Friday, November 14, 2008

Mary Ann's Bar Threatened With Closure and Loss of Sticky Floors

Boston College students might have to find a different bar to drink at this weekend, because the Boston Globe reports that Mary Ann's is under threat of closure at midnight tonight due to its failure to install a sprinkler system.

Sprinkler systems are required to be installed in all bars as a result of legislation enacted following the fire at The Station club in Rhode Island that resulted in 100 deaths. The state legislation required installation by November 15, 2007, but local fire officials were allowed to extend that deadline by one year. Eight bars or clubs in Boston have reportedly not yet met the deadline.

Mary Ann's is often-cited as one of the top dive bars in Boston, to wit: "...The official BC let's-get-drunk-and-throw-rocks-at-cops dive bar."

I think I know the real reason that the owners of Mary Ann's are dragging their feet on installing a sprinkler system: if the sprinklers ever were to go off, then the place might no longer have sticky floors or that gentle fragrance wafting out the door.

Update: The Allston-Brighton TAB reports that a manager at Mary Ann's says that they have now completed installation of the new sprinkler system and it has been inspected, clearing the way for the bar to remain open.


Image of a sticky bar floor in Brighton (UK) from Phillie Casablanca provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

That Faint Glow Coming from Allston-Brighton

Living in a dense, urban environment results in substantial airglow that inhibits seeing all but the few, brightest stars in the night sky.

Those who think the night sky particularly bright in Allston-Brighton might have a new explanation: glowing, radioactive beer kegs.

Bloomberg News reports that scrap metal sometimes contains trace (but significant) quantities of radioactive elements, which then get processed -- often in factories in the developing world -- into consumer products like beer kegs:
Abandoned medical scanners, food processing devices and mining equipment containing radioactive metals such as cesium-137 and cobalt-60 are often picked up by scrap collectors and sold to recyclers, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear arm. De Bruin said he sometimes finds such items hidden inside beer kegs and lead pipes to prevent detection.
Given all the college students in Allston-Brighton, those kegs start to add up. Airglow? Maybe...


Image of beer kegs by marinegirl provided through a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Youth Vote in the Presidential Election

In a sign of the direction that the youth vote took Tuesday in the presidential election, the pre-kindergarten through first-graders of Brighton's Baldwin Early Learning Center voted more than three-and-a-half-to-one for Senator Barack Obama over Senator John McCain.

Senator Obama's victory margin at the Baldwin ELC was very similar to his margin among adults city-wide, which he won 78.9% to 19.4%. The kids voted at around an 80% rate, better than the adults city-wide who had a 61.6% turnout of registered voters. A bigger landslide was registered at Hamilton Elementary School.

There were no lines of voters snaking out the door at the school. The secrecy of the ballot was maintained -- i.e., nobody wrote their names on the top of their ballots. No provisional ballots were cast, nor did election officials request IDs from any of the student voters. Only around 10% of the kids' ballots were declared invalid (by the first-graders acting as the election workers) as overvotes -- a remarkably low number since more than half the voters were pre-kindergarten students.

The students clearly learned a lot about the basics of voting and elections. Next they plan to vote on a referendum dictating the flavor of milk to be served in the cafeteria.


Image of ballot cast for Obama cribbed from http://modadimagno.blogspot.com/.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Voter Turnout Already Heavy in Allston-Brighton

Polling places this morning at various precincts in Allston-Brighton all had long lines of voters snaking out the door.

Lines of around 30-50 people were observed at all precincts visited, which include Ward 22/Precinct 8, 22/9 [both top at right], 21/12, 21/10, and 21/11 [bottom at left]. The wait at 22/9 was around 15 minutes at 7:15 am.

I've never seen lines such as these in Allston-Brighton (certainly not at 7 am), where turnout is typically quite low -- 11% in the November 2007 municipal election, around 5% in the September 2008 state primary, and 32.2% in the February 5, 2008 presidential primary.

By 7:30 am, the voting machine at 22/9 had recorded 64 votes cast, far more than the 47 votes cast as of 5:00 pm on the day of the September 2008 state primary, which I estimated to have only a 5% turnout in A-B. (Boston Election Department never posted results electronically, at least that I could locate.)

