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City proposes animal shelter in Franklin Park

Residents fear park becoming ‘dumping ground’

Avery Bleichfeld
City proposes animal shelter in Franklin Park
Boston Animal Care and Control Director Alexis Trzcinski poses with Brownie, one of the dogs at the shelter, for a portrait outside the city’s current animal shelter in Roslindale. The maintenance yard in the southeast corner of Franklin Park is the proposed site of a potential new city-run animal shelter. BANNER PHOTOS

Residents of neighborhoods surrounding Franklin Park this year have turned their attention to two planned developments in Boston’s largest public park, the renovation of White Stadium into a home for a women’s professional soccer team and the conversion of Shattuck Hospital into supportive housing for people struggling with addiction and homelessness.

A third proposal, to build a stray animal shelter, would add to the list of development projects in the park, leaving some community members worried that Franklin Park is becoming a dumping ground for unwanted city projects.

“It looks like the park is becoming the dumping ground for everything the city wants to do and doesn’t want to antagonize communities where there’s more political clout, more political respect,” said Louis Elisa, president of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association, which borders the northern side of the park.

As currently proposed, the animal shelter would be built in the park’s maintenance yard, a 17-acre space in the southeast corner of the park that serves as the maintenance hub for the Boston Parks and Recreation Department. The city earmarked $5.1 million in the 2024 city capital budget to plan and assess the site. It would replace the city’s existing animal shelter, located in Roslindale.

Parks and Recreation Department officials met with members of the Franklin Park Coalition’s board Sept. 21 in a private meeting to present proposals for the shelter.

The proposals would include a 28,000-square-foot building with about 60 parking spaces, said Sandy Bailey, vice president of the Coalition who was at the meeting. The city declined to confirm the dimensions, citing how early it is in the planning process.

The maintenance yard is, so far, the only specific location that the city has begun to consider for the project, but Alexis Trzcinski, director of the city’s Animal Care and Control department, said the city is just at the beginning of the planning process and other sites will be considered, as conversations continue into next year.

Currently, the department is based out of a building in Roslindale that Trzcinski said it moved into in 2001 as a temporary space but has never left. The building faces challenges with space and capacity. The limited space means that the shelter’s cats experience increased stress from the constant barking of the dogs, and the department has limited ability to run outreach programs with the community, like low-cost vaccination and spay-and-neuter initiatives.

Trzcinski said the Franklin Park maintenance yard offers a potential siting option because it’s centrally located, bordering several neighborhoods, with access to things like walking trails where staff could take the dogs on walks. Most importantly, it would allow for the construction of a larger facility. Were it to be built in the maintenance yard, Trzcinski said the plan would not be to expand the yard’s footprint into the surrounding woodlands.

“There’s so many ways to touch the community with the work that we do and to show them that Animal Care and Control is not just picking up stray dogs, it is a city service that we want to provide in the optimum manner,” she said.

The proposal for the shelter comes less than year after the completion of a municipal Franklin Park Action Plan, which the city first released for comment in December and finalized in early 2023.

The action plan outlined a handful of proposed uses for the maintenance yard, like hosting community events in the evenings or on weekends, and using the space to promote workforce development and volunteer engagement related to the park.

The plan also held out the possibility of a more community-accessible yard as another entry-point into the park for Mattapan residents, starting with a pedestrian path and eventually expanding parking and programming in the space — without expanding the yard’s footprint and encroaching on the mature woodlands around it.

The action plan did not mention the possible addition of an animal shelter. Instead, in describing the yard’s future, the plan said the city should “resist pressures to house unrelated city functions within this area.” The city’s Animal Control Department does fall under the control of the Parks and Recreation Department, which produced the strategic plan.

Bailey, of the Franklin Park Coalition, said proposing the animal shelter as a new use for the space is disrespectful to the community process of developing the plan, which took three years to complete.

“Why does the city do this intense process and then set it all aside and say, ‘Well, let’s just do something completely different’? Let’s just put an animal shelter here,” Bailey said. “That seems like a tremendous waste of city and community resources to go through that whole process and then just disregard it.”

Beyond the proposal for construction of the animal shelter, the other two potential developments within the park also have raised neighborhood concerns.

On the northeastern side of the park, the city is planning an overhaul of White Stadium with Boston Unity Soccer Partners to renovate the space for use by the Boston Public Schools — as it historically has been — and by a National Women’s Soccer League team.

Meanwhile, in the southwest of the park, the Shattuck Hospital is facing a proposal for a mix of substance-abuse treatment beds, emergency housing and supportive-housing units that would expand existing services at the hospital.

Bailey said those plans amount to a lot of pressures on the park.

“It just needs to be done very thoughtfully, as to keep the park a park where people can enjoy nature, and where the trees can be safeguarded so that wildlife has a place to be, humans have a place to be among the trees. That’s the purpose of the park,” she said.

Elisa of the Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association said he often feels like the city is approaching the park projects with less planning about the future than it should.

The White Stadium proposal doesn’t have solid enough plans for how to deal with the increased traffic its events will bring, he suggested. When it comes to the Shattuck Hospital proposal, Eliza said he is unaware of any security plan for the space.

“Franklin Park is home to many programs — multicultural programs and activities, the Puerto Rican festival, the Dominican festival, Arts in the Park — there are things that are going on, that are continuing to go there, that have satisfied not just the local residents, but people from all over the Commonwealth who come to participate. None of (the city’s) planning takes into consideration that we live here, that there are people here utilizing it,” he said.

Both White Stadium and the Shattuck campus have been in the park for a while, but Bailey said she worries about plans that would greatly expand their roles.

“I don’t think Franklin Park should just be the automatic place for things that are desperately needed by the community,” she said. “Parks need to be safeguarded.”

For Elisa, with all the development proposals there is a lingering, unanswered question.

“The question is, ‘Why Franklin Park?’” he said. “Nobody answered that question, ‘Why Franklin Park?’”

animal shelter, Boston Animal Care and Control, Franklin Park, Garrison-Trotter Neighborhood Association