History of Fort Hill, Part 2 (2008). Mural by: Loray McDuffie, Taylor Saintable, Edwin Perez-Clancy, Christine O'Connell, Julia Andreasson, Jorge Benitez, Divah Payne, Lucy Saintcyr, Laua Dedonato, Gregg Bernstein.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Centre Street's Dover Amendment Parking Lot

The photograph to the right (taken on a Sunday afternoon) shows the Dover Amendment Curb Cut associated with the so-called "church's" Dover Amendment parking lot. This curb cut has removed two or three parking spaces from a neighborhood already struggling with limited parking. The parking lot, seen in the photograph accompanying this post, has never been used.

This post is somewhat tangential to the posts to date, but it gives the reader some sense of the prior "development" of the parcel at 85 Centre Street. It has not been an entirely happy story. Here is the most recent installment.

When the so-called "church" purchased the building in March of 2003 for $370,000.00 according to the Registry of Deeds spiffy web site, the neighbors were less than enthusiastic. A church seemed the wrong use for this residential neighborhood. The neighbors had visions of increased parking problems, loud music, and folk who did not live there having an adverse impact on the neighborhood.

Kathleen Burge, in a 2 March 2008 Boston Globe article waspishly entitled "Divine Right," details what happened when churches moved into vacant buildings in neighborhoods near to Dorchester's Four Corners. The particular circumstances of of Four Corners and Bowdoin-Geneva differ to those of Fort Hill, but the aggravation visited on a neighborhood by a congregation coming from outside the neighborhood promised to be much the same: parking congestion, noise, and alienation of the congregation from its neighborhood location.

Burge's article seems to have been occasioned by Omar M. McRoberts's socio-theological research published in his book Streets of Glory. The Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare Policy website has a brief interview with McRoberts that enlarges on Burge's Globe article.

But, what about the Dover Amendment?

The Dover Amendment limits zoning authorities in Massachusetts from restricting land use by religious and educational institutions. When you are a "church" you can do what you want with your property. Google "Dover Amendment" to learn more.

When the, so called, "church" bought the property, they "improved" the lot at #79 by paving it over and placing pieces of wood in the gutter as a sort of ramp. When the city caught them doing this without the correct permits, they had to attend a hearing to gain approval for their neat work. Being a, so called, "church" they were able to skirt neighborhood objections, and get post hoc approval for the blacktop and permission to install a curb cut.

Their curb cut has removed two or three parking spaces from an already tight parking situation. Their curb cut and parking lot has never been used. From the photograph at the top of this post one can see that twenty feet of brick hardscape has been removed, and concrete installed instead.

As far as the adverse impact on the neighborhood? Parking is worse, but the neighbors have had few complaints about noise.

Why have there been no complaints about noise? Might it be because church services have never been held at this location? A suspicious reader might suspect that what was bruited about the neighborhood as a "church" was in fact no more than a front for speculation—a speculative front that used its protected "religious" status to "improve" the property by right, making it more attractive for resale.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Assessed building & land values for 79 / 85 Centre St

The photograph depicts 79 & 85 Centre Street viewed west by southwest from the corner of Linwood and Centre Streets. Parker Hill is visible in the far background at the horizon line. The metal and glass roof of Roxbury Community College is visible in the near background. One abutter's property is visible at the left margin of the photograph.

It's all about money.
Since it is all about money, it seems prudent to fetch the assessed values for the plots at issue.

There are two lots: 85 Centre Street upon which the building in question sits and 79 Centre Street, the adjacent lot (more about which in a future post).

85 Centre St (map)
This is the building depicted above and in earlier posts. The first link is to the City of Boston Assessing Department's record. The second link displays a map.

The lot size of 85 Centre is 1581 sq ft. The assessed building value is $119,400, and the assessed land value is $38,100, yielding a total value $157,500. The information at the map link confirms the land value, but gives a greater assessed building value of $136,900.00 for a total of $175,000.00.

The property type of this lot is Commercial.

79 Centre St (map)
This is the lot that sits north of 85 Centre Street (or to the right in the photographs).

Previously this lot was unimproved green space. We'll say more about its improvement in a future post.

The lot size of 79 Centre is 4270 sq ft, and the assessed land value is $84,100. The information at the map link gives a greater assessed land value of $100,700.00.

