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BRA, neighborhood council discuss plans for Rox parcels

Yawu Miller | 4/16/2009, 10:55 a.m.

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.

In the 13 years since, the biggest developments on Parcels 8, 9 and 10 have been the temporary storage of construction debris, a canine day care center and the profusion of weeds in the summer that transform the lots into a sort of urban wilderness.

All that may change in the coming year. About 60 people turned out last Saturday for a meeting at the Boston Water and Sewer Commission to plan the development of Parcels 8, 9 and 10.

Those present at the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) meeting included architects, developers, abutters and members of the Roxbury Neighborhood Council.

Participants in the three-hour planning session discussed a mix of retail and housing on the parcels. BRA Senior Architect John Dalzell urged community members to think of development in the context of housing, transportation and commercial uses in the surrounding area.

In Dudley Square, Roxbury’s public transit hub, tens of millions of dollars in federal and local investment have brought many of Roxbury’s major buildings back from the brink.

Dudley Square is in the midst of a development boom, with a new Area B police headquarters planned and new commercial and residential development in the works. The city is moving forward with its planned municipal services building on the site of the Ferdinand’s building.

And after years of community planning, other major vacant parcels in the area are being sold off. On Parcel P3, opposite Boston Police headquarters, a team of developers is planning 300 units of housing, office space, retail and a community cultural center.

Another 300 units of housing are planned for the Bartlett Street bus yard on Washington Street. And in Jackson Square, a team of developers is planning to build 600 units of housing with retail and office space and a community center.

While Dalzell presented scenarios centering on the housing and retail called for in the Roxbury Master Plan, Dudley Square Main Streets Director Joyce Stanley questioned whether those uses would be appropriate, given the nearly 1,000 units in the pipeline in the nearby developments, the declining housing market and what she described as a sluggish market for retail space in Dudley Square.

“We have too much going on right now in a difficult economic climate,” Stanley said, noting that there have been 10 retail vacancies in Dudley in the last year, more than at any point in the last 10 years.

But state Sen. Dianne Wilkerson, who noted the checkered history of development plans for the parcel in her remarks to the gathering, said the current slump in the housing market would not necessarily inhibit development on Parcels 8,9 and 10.

“The market is tough for some things and good for others,” she said. “The reason why this parcel continues to have potential is because of the activity around it.”

Wilkerson said the parcels could be good for senior housing or retail.

Last Saturday’s planning meeting was the first of three the BRA will hold for Parcels 8, 9 and 10.