissey's frontage roads and remaking it into the parkway it was originally intended to be.

"The idea is to redirect that traffic back up onto the freeway," said H.H. "Skip" Smallridge, a principal at CSS.

Not all stakeholders accepted the plan wholesale, however. Father George Carrigg of St. Christopher's church expressed concern over the possibility of losing part of the church's property to the connector road, particularly with children in the area, and a resident from Harbor Point said she felt her neighbors would be concerned at the prospect of attracting people into their "gated community."

"The church does not support the road," said Carrigg. "The church may want to develop facilities to serve the new population."

Christopher Hart of Adaptive Environments - an advocate for universal accessibility - even brought up the specter of eminent domain, but John "Tad" Read said it wasn't being looked at as of yet, although the Boston Redevelopment Authority does have the power to carry it out. He stressed that it is very early in the planning stage and the BRA wants to work with the community to determine what is appropriate.

Other potential roadblocks to the new road proposals floated by CSS are the Boston Teacher's Union (BTU), which would literally sit right in the path of the proposed Day to Morrissey connector; as well as the MBTA, Synergy - which owns Shaw's Supermarket and the buildings behind it - and even the Boston Globe. The latter group would all have to agree to an access road that would run from Old Colony Road near the JFK/UMass Station to the other side of the Globe building, possibly running between these buildings and the I-93 expressway.

Smallridge said CSS and the BRA have met with the Globe, Synergy, and the T and all are open to the idea, as long as it fits with their future plans, which are unknown even to them as of yet. Patrick Connolly of the BTU recently told the Reporter that the union is not unwilling to move, but just hasn't heard the right offer as of yet.

All of these new, and for most, welcome ideas did raise a few questions in the task force, such as 'Who's going to pay for all this?' and 'How do we fit this in with Corcoran Jennison's project?'

Corcoran Jennison Companies' proposal for 350-units of rental housing, 250,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of office space on the current site of the Bayside Expo Center has already begun its Article 80 Large Project Review Process with the BRA, and if the roadways around and through the proposed development are going to change with the master plan, one would think the project would have to as well.

"I have to admit it's a little problematic," said Joe Sammartino, representing Phillips Family Hospitality at an informal meeting specifically for the Bayside development after the task force meeting. "The process is going forward and with this process we're doing tonight, there are some significant differences than what's on paper."

Jay Rourke, the BRA's project manager for Bayside, advised the group to include the new information from the task force in their comments on Bayside, which are due on Aug. 15, including directions on what traffic or any other impacts they may want Corcoran Jennison to study before they submit their Draft Environmental Impact Report later in the process. This prompted a discussion of just how much the community could ask from the developer to offset the traffic and other impacts Bayside will bring to Columbia Point.

While some said they thought Corcoran Jennison shouldn't be held liable for all of the mitigations the master planning task force seeks, others didn't feel comfortable counting on Synergy and other would-be developers to come through with their projects. So far, Corcoran Jennison has proposed just $1.4 million in traffic and pedestrian mitigations, which includes signalizing the entrances to their own development.

"I think we have to look at this project and think about this traffic impact as if the rest of it wasn't going to happen," said Bill Cotter, a Savin Hill resident. "A lot of them are still sitting on the sidelines. We're faced with this one, and they're ready to move. I don't think we have any choice┬ů I think they have to absorb the burden for what they will cause."

At a meeting tentatively scheduled for mid-September the task force will move on to consider proposals for land use on the point, and if one of those are accepted by its members, traffic modeling studies for the possible scenarios will get underway, said Read. A rough idea of what the future traffic patterns might be under the above proposals might be available by October or November, he said.