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Roxbury residents: Nuestra Development’s Bartlett Yard plans still lacking

Martin Desmarais
Roxbury residents: Nuestra Development’s Bartlett Yard plans still lacking
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.

Developers of the Bartlett Yard in Roxbury are set to begin demolition as early as November on the new Bartlett Place and have a proposed plan that they feel is satisfactory to all.

While some neighboring residents welcome the project, many are discouraged that the plans do not meet a number of the original stipulations outlined by the city years ago.

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 $140 million 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.

Roxbury resident Rodney Singleton is part of the Bartlett Yard Project Review Committee (PRC) and also creator and moderator of the listserve Highland Park Neighborhood Watch. He addressed the major concerns that neighborhood residents still have about the proposed Bartlett Place.

“The community was a real partner in crafting the language,” Singleton said. “Bartlett Yard was meant to be a place where the community could participate in ways that could foster and contribute wealth. That was the biggest thrust that we came up with as a community.”

Singleton said building wealth at Bartlett Yard can happen in a number of ways, including through home ownership, starting a business and working as part of the construction and development.

He pointed out that the focus on “building wealth” was included in the PRC’s Request for Proposal (RFP) that Nuestra Comunidad agreed to in 2006 when they won the right to develop Bartlett Yard. Now, he added, Roxbury residents feel this has been lost in the current plans for Bartlett Place.

“It is very disturbing to me that we seem to have forgotten that the developer responds to the PRC,” said Singleton. “What the community ends up with is usually not what was in the Request for Proposal, and that to me is very frustrating.”

While Singleton said there is satisfaction that the Nuestra Comunidad is in talks with a local Boston-based grocery store to be part of the first phase of Bartlett Place, there are still worries about how any other local businesses might be involved.

“This idea of building wealth should extend to local business,” Singleton said. “There is not a lot of retail space there. … Can you get a mom and pop store in Bartlett Place? Is the rent something they can afford? Are we growing our own local businesses in ways that they can build wealth too?”

Another concern is that the idea of “building wealth through home ownership” is not going to be addressed in the Bartlett Place project until the final phase of Nuestra Comunidad’s current plan. Singleton says there are major concerns that, tucked away on the last phase of the project, this wealth building will never actually happen.

He also said that the original RFP called for the housing to be one-third low-income housing, one-third moderate-income housing and one-third market-rate housing. For the proposed 332 units of housing at Bartlett Place this would mean about 110 units of each. However, plans now detail 60 percent affordable and 40 percent moderately priced or market-rate housing. The housing will be a mixture of homes for sale and rental units.

Singleton lastly said that the community hope is that Nuestra Comunidad will rely on minority businesses for the work on the development, as the RFP also detailed.

“We haven’t seen what the minority business enterprise utilization is going to be,” Singleton said. “They have to do 40 percent or better. Interestingly enough in the RFP it says 51 percent. We would like to see that as a goal because it is in the RFP. It is something the community worked very hard to put together and said this is something we want.”

Nuestra Comunidad has played up the public plaza part of the design for Bartlett Place, which is slated to be used as an open market that will have arts and events venues. The corporation has dubbed the development a “creative village” and points to the recent success of Bartlett Events as an illustration of the fact that the Roxbury community welcomes such a thing. Since spring, events have been held on the property and local artists have created large murals on the sides of vacant buildings.

The positive community reaction has led Nuestra Comunidad to include 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.

Jason Turgeon, producer of Bartlett Events and a resident of the Highland Park neighborhood near the Bartlett Yard, sees the inclusion of the wall as a big win for the artistic community in Roxbury. “I think in the original design they were not really going to use that in that way,” he said. “I think that right there is a very concrete victory for us. I think we have had a pretty positive impact and I am hopeful that it lasts.”

Turgeon is encouraged that demolition on the site is slated to begin this fall. “How can you do worse than what is there now?” he asked. “You have an 8.5 acre brown field that has nothing on it and has been like that for 15 years. There are a lot of people that are still kind of frustrated that it is still a vacant lot. … I think there will be a general sense of relief when they finally break ground on the buildings. I think the sooner they break ground on that thing the better.”

Singleton wholeheartedly agrees with Turgeon on redeveloping the parcel. But Singleton says many have a slightly different view on the art and painting at Bartlett Yard and the community events that have been happening there.

“The reality is Nuestra Comunidad is supposed to be developing that site. … They are having all these events because they are trying to take attention from the fact that the site is not being developed,” Singleton said. “You are not supposed to be an events coordinator of the site. You are supposed to be a developer of the site. … People see through that. They are angry about what is going on there. … They also understand that Nuestra has been stalling.”

Nuestra Comunidad’s current plan for Bartlett Place has four proposed phases. The first phase will be about 100 units of housing and a grocery store. The second phase will target 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.

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