Both parcels together measure a total of 5851 total sq ft. The combined assessed land value is $122,200.00 (or, $138,800.00), the assessed building value is $119,400.00 (or, $136,900.00), and total assessed value of the land and building is $241,600.00 (or, $275,700.00 if you believe the figures on the Assessing Dept. map).

The property type of this lot is Residential Land.

The owner of record for both properties, according to the Assessing Department's web site, is Victor Feliciano. He appears to be up to date on his 2010 property taxes.

The assessing map seems to indicate there is yet a third lot to the south of #85, but when searching by address or lot number, the assessing database comes up empty handed.

Our next post will talk about post hoc Dover Amendment curb-cuts and parking lots.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Zoning on Centre Street, Roxbury

Edward Cooper offers the viewer an apple—presumably a Roxbury Russet, while City Councillor Chuck Turner points to the colonial orchards in the background.

The Back Story
Today's post is the fourth in a series describing the nature of the Centre Street Neighborhood. For those just arriving, the back story is this: an entrepreneur would like to drop a 7-day, 2am-closing, fully-licensed bar/restaurant into a residential neigborhood, which is otherwise devoid of commercial activity. The impetus for this blog is to explain in detail why this is bad for the neighborhood.

Zoning on Centre Street, Roxbury
Here is the BRA zoning map for Roxbury North. (Pause before you click; that link fetches a 6MB pdf. It's pretty interesting, but pretty large. Set the Zoom percentage at 75. Then scroll around to find Centre Street.)

The map shows the entire stretch of Centre Street from Eliot Square to Columbus Avenue is classified as 3F-4000. The 1 Centre Street auto repair shop is included in the Eliot Square Multifamily Residential/Local Services Subdistrict. There are two small open space subdistricts (OS), designated urban wild and parkland.

It is a bit of work, but plowing through Volume III, "Neighborhood Districts," for the Roxbury Neighborhood District one finds Article 50. (This is another pdf. Unless you are on a dial-up it's a safe click at only 1/3 of a megabyte.) The entire zoning code seems to be rooted in this BRA web page.

The reason why the reader is being dragged through these obscure pdfs is to come to Table B of Article 50.

Table B, beginning on page 57, lists all the imagined uses for a parcel of land and is specific about which uses are Allowed (A), Conditional (C), and Forbidden (F). In the table, the first column lists the use. The next columns are for Two Family (2F), Three Family (3F), Rowhouse (RH), Multifamily Residential (MFR), and Multifamily Residential/Local Services (MFR/LS) subdistricts.

The pay-off for today's post is found on page 62, and is this:

Bars and Restaurants of all sorts are Forbidden in the subdistrict in which 85 Centre Street is located. Restaurants with entertainment are a forbidden use. Private clubs (those serving alcohol and not) are a forbidden use.

In fact, it seems that the only non-accessory uses Allowed in 3F subdistricts are some kinds of residences, and houses of religion.

The next post will detail some facts about 85 Centre Street from the City of Boston Assessing Department.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Centre Street on a winter evening

The flash photograph is of Paul Dudley's Parting Stone, located at the head of Centre Street.

In the evening on the old road to Dedham, however, things change and settle down from the bustle of the day time. The waves of folk who use Centre Street to meet their transportation needs recede. Parking becomes available. Traffic diminishes. The inexpert u-turns cease. The commuters are gone and the neighborhood returns to the Centre Street residents.

The greatest noise in the later evening is the low susurration of Columbus Avenue traffic and the slightly louder Orange Line, commuter rail, and Amtrak regional trains. The Amtrak Accela makes barely a whisper. Ambulance and Fire Department traffic is considerably less than in years past as they now tend to use Columbus Avenue. When the wind is still, one can just hear the bing! bing! of the Orange Line announcements. Occasionally one can hear the Mission Hill church bells tell the quarter hour.

On a recent Thursday night around 10:30 pm, there was only the occasional car and one The Ride van. Later at 12:40 am, five minutes passed between cars. There were few pedestrians. After midnight, the frequency of passing cars and pedestrians falls off even further. The silent bicycles go unnoticed.

The loudest audial events in the evenings on Centre Street are made by the Centre/Eliot and Heath St buses. Then, by eight-thirty or nine o'clock, their sound falls silent too, as the last bus of the evening goes by.

