Columbia Point build-out scenario gets positive nods

Neighbors continue to butt heads when it comes to the city’s plans to foster retail and residential construction along the northern end of Morrissey Blvd. and re-connect Columbia Point to Dorchester. Reaction to the most recent proposal from the Boston Redevelopment Authority, the city’s planning agency, has been generally positive, with most residents and regular visitors, in an informal survey by the Reporter inside McKenna’s in Savin Hill and outside the JFK/UMass MBTA station, voicing support for the proposal.

The final proposal, released earlier this month, sketches out a master plan for the area, with a building that could rise to 17 stories expected to be built over the JFK/UMass MBTA station, an increase in open space, and more roads connecting Morrissey Boulevard and Mt. Vernon Street. The plan, aimed at turning the neighborhood into a livelier, 24-hour a day area, was altered last year after community outcry over building a 22-story building over the station.

The planning process was spurred by an expected increase in development of several parcels in the area, including the former site of the WB56 television station.

“It’s so changed from what they initially did that I’m not sure what my reaction is yet,” said Dorchester resident Bob Stafford. Stafford said that he was more familiar with older proposals from the city and UMass-Boston to build dormitories and utilize the site of the Bayside Exposition Center for other development.

“I think it’s all right. I think it needs some life down here,” Stafford said, adding that he has a generally favorable view of the BRA’s record of past projects.

The plan is meant to help guide private developers looking to build in the area and to give residents an idea of what a revamped Columbia Point could someday look like. The plan is expected to be voted on by the BRA’s board in the fall.

“It’s so different from the plan that was presented to the neighborhood,” Stafford said. “This is completely different.”

But a life-long resident of Dorchester who recently moved into the peninsula’s Harbor Point neighborhood blanched at the thought of an overhaul.

“I don’t think they should,” said Diane Fluker as she headed into the JFK/UMass MBTA station. “I think it should stay the same.”

“The station is very busy,” she said, adding that she had concerns over a possible increase in congestion that the planned 4,300 additional residential units could bring. Fluker said that lessening the existing congestion at the station would be a good idea.

“I think they’ll upset the tourists if they come through,” she added, referring to the visitors to the JFK Presidential Library and Museum.

Columbia Point is home to a number of local institutions, including Sovereign Bank, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the Massachusetts State Archives, Corcoran Jennison Companies, the Boston Globe, Boston College High School, the Bayside Expo Center, and the UMass-Boston campus.
Fluker said she moved to the Peninsula building on Mt. Vernon St. three years ago and enjoys the quieter community and the “much different environment” from other portions of Dorchester. She remembers the old Columbia Point housing projects and the negative reputation the neighborhood carried.

“Now it’s mixed a lot over there and it’s so peaceful,” she said.

Lee Robinson, who lives near Wellesley Park, said the BRA appeared to be overreaching.

“Seventeen stories seems like way too much,” she said.” Everybody overreaches on the first couple of plans.”

But Corneal Christopher, an employee of the Shaw’s on Morrissey Boulevard, said that the addition of retail space could bring much needed jobs to local residents, especially those living in the Harbor Point area.

“If they do bring something like that in here, if it was more retail mixed in with residential, I think it would be great for the city and for the neighborhood,” Christopher said.

Christopher, who has worked at the supermarket for over four years, said that new development could help the neighborhood get away from its lingering reputation.

“As long as it brings in jobs to the community, there’s nothing wrong with that,” he said.
Congestion shouldn’t be a problem for a new development, Christopher said, because of easy access to the South East Expressway and Morrissey Blvd., two of Dorchester’s main transportation arteries.
Christopher said that he understands why some neighbors would have problems with the plans, but that he didn’t think there is anything wrong with the proposal “as long as you bring in something for the whole of the community.”

“I think it’s a wonderful proposal and this neighborhood really could use it,” said Ken Osherow, a local resident and real estate broker. “It brings Dorchester up,” said Osherow. He added that increased population in the area would help improve safety as well.

Mike Sills, a South Shore resident who visits the area often, said that the area around the existing JFK/UMass station is difficult to navigate and that a development could improve visitors’ and commuters’ experiences.

“Anything that they can [do to] organize it a little better, make it look a little better,” would be welcome, Sills said.