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City-owned site in Uphams Corner eyed for Public Works facility to be sold instead

Posted by Patrick Rosso  August 13, 2013 01:54 PM

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The city of Boston is backing off plans to convert a massive vacant parcel in Uphams Corner, adjacent to the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line, into a storage yard for the Department of Public Works.

At a Monday meeting of the Uphams Corner Fairmount Working Advisory Group, officials with the Department of Neighborhood Development, which manages the approximately 120,000-square-foot city-owned site on East Cottage Street dubbed the Maxwell Property, announced it would begin the public process to sell the property to a developer.

The parcel was first eyed by Public Works to house its street light division because it must move from its current facility located on MBTA-owned land adjacent to the T’s Arborway Yard facility in Jamaica Plain.

The announcement of the relocation to Dorchester sparked outrage within the mayor-appointed Working Advisory Group, which is tasked with developing a “vision” for the neighborhood’s residents and businesses as part of the Fairmount Indigo Planning Initiative.

After a number of calls and a letter penned by the group in opposition to the relocation, Mayor Thomas M. Menino intervened, according to the Dorchester Reporter, which first broke the story.

Many on Monday said the parcel, currently occupied by a series of interconnected deteriorating warehouse buildings on a nearly three-acre site, is a key piece of land especially with its close proximity to a major transit line.

Now with Public Works’ plans off the table, the city will begin the process to dispose of the parcel, which it took control of in 2010 after years of disputes with the previous owner, the Maxwell Box Company.

“The city was going to use the site for a pole yard and desperately needs one,” Sheila Dillon, director of the Department of Neighborhood Development, explained Monday to members of the WAG.

“The mayor was on board with that, but after getting a number of calls he changed his mind and said, ‘there’s a better use for the site,’” Dillon explained.

The city will now begin the process of developing a Request for Proposals for the property. The document, which will be developed by DND after a series of community conversations, will lay out what the community would like to see at the parcel and what it wouldn’t like to see.

Developers are expected to submit plans for the parcel and will be selected based on their commitment to the city’s criteria and the community’s response to the proposed projects.

Although the official community process to develop the RFP isn’t expected to begin until the fall and at the soonest in September, the WAG has already had a number of lengthy conversations about the property that many consider a “missing link” in the community’s development.

“It’s a key transit-oriented development parcel and a real opportunity for both residential and economic development,” Max MacCarthy, the executive director of the Uphams Corner Main Streets and co-chair of the WAG said Monday. “In terms of job creation and housing, it’s huge.”

“Of the buildings we looked at in the area, the Maxwell was the most developable,” explained Lisa Alberghini, a member of the WAG and president of the Planning Office for Urban Affairs.

A very preliminary vision for the site, developed by the Cecil Group, a consultant working on behalf of the WAG, was presented Monday.

The plan took into account ideas generated by the group and envisioned the conversion of the parcel into a residential and green industrial site for up to 101 residential units and 54,000-square-feet of light industrial use.

“The way we’re seeing this is to take the work the WAG has done, meet with the community, and develop an RFP,” Dillon added.

At Monday’s meeting many commended the city on beginning the RFP process, but questioned its decision to back off plans to demolish the existing buildings on the property.

“If possible one of the things I’d love to see is the demolition of the building, which will make it more attractive to a developer,” City Councilor Tito Jackson explained Monday night. “It would be a much better parcel without a building on it.”

The city had planned to raze the structures on the site to make way for the street light division, but with the planned relocation canceled the money, set aside in the city’s Capital Budget, won’t be used for the site. Dillon estimated that demolition and abatement could cost upwards of $1-million.

DND will now begin the community process to develop the RFP. A series of public meetings are expected to be organized for the fall and once developed the RFP will be publicly advertised and marketed.

“When this RFP hits the street it’s going to get a lot of attention and we are already talking about aggressively marketing this [property],” Chris Rooney, a project manager for DND explained.

Once a developer has been “tentatively designated,” it will have up to 12-months to acquire financing and building permits before DND will turn over the property. Although the formal RFP process has not begun, a developer for the parcel could be designated as early as spring, according to Dillon.

Email Patrick D. Rosso, Follow him @PDRosso, or friend him on Facebook.

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