City halts re-use of Codman lots amid church objections

The city has paused in its effort to re-develop two city-owned parcels at the corner of Washington and Euclid Streets in Codman Square after leaders at a neighboring church objected to a conversion from their existing use as parking lots.

Located among a number of churches, ministries, and a few boutique shops and near the Codman Square Health Center, the parcels make up a combined 16,427 square feet of land. Leaders at the Dorchester Temple Baptist Church — located directly across Washington Street— have pushed for control over the lots to be granted to the surrounding stakeholders.

Department of Neighborhood Development (DND) officials have been moving ahead with the development outreach process, and the plans were discussed most recently at the Codman Square Neighborhood Council’s February meeting.

Rev. Bruce Wall, pastor of the Dorchester Temple, objected to the development in a letter to the mayor on Feb. 9. He said that loss of parking and increasing gentrification have contributed to the flight of many minority-owned businesses in other areas of the city, and the church’s standing management of the lot should be considered paramount.

“What would save us so much wasted time,” Wall wrote, “would be for the City to put lights on the lot, create parking spaces, and allow the churches, some businesses, representatives and residents to control the lot - similar to the lot across the street from Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury.”

Along with an adjacent parking lot, the Twelfth Baptist Church controls a 25,469-square foot lot across the street that is also used for parking.

“Our church has had site control over the lot for more than 20 years,” Wall continued. “We have worked diligently with city officials to keep the lot clear of those who wanted to use the lot for illegal means. To learn that City officials are going to force the development of the lot for commercial use or housing is distressing.”

DND officials have pursued a community process for the lots for over a year. At its initial meeting, on Jan. 28, 2016, there was clear feedback on the need for parking in the Codman Square area. Most at the meeting agreed that the lot should be used for parking, though some residents also expressed a desire to see mixed development on the parcels.

Sheila Dillon, the city’s housing chief, called Wall the day after his letter was posted to announce that the city would hold off on its plan to put out a Request for Proposals (RFP) on the property.

“We started a community process to define a development that would not only keep parking in place, but also provide amenities to Codman Square,” Dillon said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s clear that the neighborhood is concerned with the loss of any parking, so we are going to put the RFP process on hold. We look forward to working with the community to better understand their parking needs.”

On Feb. 12, Wall thanked Dillon for the slowdown in planning, asking in another letter that the city meet with a small group of church leaders and neighbors to discuss next steps.

“We have a win-win proposal for the city,” Wall wrote. “Although you have a hold on the development of the property we are concerned that the hold can be revoked after the election.” The plan outlined in the letter asks that the land be re-developed into “upgraded” community parking lots by the Boston Transportation Department. Wall noted that “most of people who park in the Euclid and Washington Street lots work at the Codman Square Health Center.”

Sandra Cotterell, CEO of the health center, said in a statement: “Codman Square Health Center shares the same concern about parking, and we have been working with local and civic leaders on this neighborhood issue.”