This quiet is even more pronounced—and valuable—during the warm spring, summer, and autumn evenings. With the windows open one can hear the urban night life: the wind in the trees, the call of the mockingbird, the wings of the bats, the insects, the rustling in the underbrush of the neighborhood raccoon, skunks, the opossum family, and the feral cats. Overlaid on this natural activity is the sound of the arriving cars of one's neighbors and the quiet conversations of the few pedestrians conversing among themselves as they walk home.

At night, as with the rest of Highland Park, folk aren't generally in the neighborhood unless they are coming to the neighborhood. With the exception of the drivers who prefer Centre Street over Columbus Avenue and those who use Cedar Street to cross over the hill, if you are driving, walking, or riding your bicycle in the neighborhood, it means you have a residential destination in the neighborhood.

It means you live here, or you are visiting someone who does. Highland Park, including the Centre Street neighborhood, is not a destination for others in the city.

The next post will be about the zoning for the Centre Street neighborhood and its current, limited, commercial activity.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day time traffic and parking on Fort Hill's Centre Street

Traffic and parking on Fort Hill's Centre Street is different day to night.

This photograph, taken around 9:30 am, shows commuters beginning to stack their cars up on the north-bound side of Centre Street adjacent to Fort Avenue. Three cars parked here between the time this photo and the next were taken. The driver of the latest car seemed to be a Roxbury Community College (RCC) student.

Centre Street during the day
During the day there is substantial traffic on Centre Street, including MBTA and Boston Public School buses. Commuters heavily use Centre Street for commuter parking. There are those who commute to RCC as well as those automobile users who park and then walk down to the Roxbury Crossing T station. It is easy to spot the commuters, hurriedly attempting failed U-turns (that turn into dangerous three-point turns) as they cruise for the remaining spots.

It is strange to tell, but true, that there are commuters from Highland Park who shave five minutes off their commute by driving—instead of walking—from their Highland Park home to park on Centre Street before walking the rest of the way to the Orange line portion of their commute.

On Fridays and other Muslim holy days, worshipers at the mosque also take up on-street parking on Centre Street, Linwood Street, and beyond.

Weirdly, because of the Ruggles station shuttle to Fenway park, enterprising Red Sox fans have also used the Centre Street neighborhood for parking on games days.

On days when regional and state-wide track and field competitions are held at the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center, contestants and their supporters use Centre Street for parking. In addition, diesel buses that are used to transport athletes from all over eastern Massachusetts, and which park in the Cedar Street RCC parking lot, labor up Cedar Street and then, turning left, head towards Dudley to turn onto Malcolm X Boulevard to pick these athletes up after the competition.

During the day, the street is episodically hectic. The traffic lights at Eliot Square tends to slow folk down, discouraging to a limited extent 'cut-through' traffic that really belongs on Columbus Avenue before turning down Malcolm X or Melnea Cass boulevards.

The adjacent photo depicts the Centre St/Cedar St/Fort Ave intersection.

This traffic light at Cedar Street is a positive life saver. It took the neighborhood ten years to finally get the city to install it, but it has tamed a very dangerous intersection.

However, at the crest of the hill at the partially blind corner at Linwood Street there are frequent accidents and many close encounters.

The other significant commuter route is Heath to Centre to Highland to Marcella Street. This is used by folk coming from Brookline and Jamaica Plain to cut through to Townsend Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard and on to other parts of Roxbury and Dorchester.

The #41 Centre/Eliot bus to Jamaica Plain uses Centre Street as does the less frequent #14 Heath/Dudley bus. The other significant bus traffic, as previous noted, relates to the Reggie Lewis Track and Athletic Center.

There is significant day time foot traffic as resident pedestrian commuters of Fort Hill walk down Fort Avenue, Linwood Street, and Highland Avenue, joining with the automobile commuters, and down Gardner and Cedar streets to RCC and to the Roxbury Crossing T station. The stream is reversed in the evening as folk trudge back up the hill home—and to their cars.

Over the years the number of bicyclists using Centre Street has increased. In the seasonable months one can see (and hear) the occasional skateboarder and in-line skater.

The next post will address traffic and parking in the Centre Street neighborhood in the evenings and at night.

Monday, February 15, 2010

What is the Centre Street Neighborhood really like?

Overwhelmingly residential with a tiny bit of business at one end.

Some folk think that Centre Street is a great place to put a bar. After all, there isn't much there. There is a bar on Washington Street, which is one of two north-south marginal streets of Fort Hill. Why shouldn't there be another bar on Fort Hill's other north-south marginal street?

