Fairmount panel can help focus development

An advisory group charged with advising the city and state on development priorities along the Fairmount Commuter rail corridor will meet for the first time this week. The group, convened by the BRA and picked from an applicant pool by the Mayor’s Office, can be useful in guiding both short and long-term decisions about what sort of uses can and should be the focus of government-backed projects along the rail corridor, which includes existing stations in Uphams Corner and Morton Street. New stations are being built at Four Corners, Newmarket, and Talbot Avenue, with a fourth new stop slated to be built near Blue Hill Avenue in Mattapan.

The BRA says that this Fairmount planning effort will be the most ambitious since the 1980s, when the city led redevelopment planning along the Orange Line. The Fairmount expansion represents a $139 million investment by the state, but that sum could be dwarfed by the potential for large-scale private investment if proper planning allows for even more construction, redevelopment, and job growth along the line.

In fact, the enhanced Fairmount Line — which is called the Indigo Line by some transit advocates—has already triggered some smart growth along and near its right of way. In Mattapan, a new Dunkin’ Donuts is being built near the revamped Morton Street station, which re-opened after improvements in 2007. There are also projects sprouting in Four Corners, where the new station is nearing completion, and at Talbot Avenue near Codman Square.

In Uphams Corner, where the Salvation Army Kroc Center now dominates the Dudley Street stretch near the commuter rail stop, there is plenty of opportunity for near-term impacts from that existing station. In particular, we hope that the BRA advisory group will make the redevelopment of the old Maxwell flea market building a priority. That property is now controlled by the city and is well poised for an accelerated disposition to a responsible, transit-oriented developer. Of equal importance is the redevelopment of the hulking Leon Electric warehouse that looms over Dudley Street right next to the Uphams Corner station. Any serious redevelopment effort along this end of the Fairmount Line must confront the Leon Electric building from the outset.

The advisory group will be aided greatly in its work by the foundation laid by community development corporations (CDCs), including the Codman NDC and Dorchester Bay EDC, which have already put many years of work into smart planning initiatives along the Fairmount Line. The advisors will need to compensate for the lack right now of a viable CDC in Mattapan since the Mattapan CDC has essentially become a non-factor in planning new developments. Of particular interest in Mattapan should be the need to redevelop the old Cote Ford property along Cummins Highway.

We hope that this group will also help to advocate for alternative transportation amenities along the corridor. In particular, the Columbia Road and Blue Hill Avenue routes into the city are well suited for the expansion of the Hubway program, the bike rental system that has worked well elsewhere in the city. The Fairmount advisors should press for this service to come to Uphams Corner, Grove Hall, Codman Square, and Mattapan as soon as possible.

The potential of the Fairmount Line to spur a new round of growth in and around the corridor makes this a important project for all of Dorchester, Mattapan, and Greater Boston. We wish the advisory group well as they begin their work.

– Bill Forry