Students from local colleges and universities were seen at 22/8-9 conducting an exit poll about people's election experiences -- such as, were you asked to show an ID, were you on the registered voter list, etc. Note that these exit polls are a student project, not the official media pool exit polls which also ask for whom you voted.

I spoke with, or overheard, a significant number of people who identified themselves as first-time voters at 22/8-9.

Long lines also reported over at the Jackson-Mann Community Center, which is the polling place for five precincts (Ward 21/3-7).


Free Coffee. Don't forget to stop at any Starbuck's today to pick up your free tall coffee. Just tell them that you voted today.


Image of Starbuck's logo by miskan provided through a Creative Commons license.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Election Day Tuesday

Tuesday, November 4th is a general election in Boston, which includes the offices of President of the United States, U. S. Senator and Representatives, the state legislature representatives and senators, three state ballot questions... and always a few other positions that nobody seems to have heard of.


Voter Information Guide. A good guide can be found over at the BostonZest website.

League of Women Voters (Vote411) has a thorough guide detailing everything you need to know about voting.




Where to vote? Just go to "Where Do I Vote (MA)?"

Note that a few A-B precincts changed their poll locations last year -- and I haven't heard that any more have changed this year; here's the list from last year.


Not On the List of Registered Voters? If you go to a polling place and your name is not on the list of registered voters -- but you believe that your registration may still be current -- then request a provisional ballot. You vote now, and then the elections officials will sort it all out later. First-time voters should be prepared to bring an ID with your current address on it; otherwise, bring some mailed bill (gas, electric, cable TV) with your name and address on it.

If they won't give you a provisional ballot, then call the City of Boston Elections Department at 617-635-3767 and they will "gladly assist you."


When to vote? Polls open 7:00 am -- 8:00 pm. Voters who are in line by 8:00 pm are allowed to vote, no matter how long it takes to process through the queue.


Local Election Results? At the City of Boston's Current Elections website.


Want to Blog on Your Voting Experience? Universal Hub has a website for you to enter the address where you voted and your experience with it.


How often to vote? Once per registered voter, please.


Image of optical scanner machine by .michael.newman provided through a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Stupid Dorchester Criminals Get Lost In Brighton

The Allston-Brighton TAB describes an alleged methadone drug transaction busted by the cops last Sunday evening:
Methadone exchange ends in arrest

Christopher Connolly, 42, of 28 Harbor View St., Dorchester, and Scott Simonelli, 37, of 7 Pleasant St., Dorchester, were arrested Oct. 26 around 6:30 p.m. after officers saw what they believed to be a drug exchange near the intersection of Washington and Cambridge streets... Officers stopped the Nissan and arrested both suspects, charging them with distribution of a class B substance.
A couple of guys from Dorchester caught selling drugs in Brighton. What's so weird about that?

The Boston Police D-14 station is located at the intersection of Cambridge and Washington Streets in Brighton. You would think that all of the police vehicles parked on the street and in the adjacent lot would have tipped the guys off.

Maybe those Dorchester pushers ought to go back to their part of town where they know the lay of the land better.


Image of Boston Police motorcycles by GregMacKay, provided through a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Scare Your Way from the Police Station to Oak Square

The 13th annual Brighton Business Trick-Or-Treat will take place Friday afternoon, between the Allston-Brighton D-14 Police Station and the YMCA in Oak Square.

Participating businesses display a sign in their doorway/windows, "Welcome Trick or Treaters!"

Be warned: if you visit all the businesses, your children will get so much candy that you'll spend your next three paychecks on dentistry work.

Johnny D's, a produce seller at 381 Washington Street [right], is the perennial, odds-on favorite for best treat.

Brighton Business Trick-Or-Treat
Friday, October 31st
3:00 - 5:00 pm
Start: Boston Police D-14 Station, 301 Washington Street
End: Oak Square YMCA, 615 Washington Street
Businesses all along Washington Street participate
Sponsored by: Brighton Main Streets (617-779-9200) and Brighton Board of Trade

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Summit Avenue Hydrant Thieves: Learn Your Trade From MIT Hackers

The Boston Police Department caught a few guys on Summit Avenue in Brighton trying to steal a fire hydrant:
When officers arrived, officers observed the hydrant, as well as, three males who matched the description of the suspects. When officers questioned the suspects, the suspects admitted to taking the hydrant. According to the suspects, they found the hydrant lying in the middle of the sidewalk and they were simply moving it.
Yes, those guys were hosed.

