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Fenway foes propose 'urban village'

By Michael Jonas, Globe Correspondent, 03/19/00

While the Red Sox are dragging their feet on releasing details of a financing scheme for their proposed new ballpark, opponents of the plan are stepping up to the plate with their own vision for renewal of the area.

Led by the Fenway Community Development Corporation, a coalition of Fenway residents and groups is kicking off a campaign to revive the concept of an "urban village" along Boylston Street, a plan first conceived during the early 1990s.

The coalition, slated to hold its first public meeting yesterday, wants to see a mix of ground-floor retail uses and mixed-income housing development along Boylston Street, a busy artery now dominated by surface parking lots and fast food outlets. The plans for a new 44,000-seat stadium, however, would position one wall of the ballpark directly along Boylston Street, a design many residents say collides head on with the urban village vision and efforts to improve the quality of residential life in the Fenway.

Mayor Tom Menino has been a big backer of a new stadium in the Fenway, but he's also made revival of neighborhood business districts a centerpiece of his administration. In a speech last month to the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, Menino called the new ballpark plan an "opportunity to rebuild the Boylston Street corridor" and to "get rid of the surface parking on Boylston Street in favor of a `Main Street' environment, with infill housing for the middle class."

His have-it-both-ways view may be a tough sell.

"The ballpark and Main Street don't go together," said Carl Koechlin, director of the Fenway CDC. "It's hard to have life on just one side of the street."

Leaders of the new urban village coalition concede they have more of a vision than a blueprint at this point.

"But it's a way of getting people to think about what might be possible as opposed to just accepting whatever might get dished out," said Koechlin.

Rep. primary race in high gear

I t may be a half-year until the Sept. 19 state primary, but you'd never know it in Brookline. School Committee vice chairman Frank Smizik, who is challenging freshman state Representative Ronny Sydney in the Democratic primary, had a full legion of campaign workers at the polls earlier this month when residents went to cast ballots in the presidential primary.

More than 50 volunteers distributed "palm cards" outlining Smizik's decidedly liberal agenda, including support for public education, universal health care, early childhood programs, and rules reform to "challenge the conservative legislative leadership."

Meanwhile, Sydney is planning a March 26 campaign kickoff, with Congressman Barney Frank scheduled as a special guest speaker. However, the quick-witted congressman now says he was caught a bit flat-footed in accepting the invitation. Unless there's "some overriding ideological issue," said Frank, he generally doesn't endorse candidates in primaries, and this one is no exception. Frank plans to make good on his commitment to the Sydney campaign event, but to even the score he's told Smizik he'll make an appearance at an event for him as well. Smizik's campaign kickoff is scheduled for March 29.

Still standing in the wings is former representative John Businger, who says he's considering a comeback attempt. Two years ago, Sydney defeated Businger by 35 votes. Smizik already has the support of some former Businger loyalists, however, and Businger's entry into the race would likely only work to Sydney's advantage.

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