Residents ask city to hit brakes on White Stadium plans
A growing number of Franklin Park abutters and open space advocates are calling on city officials to hit the brakes on controversial development plans for White Stadium.
Demands to slow down the process come as the Boston Planning and Development Agency is pushing a proposal by investors behind a National Women’s Soccer League team to lease the stadium for home games and practices.
The investors, calling themselves Boston Unity Soccer Partners, unveiled their proposal last July with plans to begin renovations in April.
The proposal before the BPDA board would change the zoning around White Stadium from “Open Space” to a new designation city officials are calling “Stadium Open Space.” Karen Mauney-Brodek, president of the Emerald Necklace Conservancy, said the proposed zoning change would remove key protections from park land and allow uses including retail facilities, restaurants serving alcohol and entertainment facilities.
“Everyone desires improvement to White Stadium,” she said. “The concern is the way they’re going about it.”
City officials held a single hearing on the proposed zoning change on Dec. 18, just a week before Christmas. They ended public comment on the zoning change Jan. 9. The review process, which took place during the holidays, caught many community residents off guard, said Louis A. Elisa II, who lives opposite the park on Seaver Street and sits on the city-appointed impact advisory group for the project.
“They’ve got these deadlines,” he said. “They’ve given people a lot to respond to and everything is rushed. Their proposals aren’t presented in a way that lets people understand what they’re trying to do.”
Land zoned as open space is protected by state law under Article 97, which states that park land cannot be converted to another use unless it is replaced with an equal amount of open space. Mauney-Brodek said Boston Unity Soccer Partners and the city are expecting to begin construction as early as April, a timeframe that would not allow for sufficient public review.
“The timelines they’re talking about don’t allow for the processes they’re required to go through for the project of this type,” she said, noting there has been no environmental review of the redevelopment plans.
Dion Irish, chief of operations for the city, acknowledged that the process is moving quickly.
“We are moving with urgency on this project,” he said. “It’s an unprecedented opportunity for BPS athletics and for the community overall.”
Irish said the city has held 15 meetings on the project and is committed to holding more meetings.
The zoning change is one of three major processes currently taking place concerning the stadium. On the reconstruction project itself, there are two projects with separate timelines.
One is the soccer consortium’s plan to redevelop city-owned offices, locker rooms and facilities in the western portion of the stadium for exclusive use by the team, which would lease the property from the city, and to expand the grandstands, make improvements to the turf, rebuild the running track around the field and develop space to the south of the stadium for possible restaurant and recreational use.
The other is the city’s proposal to redevelop the area under the eastern grandstand. The city would relocate the offices of Boston Public Schools’ Athletics Department, student locker rooms and other facilities from the western grandstand to the eastern grandstand.
“Everybody’s treating this like it’s one project, and it’s really two projects,” said Christine Poff, a Jamaica Plain resident and former member of the Franklin Park Coalition.
Poff and others said it’s impossible for most people to attend all of the meetings for the three processes and that meetings have been held with little advance notification.
The multiplicity of planning processes for White Stadium is compounded by other plans affecting the areas in and around Franklin Park: the city’s strategy for redeveloping Blue Hill Avenue, the state Department of Mental Health proposal for the redevelopment of the Shattuck Hospital site and a city-led Franklin Park redevelopment plan that calls for shutting down Circuit Drive.
“There are so many other things happening at the same time,” Mauney-Brodek said.
City officials have presented conflicting plans for how the stadium would move the 11,000 spectators Boston Unity Soccer Partners expects to draw to games in and out of the park, with plans calling for as many as 95 shuttle buses a day to approach the stadium from Circuit Drive, dropping passengers off at the Playstead area, and others approaching from Walnut Avenue, allowing fans to disembark in front of the stadium.
“Traffic and parking are a big worry,” said Rodney Singleton, a Roxbury resident who sits on the impact advisory group for the project. “They haven’t thought through it. It’s difficult to site a venue like that in the middle of the city.”
Irish said the city is working with the investment team on traffic and parking, but acknowledged that the work is ongoing.
“We want a parking plan that reflects that when there’s a league game, folks are not displacing people from the park and will not be parking on residential streets,” he said.
Under the Boston Unity Soccer Partners proposal, the soccer team would have exclusive use of the stadium three times a month in addition to practice sessions that would precede game days. City officials told the Boston Globe that regular season football games would no longer be allowed in the stadium, which was built in 1949 for Boston school sports, because students’ football cleats would compromise the quality of the turf. Student track meets and soccer games could continue to take place in the stadium, but not on game days or during practice times.
The soccer team’s season would run from March 16 through November 17.
Irish said the league’s game schedule would not take precedence over other city activities in and around the stadium, citing high school graduations, cross country meets and major festivals held in the park. In 2023, the league’s games took place on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Aside from the many events currently happening in the park, Poff says game days could disrupt life for many who use the park daily for exercise and strolling.
“That’s the biggest worry,” she said. “Is someone going to be able to just take a walk in the park on a game day with 11,000 people there?”
Greater Boston News Bureau