Aside from the obvious difficulty of carrying something that heavy, the would-be thieves might try next time to follow the lead of some MIT students in Cambridge a couple of decades ago in an oft-repeated (and somewhat urban-legend-ish) story about their hack.

Those MIT students bought a barber shop pole (or, in some stories, paid a barber to borrow one for a day) and carried it all over town -- arising suspicion all day from the police. The cops chased them down again and again, but then the students would produce the receipt and the cops would let them go. When the cops got tired of these games, an APB on police radio was issued to ignore any kids carrying a barber shop pole around town. The students then proceeded to steal all the barber shop poles in town and dump them on the police chief's front lawn.

Lesson: buy one fire hydrant and carry it all over town first. Once the police tire from questioning you repeatedly, then you can steal all the hydrants you want. That is, if you're arms haven't fallen off first.


Image of red fire hydrant by quite peculiar provided through a Creative Commons license.

Who Will Get Taken Down Along With Senator Dianne Wilkerson?

Democratic State Senator Dianne Wilkerson of Roxbury was arrested Tuesday on corruption charges after an extensive sting operation run by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The big question to ask is: If the facts alleged in the FBI complaint are proven true, then why did the FBI wait for a year to charge Senator Wilkerson with bribery and corruption? The complaint describes a series of payments made to her, and official actions taken by her in response, back in 2007, yet the FBI continued the investigation -- and upped the ante by assigning additional undercover agents.

My prediction: there has been a much larger investigation already underway for more than a year, and more heads may soon roll. Subpoenas are already flying, but I bet the FBI knows more already than they have admitted.

A second big question is: who else might this investigation and subsequent court proceedings take down in addition to Senator Wilkerson?


The Two-Sided Sting Operation: Why Did the FBI Wait To Press Charges?

The complaint against her first makes a series of allegations of how she repeatedly accepted cash payments between June 2007 and March 2008 totalling $8,500 from a representative of the club Dejavu. The payments were for her work in twisting the arms of city and state officials in order to obtain a liquor license for the new establishment. Dejavu had originally been denied a license in early 2007, but Wilkerson initiated a campaign starting in mid-2007 -- after the alleged cash bribes -- to push for reconsideration of the license.

The FBI agent's affidavit also alleges a second set of $15,000 in cash bribes starting in January 2008 paid as part of several undercover FBI agents' make-believe attempts to obtain development rights for a parcel of land in Roxbury at the intersection of Harrison Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard.

In the first set of cash payments, there appeared to be ample evidence by fall 2007 that the FBI could have charged Senator Wilkerson. Why did the FBI wait to make more payments on the ongoing liquor license issue -- as well as start up a new undercover operation about the Roxbury property?

My inkling is that the agents are sitting on quite a bit more information that what is contained in this one affidavit. The net may have been cast substantially more broadly, but they are only coming out with these charges against Senator Wilkerson for now. Given their ample evidence assembled by fall 2007, the FBI probably could have gotten wiretaps on her phones -- and hence snagged anyone else who might have been trying to buy political favors in the year since then.

Senator Wilkerson, Senate President Therese Murray, Council President Maureen Feeney, and BLB Chairman Daniel Pokaski met in mid-August 2007. The affidavit says that the outcome of the meeting was for Boston to submit a home rule petition to the legislature for 40 new liquor licenses and 30 new beer and wine licenses, that Dejavu would receive one of the liquor licenses, and that Senator Wilkerson would have control in allocating several of the licenses. The FBI agent's complaint reads:
25. Boston licensing Board Awards Dejavu a Beer and Wine License. On August 16, 2007, the BLB issued a letter notifying Dejavu that its petition for a malt and wine license had been granted. On the same day, WILKERSON met with the BLB Chairman, the Senate President, the Boston City Council President, and Senator [Michael Morrissey] to discuss the status of the Dejavu license and related issues. The outcome of the meeting was an agreement that the City of Boston would submit, and WILKERSON would sponsor, legislation which would authorize 40 new nontransferable liquor licenses and 30 new nontransferable beer and wine licenses for the City of Boston. (This type of legislation is also known as a "home rule petition.") It was understood the Dejavu would receive one of these new special liquor licenses, if another one did not become available first, and that WILKERSON would be able to control several other licenses.
While the FBI complaint does not allege that any of these other individuals -- Feeney, Morrissey, Pokaski, or Murray -- violated the law, this one meeting may be a major focus of the investigation as it goes forward. Assembled in one room, making an apparent back room deal, are major players of both city and state government. The meeting happened on the same day as a letter from the BLB awarding a temporary license -- probably at minimum a violation of the state's Open Meeting Law, since it followed no public hearing or public vote of the board -- and two weeks after Senator Wilkerson had put a hold on the state legislation for a pay increase for the members of the BLB. Council President Feeney has already confirmed that she was questioned Tuesday by the FBI.

