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New city planning puts focus on Dudley Square

Jule Pattison-Gordon
New city planning puts focus on Dudley Square
Many developers are eyeing Dudley Square.

As developers continue to eye Dudley Square, city officials are making the district the focus of a new community planning effort.

“People want to live in Boston. That’s a good thing. But we need to shape growth as a community, not let it shape us,” Mayor Martin Walsh said during his State of the City address last month. “That’s what folks are doing along the Red Line in South Boston, and the Orange Line in Jamaica Plain. They’re helping us plan vibrant, walkable streets, with affordable homes, diverse businesses and great open space. Tonight I can announce two new planning areas: Glovers’ Corner in Dorchester and Dudley Square in Roxbury.”

New vision

Current high-level developer interest in Dudley Square has prompted city officials to move more quickly on crafting a plan for the district’s growth, said Sara Myerson, new director of planning for the Boston Redevelopment Authority.

“There are certain areas we are working on with huge development pressures [which] means we feel the need to accelerate their planning,” Myerson said. She will be charged with integrating neighborhood-focused visions into the larger citywide plan of Imagine Boston 2030.

“The goal here is to get ahead of some of the development pressures in a concerted way, where the community can really advise on the visions that they want to see for the area,” said Nick Martin, BRA director of communications.

According to a Boston Redevelopment Authority press release, three principles will guide the process: “Preserve assets valued by the community, enhance underutilized spaces and places and identify strategies to grow responsibly in order to accommodate future residents.”

Author: Google MapsSeveral groups seek to organize community planning in the area.

The new planning effort also provides an opportunity to reassess the vision laid out in the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan to see if it still suits community goals, said Lara Mérida, BRA deputy director for community planning.

The planning team will explore opportunities to encourage investment and development on privately-owned land and best uses for the many vacant parcels the city and BRA own in Dudley, according to Mérida.

“We will be thinking about how we can encourage responsible growth on those parcels and hopefully release requests for proposals on those parcels in the area,” Mérida said.

One aim will be to find ways to accommodate more middle class affordable housing and more housing overall, Martin said.

While the planning phase in South Boston and Jamaica Plan took nine months, Martin expected that process to be shorter for Dudley Square, completing by the end of August. Martin said he does not foresee rezoning in the district. Instead, requests for proposals will be put out for redeveloping empty parcels.

Reclaim Roxbury

Another planning effort involves engaging Roxbury at large.

City Councilor Tito Jackson launched Reclaim Roxbury, a community planning initiative that initiated a series of meetings last fall and continues to meet. The councilor highlighted the need for residents to take control of how land is used in their community and create an overarching plan to guide all projects.

He emphasized local voice: “Community planning does not happen downtown. Community planning happens in our neighborhood and in our community.”

Reclaim Roxbury’s focus includes establishing a representative governing structure that will oversee planning in the community and ensure developers uphold their promises. Both Jackson and Martin said the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan, adopted over a decade ago, needs updating.

Joyce Stanley, executive director of Dudley Main Streets, seconded the need for better planning, saying that often the BRA has taken a project-by-project approach without accounting for each one’s impact on traffic and other conditions in the area.

Stakeholder voice

The best way for Walsh to assist community planning is to solicit and support residents’ opinions, said Jackson, who learned of the mayor’s intentions for Dudley during the State of the City address.

“I think the best resource that the mayor can provide is an ear to listen to the community and what the community wants, and to follow the direction of the individuals who live, work and love this community and have transformed it into what it is today.”

The BRA’s Nick Martin said that for its planning efforts in Dudley, the agency will create an advisory board comprising stakeholder-nominated residents, elected officials and local business owners.

“We always work very closely with all the electeds in the neighborhood,” Sara Myerson said as well.

Retail, jobs and infrastructure

Stanley said Dudley Square’s main need is economic development, particularly a plan to bring visitors, retain small retailers and attract restaurants and destination businesses.

“We need a plan to get businesses,” Stanley said. “Right now there’s not much to bring people here.”

Rising property values has contributed to struggles to keep small retailers. In recent years, such businesses increasingly have vanished, as many landlords decline to renew leases in order to redevelop buildings to sell or rent to higher bidders, she said. Other small storeowners find it difficult to afford locations in Dudley Square.

Jackson said Roxbury residents’ major concerns include displacement, gentrification and a need for more job creation. As development happens, efforts must be taken to ensure local hiring, he added.

Housing, business and employment

In his State of the City address, Walsh also announced the creation of an Office of Housing and Stability whose work will focus on helping residents stay in their communities as rents rise. The new department, he said, will “develop resources for tenants, incentives for landlords who do the right thing and partnership with developers to keep more of our housing stock affordable.”

Walsh also seeks to boost small businesses and employment through a variety of initiatives including a new Small Business Center, an apprenticeship program aimed at low-income workers, a resource to help employers hire local and a task force to study the impact of a $15 per hour minimum wage.

Other initiatives include increasing park land and making the city more affordable to seniors.