A marginal street. We think that when many people think of Centre Street, they do so in a marginal kind of way. In many people's mind, not only is Centre Street geographically on the margin, or perimeter, of Fort Hill, it really isn't so much a part of Highland Park as a way to get in and out of Highland Park.

A thoroughfare on the margins of consciousness. Centre Street: when driving, a way to speed from 'up the hill' to Jackson Square, to Roxbury Crossing, to Dudley Square, and to places beyond. Centre Street: when walking, a short respite after Gardner or Cedar streets before the laborious trudge home up Highland or Fort avenues, or up Linwood Street. Not really a part of my neighborhood, but necessary to get to my neighborhood.

But, for those who live there, Centre Street is not on the margins of consciousness. Centre Street is front and center of their daily lives.

Over the next couple of posts, this blog will explore the current status quo, the current character of the Centre Street neighborhood.

Here is what you will find on a leisurely walk from John Eliot Square to Columbus Avenue: Housing. Single family housing. Two- and three-family houses. Mostly wood frame, but with a sprinkling of brick row houses. Mostly buildings built in the mid- to late-1800s, but a couple of new houses built in the last ten years. There is one park at Linwood circle, and some privately owned property that is zoned as an urban wild. Centre Street Terrace has been developed as apartments, as has the building at the corner of New Heath Street.

Centre Street in Roxbury is overwhelmingly a residential street; however, there are a handful of non-residential uses. Located at the small numbers of Centre Street are two businesses: a Volvo repair shop at #1 and another car repair yard/Budget Truck rental shop at the corner of Highland Avenue. The Juba Market probably has a John Eliot Square address. One can argue either way whether it could be considered a Centre Street business.

After leaving Eliot Square, Centre Street is entirely residential for 1/2 mile to the other Roxbury end of the street. At the last address on the odd-numbered side of the street is the FIRST Askia Academy at 167 Centre Street, a long-term residential substance abuse treatment facility.

The former nursing homes (residential again) at the top of Gardner Street have been become apartments on the one side, and a two-family house on the other side.

The conclusion is that any use that is not residential does not conform to the current character of Centre Street. The status quo is residential.

The next posts will address traffic and parking.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Someone else's party at 85 Centre Street

An early poster on the UniversalHub comment thread said it best:
I can't blame the neighbors for not making someone else's party their priority.
Over the next several days we'll post some facts and opinions about the neighborhood surrounding 85 Centre Street and about the impact Mr. Settles's proposal would make to that neighborhood.

Suffice it to say today that it seems many have pinned their unrealized hopes and dreams for Fort Hill to Mr. Settles's business play at 85 Centre Street.

Some earnest Fort Hill voices have been heard on the subject, but the voices of those most affected by Mr. Settles's proposed change to the Centre Street status quo have not been heard.

As we pledged to Iseut on the UniversalHub comment thread we should all focus on the issues, not the personalities, as the neighborhood debates Mr. Settles's proposal and as this episode works itself out.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An Urban Amenity at 85 Centre Street

Universal Hub highlighted a blogpost written on 28 Jan 2010 by Iseut (her second post on the topic is here) about development plans for 85 Centre Street, Roxbury, by former Fort Hill resident Darryl Settles. Further information can be found littered among the posts at the google groups Highland Park Neighborhood Watch and HighlandParkBoston.

For a first post on this blog, we think it's sufficient to point to Iseut's advocacy on her blog and to our testy exchange in the comments at Universal Hub. Our four most pertinent comments are here, here, here, and here. Iseut's gracious reply is here.

It's good for all concerned to ratchet back the emotions so that all the various constituencies on the hill can work together to sustain and improve the neighborhood. Bashing fellow neighbors with our blogs is hardly the way to do this. For our part, we'll do our best to honor the soccer maxim to play the ball, not the man.

It is good as well to note the fact that the Hawthorne Area Neighborhood Association discussed the issue on 8 Feb 2010.

According to the published minutes, they
voted in favor supporting Mr. Settles venture move forward, with the caveat that he must attend a meeting, facilitated by [City Councillor] Chuck Turner, with immediate abutters ... to discuss his detailed proposal, and all options for 85 Centre Street, before full community support is granted.

We'll be back with more, as the situation progress.