While the affidavit alleged no quid pro quo among the attendees of that meeting -- to approve the liquor license for Dejavu, pass the BLB pay increase legislation, introduce and pass a home rule petition for more liquor licenses, and give control of some of those licenses not to the BLB but to Senator Wilkerson -- any casual reader easily comes to that conclusion. Whether any of that violates the law is a lingering question. What exactly was said at that meeting could cause embarrassment... or more.

Mayor Thomas Menino may have dodged a bullet here: while he was mentioned elsewhere as meeting with Senator Wilkerson and apparently promising to help, neither he nor his assistant working on the license issue were listed in the affidavit as being in attendance at that August 2007 meeting.


Boston Globe Omits Mention of Boston Globe Columnist Walker

The Boston Globe published a series of articles, an editorial, an Op-Ed, and a metro column in Wednesday's edition that covered the Wilkerson story from many angles.

Missing from all of them: the role that their own columnist Adrian Walker may have played in the unfolding drama.

We know a bit of his role from the FBI agent's affidavit:
"WILKERSON told the CW [Cooperating Witness] in a recorded conversation on or about July 11, 2007, that she sent a package of material to a Boston Globe columnist about the lack of liquor licenses available to minorities in the City of Boston."
He subsequently wrote a column about it in July 2007.

As I wrote over at UniversalHub:
As a blogger myself, I've received my own fair share of (anonymous) envelope drops trying to get me to write a political hit piece. They've all ended up in the circular file.

Maybe we could all chip in to buy a wastebasket for Walker?...

[W]hen somebody sends you a "packet", if you want to use it you ought to be prepared to do some substantial investigation to figure out the agenda of the person who sent it to you. (The affidavit left unclear if Wilkerson's envelope was anonymous or signed.)

If the Boston Globe had filled the still-vacant position of Ombudsman, I would expect a column about Walker's role and whether or not Walker had fallen for Wilkerson's political campaign. Given that the Globe is avoiding mentioning his role in all these stories, I assume they are giving Walker first crack at defending his role; his next column appears Friday.


Bets On a Wider Scandal

My prediction of what will happen:

Senator Wilkerson will lose re-election for her seat in her write-in campaign; she will fight the case to trial, with lots of embarrassing depositions along the way.

BLB Chairman Pokaski will probably resign within weeks -- if not days -- because he stood to gain financially from the August 2007 meeting that allegedly resulted in him approving a temporary license for Dejavu while the state legislature approved a pay raise for him.

Mayor Menino, Senate President Murray, and City Council President Feeney will be red-faced about how they got snookered into helping out Senator Wilkerson's campaign for the liquor licenses -- particularly Murray, Feeney, and Morrissey in how they appear to have agreed during the mid-August 2007 meeting to cede control of some liquor licenses to Senator Wilkerson.

Globe columnist Walker will defend his reporting while admitting that he feels betrayed by Senator Wilkerson. The Globe will otherwise avoid mentioning his name, but the Boston Herald will do so. Often.

And that there will be more names forthcoming in the wider FBI investigation.


Update: David Bernstein of the Boston Phoenix has his own ideas about who's next.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Fall Colors at Arnold Arboretum

A couple of pictures of fall foliage at the Arnold Arboretum last weekend:






Sunday, October 26, 2008

"Brighton Neighbors United" Signs Cropping Up All Over

A recently-formed organization of Brighton residents called Brighton Neighbors United has taken their unhappiness with development projects in their neighborhood to the next level.

Yellow lawn signs with the words "PRESERVE OUR NEIGHBORHOOD", and the URL of the group's new website http://www.SaveBrighton.org, have been appearing around southwestern Brighton in the past week-and-a-half.

