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Demolition set to begin on Bartlett Yard

Martin Desmarais
Demolition set to begin on Bartlett Yard
Plans for Bartlett Place, which will be developed on the former MBTA Bartlett bus yard in Roxbury, include 323 units of housing and 54,000 square feet of commercial property. Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. will lead the project, which has an estimated total cost of about $140 million.

The Bartlett Place project has four phases of development for the 8.5 acre former MBTA bus yard in Roxbury. The first phase consists of 100 units of housing and a grocery store. Proposed plans for later phases including senior housing, artist housing and homes.

For residents in Roxbury the long-empty Bartlett Yard has been an ongoing topic of conversation. Plans to develop and revitalize the property have come and gone. But now the ball is rolling and the all-but-abandoned site is set to be cleared with demolition work scheduled to begin this fall.

A former MBTA bus yard, Bartlett Yard is now owned by Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. and that company is working with Windale Developers on a project called Bartlett Place with the ultimate aim of developing 323 units of housing and 54,000 square feet of commercial property on 8.5 acres of land.

Also included will be a grocery store, shops, offices, a public market and plaza and new roads. The project has a total price tag of about $140 million.

According to Mark Matel, the Nuestra Comunidad Development Corp. project manager for Bartlett Place, the plan is for the housing to be 60 percent affordable and 40 percent moderate priced or market rate. The housing will be a mixture of home ownership and rental.

While Matel knows that the issue of urban housing development is always controversial, he asserts that Nuestra Comunidad Development is dedicated to a plan that will be agreeable to the community. “It is our mission to support affordable housing,” Matel said.

He also says the company wants to quell any fears about issues such as gentrification that opponents of development in the city often raise. “We have to make sure that people who do live here stay here,” Matel said. “And part of that is providing affordable housing. We are encouraging people to come but we are also encouraging people to stay.”

The Bartlett Place project has four proposed phases. The first phase will be about 100 units of housing and a grocery store. The second phase is targeting senior housing. The third phase is being considered to develop artist housing and work space. The fourth phase would be the development of homes for sale.

Matel said that the later phases of the project are still being developed, but that phase one is mostly finalized in regards to what will be presented to the zoning board. If approved, the plan would be to break ground next summer or next fall.

According to him, phase one would specifically develop two buildings. The first building would be 60 units of housing and a grocery store and the other building would be 40 more units of housing. The first building is projected to cost about $28 million and the cost for the second building is still being finalized.

“We are not building them at the same time,” Matel said. “One is going up first and then the other one is going up. We are really starting to pick up speed here and we are really close to securing funding.”

He also pointed out that all the commercial development is being done in phase one.

The Bartlett Yard has been part of many development proposals in the last decade, many of which have been highly criticized by both the public and city officials. The result has been an essentially empty site.

One proposal that drew a large outcry would have brought a Walmart store to the site. This plan was eventually shot down when Mayor Thomas M. Menino stepped in and spoke against the project due to worries about the impact on local retailers. Matel said that Nuestra Comunidad Development now is in discussion with a local grocery store to come into the development.

In the past, many of the development plans have had a tough road because the site was owned by the MBTA. City involvement delayed approvals and the process in general, Matel said. But in 2010, Nuestra Comunidad Development bought the Bartlett Yard property and the company is committed to making development happen.

No matter how things turn out on the final development plans, the company will put up $9 million, the estimated cost for acquisition of the land, design work and cleaning up the site.

At least one government organization is fully behind Nuestra Comunidad Development’s efforts to clean up the Bartlett Yard site. The Environmental Protection Agency has already given the company $1 million in grants to demolish the old buildings and clean up the old site. In 2011, Nuestra Comunidad Development got a $600,000 EPA remediation grant and they got another $400,000 grant this year.

Demolition work on Bartlett Yard could begin as early as November. “The site will be potentially cleaned up by spring of next year, so we will have 8.5 acres of cleaned up land — no buildings,” Matel said.

From the start, Nuestra Comunidad Development has dubbed the Bartlett Place project a “creative village.”

“The housing and the commercial property is wrapped around a public plaza — an open market that will have arts and events venues and walkability,” Matel said. “We look at parts of the programing as a public plaza and making sure the artists are actually here so they can activate the place.”

However, until this spring when Bartlett Events started to hold events on the property and created a large mural of painting and graffiti art, locals didn’t have much sense of what a “creative village” might actually mean to the area.

But many of the weekends have now seen well-attended events showcasing art and culture and community gatherings from different organizations.

Matel said Nuestra Comunidad Development is thrilled with the success of Bartlett Events so far and hopes that it shows the company wants to partner with community events. Bartlett Events will continue to host events on the property into the fall.

“We didn’t think it would reach this kind of success.” Matel said. “For us it is serving as a community development tool.

“In this scenario we are testing things and we are actually seeing it is working,” he added. “It has panned out to work very well.”

In fact, the community reaction to Bartlett Events and the art and murals in particular has led to Nuestra Comunidad Development including plans to keep a 20-foot L-shaped wall, which is covered with a mural, in the final development of Bartlett Place. The wall will be used as a backdrop for public events. “That is the only part of the development that is staying,” Matel said.

The Bartlett Place project is now going through the zoning process and will go before the zoning board in September. “The development isn’t going to start until next year potentially, but we are demo-ing the buildings this fall,” said Matel.

Bartlett Place is taking a cue from other recent development in the region, such as the revitalization of Dudley Square. “We are trying to bring the same kind of positive energy that the city is bringing to that development,” Matel said. “We are making sure the buildings are sustainable and making sure we give cultural community benefits back to the community. … We are putting culture up front at the forefront of our development so that the community can enjoy it.”