Ever since community activists hammered out the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan in 2000, activists have relied on the document to guide the development of the vacant parcels of city-owned land that dot the neighborhood.
And city officials have for the most part stuck to the protocols outlined in the Master Plan: Community residents state what they want to see on a city-owned parcel, the city drafts a request for proposals for developers, the community reviews development proposals and votes on a developer.
Somehow, when the Department of Neighborhood Development put 280-290 Warren St. out to bid, that process was ignored. For starters, Roxbury residents active in the area said they were not informed the land was being sold.
Dan Richardson, who heads the Garrison Trotter Neighborhood Association, an organization whose catchment area includes 280 Warren St., said he was left in the dark.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” Richardson said. “And I should have.”
The Rev. Michael Haynes, former pastor of the 12th Baptist Church and a Clifford Street resident whose home is less than 200 feet from the site said he was not notified of the project.
DND Spokeswoman Jessica Shumaker said the RFP was announced at a meeting of the Nine Streets Neighborhood Association on Oct. 10 of last year. Shumaker said the meeting was held at Project RIGHT and coordinated by Project RIGHT staff member Nichole Flynt. Notices of the RFP were then sent to abutters within a 300-foot radius of the site, she said.
But Roxbury residents familiar with city development projects say DND shirked its responsibility to notify them of the RFP.
Nine Streets Neighborhood Association member Claudia Owumi said she never received any notification of the RFP.
“I pass that area every single day and shop in the mall across the street,” Owumi said. “There should have been a community meeting that focused on what we want to see.”
Three developers responded to the RFP, which was advertised in the Banner and the Boston Herald, including Boston Property Development and John B. Cruz Construction. On May 9, DND Senior Project Manager Christopher Rooney wrote Cruz Development Corporation President John B. Cruz III informing him his proposal was rejected. Boston Property Development was scored 54 points out of a possible 81. Cruz Development scored 49.
Boston Property Development proposed re-developing the existing 4,177 square feet of street-level retail on the site. The proposal, submitted by the firm’s principal, Peter McLaughlin, included an emailed copy of a non-binding standard letter of intent to lease from MetroPCS.
The Cruz proposal added adjacent land the company owns at 10 Waverly St. and called for development of 8,150 square feet of commercial space, 6,720 of which would be occupied by Cruz Management and 1,064 which would be available for lease and 51 units of rental housing.
In the DND’s assessment of the firms’ proposals, Boston Properties, a Neposet-based firm, scored higher than Cruz, despite submitting what Cruz Construction Vice President Daniel Cruz Jr. says is a proposal riddled with irregularities.
For proof of financial capacity, for instance, Boston Property Development submitted a two-page computer printout of deposit accounts showing balances of $619,535 for Feb. 16, 2011.
“The winning bidder’s financing plan bears no resemblance to the financing schedules normally required by DND for a proposal submission,” Daniel Cruz wrote in a July 9 letter hand-delivered to Rooney. “Indeed, it is akin to attaching an ATM receipt to a proposal as evidence of available funds.”
Cruz also questioned the Boston Property Development’s submission of 8.5 x 11 drawings as design documents for the project, arguing the renderings lacked sufficient detail and dimensions to determine if the buildings would meet basic building code, fire safety or accessibility requirements.
“The drawings have no apparent scale indicated and with the limited information shown, it is impossible to determine the square footage, circulation or relationship of the adjacent building,” Cruz wrote. “It is difficult to understand how the proposed building design was evaluated by the PRC, let alone how the winning bidder received 6 points from the PRC in this category.”
Cruz’s application listed many of the firm’s previous projects — including The Council Towers elderly housing development on Washington Street, the Boston Biotech laboratory and office center and the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.
Boston Properties Development’s two commercial projects listed are 3383 Washington St., which it acquired in 2009 and plans to lease to a Family Dollar Store, and 1000 Blue Hill Ave., also acquired in 2009 and also still vacant.
McLauglin wrote in his proposal that “BPD is in discussions with several businesses interested in leasing the space.”
“We were shocked and dismayed,” Cruz said of the DND’s selection of Boston Properties for the development of the site. “We were amazed that somebody would use that proposal to rate them over us.”
Shumaker declined to comment for the Banner on Cruz’s allegations.
One month after Cruz had the letter hand-delivered to Rooney, Rooney wrote back informing John Cruz that DND was withdrawing the RFP, putting the sale of the land on hold.
“The Department has determined that cancellation of the disposition process is in the best interest of the city at this time,” he wrote, adding that Cruz would be welcome to submit a proposal again for consideration.
The process, or lack thereof, has left many in the community concerned.
“I think with any development that goes on in Roxbury, as many people as possible should know what’s going on,” said neighborhood activist Sarah-Ann Shaw. “When it’s not transparent and inclusive, people don’t have an opportunity to voice their opinions about what’s going on in their community. If we don’t have a say about what’s being built, who builds it and who’s benefitting, the community loses out.”
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Roxbury residents who packed an auditorium at the Dudley Square branch of the Boston Public Library blasted the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) and Mayor Thomas M. Menino during a meeting of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee on Monday.
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When the United House of Prayer sought the right to develop housing and a church on the vacant land at Washington Street and Melnea Cass Boulevard in 1994, city officials questioned their ability to finance the project.
Offended by the slight, the church officials headed uptown to Seaver Street, pumping $18 million into the former Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts.
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