The group's website notes that it delivered 500 signatures to the Boston Redevelopment Authority in opposition to several development proposals of Boston College, particularly to construct dormitories on the former St. John's Seminary Land bought by BC in 2004-7.

One member of the group, Maria Guadalupe Rodrigues, had a letter published in the Allston-Brighton TAB this week.

At this time of year, such lawn signs are usually in indication of support for a candidate for public office, but since the local representatives and senator are not facing opposition -- and the presidential race is not expected to be competitive in Massachusetts -- these yellow signs are pretty much the only thing on people's lawns. These kinds of issues-related signs makes you think you're in Newton...

Demolition Completed of Three Foster Street Houses by BC

Boston College's demolition of three houses on Foster Street was completed this past week.

The image at right show the third house at 188 undergoing demolition; the ruins of 192 can be seen over the fence at right.

The three houses were demolished to make way for construction of Jesuit seminarian and theological graduate student housing for BC's School of Theology and Ministry -- a school which recently absorbed the Weston Jesuit School of Theology. The national Jesuit organization has obtained a lease for the site from BC and is the proponent for the new housing project.

BC ignored calls from the community to find a way to preserve the three houses, which sat on one corner of the five-acre lot, as part of the new development. The Massachusetts Historical Commission noted historic and architecturally significant features of the houses, although the Boston Landmarks Commission, in a July 2008 hearing, found those features insufficient to warrant issuing a demolition delay on the houses.

BC insisted on applying for the demolition permit, proceeding with the demolition, and initiating the Article 80 review process for the housing development in advance of approval by the BRA of the Institutional Master Plan itself.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Community Forums on Boston School Reorganization Plan

The Boston School Committee and Carol Johnson, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, will be holding a series of community forums and School Committee meetings in order to present and discuss the reorganization plan which will close five elementary schools across the school district, as well as merge other schools and add several pilot schools.

The proposed reorganization plan will directly impact Allston-Brighton by closing two schools -- Hamilton Elementary and Garfield Elementary -- while merging some of their students into the Edison School, which will expand from offering grades 6-8 to being a K-8 school. Mary Lyon School, which is currently K-8, is proposed to expand to go through 12th grade by expanding into the Garfield school's buildings down the street. Mary Lyon would become a pilot school (at least the high school part of it).

Allston-Brighton is part of the North Zone in the Boston Public Schools. A North Zone Community Forum will be held on Tuesday:
North Zone Community Forum
Tuesday, October 7th, 6:00 pm
Orchard Gardens K-8 School
906 Albany Street, Roxbury
Two other community forums will be held elsewhere in the city on October 14th and 16th.

The Boston School Committee will be meeting on the issue on October 15th and 29th, with the expectation that they will be voting on the plan during the October 29th meeting:
Boston School Committee Meetings
Wednesdays October 15th and 29th, 6:00 pm
Edward Winter Chamber
26 Court Street, Boston [downtown]

The October 1st meeting of the school committee, in which Superintendent Johnson announced the reorganization plan, can be viewed online (requires RealPlayer).

Image of Boston School Committee and Superintendent Carol Johnson from BPS website.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Brighton School Closures and Reorganizations Announced

Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, tonight announced a proposal for school closings and reorganizations affecting four schools in Brighton, according to boston.com .

As I anticipated earlier today, Garfield Elementary School (grades K-5) is slated for closure so that the building can be converted to a new, pilot high school (grades 9-12) affiliated with the Mary Lyon School (currently K-8) down the street.

The Hamilton Elementary School (grades K-5) will merge into the building currently housing the Edison Middle School (currently grades 6-8), in order to create a new Edison School that is K-8. The Hamilton school's buildings will presumably be left unused by BPS.

These moves seem to indicate that Allston-Brighton will be seeing a reduction in available seats for elementary school (I'm guessing at a loss of 200 K-5 seats) and middle school (another guess at a loss of 200 students in grades 6-8), but an increase in seats for high school due to the new Mary Lyon upper grades school. Hamilton Elementary currently has approximately 175 students, Garfield Elementary has nearly 200, and Edison Middle has over 500.

Current Superintendent Johnson and former acting Superintendent Michael Contompassis both have indicated that they wanted BPS to move towards more unified K-8 school experiences. In some cases, that can be accomplished by merging schools in a single building (as is now proposed for the Hamilton and Edison merger at the Edison site), or by creating "feeder school" arrangements (where students leaving the lower school are automatically assigned to the upper school, unless parents request a transfer).

