(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
On Saturday close to 20 residents, a handful of designers, and city officials gathered at two interconnected parcels at 174 West 2nd St. and 179 West 1st St. to come up with a plan for the property.
Over the past several months a number of community meetings have been held to discuss what the parcels, which total approximately 16,000-square-feet, could be used for. There have been calls for a little of everything from public parking to a passive park.
Currently the lots are vacant, excluding an empty Public Works Department building located on the West 2nd Street parcel. The lots' combined value is $416,300, according to the city’s Assessing Department.
On Saturday residents and designers broke up into three groups to create visions for the parcels. The first group looked to maximize the amount of parking that could fit on the lots. The second group created a design that concentrated on community gardens and the third group created a design that focused on creating a park.
Although there have been varying opinions on what the parcels should be used for, the majority of those present Saturday said an emphasis should be put on increasing green space in the neighborhood, which has been at the center of South Boston’s real estate boom.
“For me parking would be great, but the priority should be on open space,” explained Gary Murad, a local resident and vice president of the St. Vincent’s/Lower End Neighborhood Association. “I think this is a unique opportunity to get open space in an area we are overbuilding.”
The first group, which tackled parking, concentrated on maximizing the amount of parking that the space could be used for. The group, however, was surprised to find that although the parcels are large, they really can’t hold many cars.
Using all the space available rough sketches by the group found that the lots, combined, could hold 34 to 38 vehicles. Although some said any new parking would be a benefit to the community, many said open space would do more good for more residents.
“If you put all the parking here it’s still not going to solve the parking problem [in the neighborhood],” said Randy Foster, an area resident. “The thing we don’t have is green space.”
Another scheme created by the parking group devoted half the parcel to parking, which provided an estimated 17 parking spaces. A third plan devoted a third of the parcel to parking and provided an estimated eight to 10 spaces for vehicles.
“Some might still say that getting eight spaces is worth it,” explained Donna Brown, executive director of the South Boston Neighborhood Development Corporation.
The parking group also discovered a number of additional challenges with the parking use, including who would get the spaces and for how long.
“I would say make a section parking, but not the entire thing,” said Donny Medeiros, an area resident.
The passive park group created a number of designs that incorporated everything from a grill area to community trail and green wall.
Although some residents called for the façade of the existing building on the property to be preserved, members of the group said their scheme removed the building.
“As our group started talking people were worried about security issues and neighbors wanted a view of the park [from West 2nd Street],” said Shauna Gillies-Smith, a landscape architect with Ground, who helped facilitate discussions for the group.
A drawing by the group showed a large lawn by West 2nd Street with a meandering path cutting through the space connecting to community gardens along West 1st Street. The drawings also showed a terrace connected to the adjacent Signal Building’s patio, as well as room near West 1st for a small amount of parking.
“I’d like to have an active green space in the sense of something that is productive, like a garden,” said Colleen Dunning, a local resident. “I think it is also important to look at how we use the space in the winter. Could we use it as an ice rink?”
The final group to present Saturday imagined a space that was dedicated to food production as well as community use. The group’s plan called for the creation of parcel with an interconnecting path, play area, courtyard and overlook, picnic benches, and space for gardens.
Both the park and garden proposals were well received by those in attendance, but although there was consensus Saturday, the project and proposals must still be vetted by the greater community.
There is also the ever present issue of funding.
Although everyone, including city officials, acknowledged the lack of funds for new parks, Sheila Dillon, the director of the city’s Department on Neighborhood Development, said her office has started conversations with both the Boston Parks and Recreation Department and the city’s budget office.
“There were a lot of great ideas and there is a lot of commitment by residents,” said Dillon, who attended Saturday’s planning session. “We look forward to looking at the future, but there are budget constraints, but we will be talking to the budget office to see if we can look towards fiscal year 2015.”
The next step for advocates will be to go before the community and discuss their plans. A date for a community meeting has not been set, but one is expected to take place in the coming months.