Neighbors weigh new businesses, college options in Mattapan meeting

Mattapan and Dorchester residents gathered at the Mildred Ave. Community Center last Wednesday (Oct. 19) to learn about new business developments and hear from various city agencies in the latest of a series of meetings sponsored by the Walsh administration.

The opening of a new nail salon and spa on River Street as well as a new grocery store on Blue Hill Avenue dominated the discussion. A presentation from the Office of Workforce Development also drew students seeking financial aid for college.

The proposed nail salon would be located at 510 River St., while the grocery store would be sited at 1435 Blue Hill Ave. Both projects are currently under community review and have not yet been approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, said Georges.

The salon’s owner is looking to hire masseuses to incorporate a spa into her business, which Georges expressed is not currently offered anywhere in the area. With regards to the grocery store, Georges added, residents were pleased to see development in an area that’s been untouched for a while.

However, several attendees expressed their concern about the grocery store’s hours of operation.
“The business owner said he is understanding that [the grocery store] is in a residential neighborhood,” said Georges, adding that the owner is a resident of the neighborhood himself.

“We want residents to understand that agencies are accessible to them, and to fully understand the services that are out there,” said Ruth Georges, Dorchester and Mattapan liasion for the Mayor’s Office Neighborhood Services.

“More than half the time [residents] thank us for addressing questions and topics that they had not thought about,” said Georges. “We talk about services they did not know existed and sometimes we put to bed things that are untrue.”

Imagine Boston 2030 — the city’s long-range planning initiative— proved to be a key component of the meeting. Participants were provided with a model of three areas of the city – a traditional neighborhood, a high-rise area, and an industrialized space – and were asked to use Legos to represent where they would desire to see future growth.

Natalia Urtubey, Director of Engagement for Imagine Boston 2030, said that the point of the activity was to “get ahead” of the inevitable growth, while keeping residents in mind. The data collected from the activity is sent directly to the Mayor’s office to shape future priorities, she added.

“We’re hoping to get more perspectives of voices in Dorchester-Mattapan that often times aren’t heard,” said Urtubey.

The Imagine Boston team has received over 12,000 points of engagement over the last year with the project, and housing has been the number one issue for residents city-wide, according to Urtubey.

“We don’t have all the answers and we don’t pretend to,” she said. “But we are hoping that with all of the residents we talk to, we’ll be able to come up with some cohesive answers that everyone feels good about.”

This vision of Imagine Boston mirrors the main goal behind these Dorchester-Mattapan community meetings, where community engagement is the chief priority, says Georges.

“We view it on a grass-roots kind of level, because the average person that may not be connected to understand that development is happening,” said Georges. “Now residents can know that this research and what is happening is ongoing, but it’s ongoing with them in mind.”

Eva MacDonald, 22, of Roslindale, attended the meeting as a youth leadership coordinator for Mattapan United, in hopes of further connecting with the Mattapan community.

“Collaborating is really important for moving forward, said MacDonald. “I’m hoping that at the end of this meeting there will just be a lot of passing cards and working together to take each other to the next step.”

Kyle Saunders, a recent college graduate who lives in Dorchester, came back home from his college in New York surprised to see new buildings and construction. He attended the meeting to learn more about it, he said.

“I see that it doesn’t look the same,” said Saunders. “I was hoping for some job opportunities, and I didn’t find any, but I’ll keep looking.”

Robyn Gibson, 28, of Mattapan said she is pleased by what the meetings are accomplishing for the community, but she wants to see more.

“My personal vision is that we have an identity that can unify us as a community,” said Gibson. “I’m hoping that we have some sort of pipeline for certain careers and jobs that people who grow up here can be proud of.”