May 12, 2022
It’s hard to miss the Sgt. William E. Carter American Legion Post 16 on Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan Square with its large, newly painted exterior murals – as well as a history dating back 104 years. But leaders of the post say they have been left out of planning for the reconstruction of Mattapan Square to date and they feel they aren’t wanted in the community.
This winter, the city unveiled very preliminary plans to spark some feedback on how to completely change the layout and infrastructure in the Square as part of the larger, multi-year Blue Hill Avenue Action Plan.
Prior to about a month ago, said Carter Post Commander Marydith Tuitt, the post knew little to nothing about the plans. She worries that eliminating parking in front of the post could be a death knell for the post, which is named for an African American soldier who served in and around the time of the Spanish-American War and, in 1919, became the first chartered African-American Legion post in Massachusetts.
“I know my membership will tell you we already feel pushed out of Mattapan and the community is not supporting us,” she said. “We’ve been here since 1972 and we’ve existed in Boston since 1919 and we open our doors for community birthdays, baby showers, wedding receptions…We’ve never gotten anything in the mail, and no one has sent us an email.”
For many years, the doctor’s office next door allowed the Post to use its parking lot on weekends, and when the building was purchased by a church a while back, that situation did not continue. With most other parking options filled or too far away, the only parking option has been street parking on Blue Hill Avenue and Regis Road.
Parking is critical for the Post to be able to bring in revenue from rentals of the function hall that supplement the dues paid by members and allow the building – which the Post owns – to keep its doors open.
Tuitt said she isn’t going to let the Carter Post dissolve on her watch.
“If we lose this on-street parking, we’ll have nothing. We will own a building that we can’t use.”
Tuitt, who was a long-time legislative aide to former state Rep. Gloria Fox, said she is familiar with similar plans for a Blue Hill Avenue reconfiguration that came up in 2011 and were roundly defeated.
“You’re telling us this is going to be better for the community – urban development and beautification and transit. But you’re not having one-on-one conversations with every part of the community that’s affected.”
City officials from the Boston Transportation Department (BTD) and the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA) said the concerns from the Carter Post are just what they want to hear at this point in the process. They said it isn’t too late for the Post to participate, and in fact, it’s just the right time.
Kenya Beaman, a Mattapan resident who works for the BPDA, said they are taking notes and they are looking to hear from everyone.
“The city process is not a one-and-done situation and we’re still in the process of meeting with all of the stakeholders on Blue Hill Avenue,” she said. “We’re looking to meet with other people in their space and that includes the Carter Post.”
She added that opposition to the center-lane bus operations sometimes can be louder than those who prefer it, and that the primary focus in this project is safety for everyone.
“The overall goal on this project and any project right now is safety,” she said. “One of the main principles is to have a safe and accessible experience no matter how you get around.”
Kirstie Hostetter, of BTD, said the center-lane bus operations are assumed in transportation funding grants, but still have to be validated with the community – not to mention the ideas of parking, sidewalks and beautification.
“This is just the beginning of these conversations,” she said, noting they are still bridging the gap on two large processes – the Blue Hill Avenue process and the Mattapan Square process. “We still have a lot of design decisions to be made with the community.”
The parking issue is even more central to the Carter Post, as they have done significant work inside, replacing the walls and adding new bathrooms. Outside, in June, a new roof and an overall upgrade of the façade will premiere. That will leave the post with a much better facility for rentals, but if major changes are made to on-street parking, it could all be for nothing.
“My members look around at things going on and not knowing about this, and these Black service members don’t feel respected,” said Tuitt. “We were not invited to the table on this, so we feel like we’re not important.”
She said she would volunteer to host a meeting of all parties at the Post to air concerns and give input that she said has been overlooked to date.