Friday, February 25, 2011
Of charter schools & bars & grocery stores
Tranquility of Highland Park
The statement of the abutters and neighbors is clear: That part of the neighborhood at the head of Highland Park Ave is tranquil. The convent's property at the bottom of their ledge abuts an equally tranquil Highland Street. In the abutters' and neighbors' view, when the sisters built their extension to St. Monica's Home twenty years ago they undertook to preserve that tranquil character. The abutters and neighbors believe that the residential character of the neighborhood must be preserved and the prominent features (can we say, "amenities"?) of the William Lloyd Garrison House and the park at the High Fort must not be negatively impacted.
Concerned by the noise from a twelve-hour school day, vehicle trips generated by a 335-student school (school bus trips and parent vehicle trips), overflow parking, physical education classes at the High Fort, and a city-wide catchment, the abutters and neighbors conclude their tranquility would be shattered.
It seems helpful to draw together several examples of a proposed change of use, each of which has presented other abutters, neighbors, and property owners with similar challenges.
Bar and restaurant on Centre Street
This time last year, a busier section of Highland Park was confronted with a somewhat similar change of use. A disused former store on a 5851-square-foot lot at 85 Centre Street was intended by a potential buyer to house an 11 a.m. to midnight bar and restaurant with a 7-day liquor license for 75 patrons, including an outdoor patio.
Grocery stores in JP and South Boston
Recently, all Jamaica Plain has been in an uproar over the closing of a Latino-focused grocery store and its replacement by the upmarket Whole Foods.
At 300 West First Street, South Boston, the owner, Pappas Enterprises, has been working assiduously to attract a grocery store tenant for a 55,000-square-foot store to be built on that property. As recounted in The Boston Bulletin (17 Feb 2011, page 1), the CEO, Tim Pappas, has "presented [the property] to every market you can think of and probably some you haven't because they are out of state." The residents are desperate for a new grocery store for the area, which used to have three grocery stores. They are dissatisfied by the Stop & Shop at 713 East Broadway and would disapprove of a second Stop & Shop at the 300 West First Street address.
Neighborhood opposition & cooperation with the neighborhood
In the Centre Street example, the nuisance of off-hill patrons flocking into the neighborhood to eat, drink, and listen to jazz until midnight motivated the immediate neighbors to rise up in opposition, although slightly more distant Highland Park residents seemed in favor of the proposal.
In the Hi-Lo/Whole Foods imbroglio, retiring owners, unable or unwilling to pass the Hi-Lo brand onto a suitable successor, sold out for a nice price, exposing simmering class hostility among the churning population of JP. (See this Jamaica Plain Gazette article.)
In the South Boston example, a long-time local business with concern for the neighborhood has worked diligently to find a grocery-store tenant for its land that will satisfy the neighborhood needs.
On Centre Street, at the margin of Highland Park, the neighbors rose up quickly to oppose a non-conforming use. Near the the top of Fort Hill, the neighbors are afraid that an apparently conforming institutional use will abrogate a 20-year-old understanding with the departing owners and in so doing upend their status quo.
Two divergent alternatives
In the examples of the grocery stores, the Sisters of St. Margaret perhaps can see two diverging approaches. The sisters seem to have inclined toward the Hi-Lo/Whole Foods model, selling out for a decent price enabling them to pull up stakes for Duxbury to concentrate on their charitable work in Haiti (out of Louisburg Square in 1992, and now, two decades later, out of Roxbury). Under a purchase and sale agreement with Bridge Boston, they seem bound to play out this hand.
An alternative would have been to follow Tim Pappas's lead and work to find a new owners whose use would better conform to the current character and needs of the neighborhood.
Next hurdles for Bridge Boston
The P&S is apparently contingent on Bridge Boston obtaining a state charter, financing, and Zoning Board of Appeal approval. Given the effectiveness with which the Bridge Boston backers established the Epiphany School in their own brand new building so soon after they founded the school, we doubt funding will be a problem for Mr. Peter Keating and his colleagues.