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Roxbury residents irked by developer’s changes to Bartlett Place plan

Yawu Miller
Yawu Miller is the former senior editor of the Bay State Banner. He has written for the Banner since 1988.... VIEW BIO
Roxbury residents irked by developer’s changes to Bartlett Place plan
Rodney Singleton has complained that Nuestra Comunidad is deviating from community process with the Bartlett Place project.

A proposal to add the Conservatory Lab Charter School to the Bartlett Yard site garnered little support Monday night at a meeting of the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee meeting.

Community residents and members of the oversight committee grilled Nuestra Comunidad Community Development Corporation Executive Director David Price over the plan, which calls for a new school building to accommodate Conservatory Lab’s more than 400 students and 72 staff members.

Roxbury residents and committee members questioned whether the school fits into the community’s vision for the site — codified in a 2007 request for proposals — which includes housing and economic development.

City Councilor Tito Jackson noted that as a charter school, Conservatory Lab would not necessarily benefit abutters. Students at charter schools are picked through lottery without regard for their proximity to the school.

“This is hard to swallow when we can’t say there’s a direct benefit for the kids who abut this school,” he said. “What’s in it for the folks in the community? We were told that job creation was coming to the Bartlett yard. We were told that wealth creation was coming.”

Conservatory Lab Head of School Diana Lam said the school would create economic development opportunities for Roxbury-area businesses, noting that the school will contract out many services.

Price said the new school building would not significantly alter the parameters of the Bartlett Place proposal, which calls for 129 owner-occupied homes, 194 apartments, 25,000 square feet of retail space and 16,500 square feet of commercial space. Price noted that the school project would add to the 1,000 construction jobs anticipated on the site.

“Everything is a net gain,” he said.

Much of Monday’s meeting was taken up by a presentation on the charter school, which currently operates out of two separate buildings, one in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester and one in Brighton.

Chartered in 1999, the school incorporates two hours a day of music instruction into its curriculum. While it was originally sited in Brighton, most of its students come from Roxbury and Dorchester, Lam said.

Community members and members of the oversight committee thanked Lam and her staff for their presentation, but remained critical of what many characterized as a push to change their plans for the site without adequate community review.

“You guys are caught up in an issue that has nothing to do with you but everything to do with timing,” oversight committee chairman Darnell Williams told Lam and her staff. “Don’t take any of this personal.”

Price acknowledged that he has not yet filed a project notification with the Boston Redevelopment Authority, which would have the ultimate authority to approve the proposed changes to the site.

“This is the beginning of a process,” he said. “It’s not the middle or the end.”

Plans show proposed Barlett Place development with (right) and without the Conservatory Lab Charter School (in green). The addition of the school will not alter the number of housing units planned for the site, developers say.

For years, the Bartlett Yard served as a maintenance facility for MBTA buses. In 2004, after the MBTA had closed the maintenance facility, the Boston Redevelopment Authority conducted a series of community meetings to solicit ideas for what should be developed on the

site. Two years later the BRA issued a request for proposal calling for the development of housing and retail development, with a focus on wealth development.

A project review committee of neighborhood residents reviewed proposals from prospective developers, rejecting all but one submitted by Nuestra Comunidad. In 2011, Roxbury residents voiced concerns that the CDC was considering bringing in Wal-Mart on the site, arguing the big box retailer would not create jobs that pay a living wage.

Price told the community members at Monday’s meeting he began discussions with the charter school early this year. In March, Nuestra Comunidad held a meeting with 50 community residents at the City on a Hill Charter School in March and conducted a straw poll.

“Two-to-one community residents said we should continue to explore this,” Price said.

Subsequently Price entered into a purchase and sale agreement with the school. Community residents criticized Price for entering into the agreement without an appropriate community process. Price acknowledged he should have taken the matter to members of the project review committee and the Roxbury Strategic Master Plan Oversight Committee.

“We should have continued to work with people after March,” he said.