All three schools facing closure or transfer (Hamilton, Edison, and Garfield) had new principals named earlier this summer.


Text of Superintendent Johnson's proposed reorganization plan


Image of Thomas Edison statue [right] by Richard Elzey, and image of Alexander Hamilton statue [left] by OZinOH, both provided through a Creative Commons license.

Note: an earlier version of this post, based on incorrect information from boston.com, incorrectly noted that Edison and Hamilton schools would merge on the Hamilton school site. The combined school will be housed at the Edison school site.

Will a Brighton School Be On Tonight's Closure List?

A plan to close four to six schools will be unveiled at tonight's meeting of Boston's School Committee by Carol Johnson, Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools. The closures are being proposed to respond to declining enrollment and a budget shortfall.

Will an elementary school in Brighton be on the list of closures?

Superintendent Johnson has provided no advance warning of which schools will close, but has provided the latest indication that Brighton's Mary Lyon school -- which is currently a K-8 school -- will be approved to expand with a high school to become a K-12 school, according to the Boston Globe:
Her recommendations also include some new pilot schools to give administrators more autonomy to execute innovative programs. She said the Boston Teachers Union will start its own pilot school next year, while she'll support the desire of the Harbor Middle School to expand to grade 12 and for the Mary K. Lyons K-8 School to add a high school, which would be a pilot school.
The Mary Lyon high school would be the latest addition to Boston's twenty-or-so pilot schools, those with governance autonomy in setting their budget, work rules, curriculum, assessments, and school policies. It is not surprising that BPS would look favorably at the Mary Lyon proposal, since its elementary school is one of the best performing in the city.

The problem: Mary Lyon has little available real estate to accommodate the high school expansion. It's hard to imagine adding a high school building of any size to their existing property.

My prediction for the solution: Garfield Elementary School, which is literally down the block from Mary Lyon, will be on the list of schools to close. More specifically, Garfield would be "reprogrammed" in order to convert its elementary school buildings into the high school expansion proposal for Mary Lyon.

The Garfield facilities can accommodate substantially more students -- and it has done so in past years -- than current enrollment at the school. The unused facilities at the school are a visible symptom of the declining enrollment problem in BPS, which has experienced a 7 percent decline in enrollment district-wide since 2003.

Most other elementary schools in Allston-Brighton are unlikely targets for school closure in today's announcement, at least in my mind. The Jackson-Mann K-8 school has many programs which could not easily be relocated: pre-kindergarten; Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing; special needs class; and a community center. The Gardner Pilot Academy converted to pilot school status a couple of years ago and is showing signs of strong leadership and expanding community support -- although BPS turned down its proposal to expand to K-8 from K-5. Baldwin Early Learning Center is the only pilot school among the BPS's early education centers (which serve pre-kindergarten through first grade), and last year received accreditation by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. The Winship School has shown strong gains in MCAS scores recently, particularly with the school's recent focus on science education, and was recently renovated. Only the Hamilton Elementary School might be considered a candidate alongside the Garfield for closure in Allston-Brighton.

The challenge faced by the superintendent and the school committee is to justify any school closing not just on the existing realities of enrollment and budget, but also on how the modified schools in the area -- whether reprogrammed from elementary to high school, or students transferred to other surrounding schools -- will be improved in such a way to benefit the children. Will a new high school, building on the proven track record of Mary Lyon School, create a new center for learning in western Brighton that acts as a magnet for keeping families in the area? Will transferred elementary students now have access to improved science facilities, better after-school options, or expanded arts and music education opportunities? The committee and superintendent will now have a job of salesmanship, regardless of which schools they recommend for closure.

Sure, this is all speculation... and we'll know more after tonight's meeting of the Boston School Committee at the Edward Winter Chamber at 26 Court Street, Boston, at 6:00 pm.


Image of Mary Lyon from the National Women's History Museum.


Disclosure: the author is the co-chair of the Governing Board at the Baldwin ELC in Brighton, a pilot school. Any opinions expressed here represent mine alone, and not those of any other group or organization.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Sign That You're Busted

Early Thursday morning two guys were allegedly stealing street signs in the vicinity of Strathmore Road and Lothian Road in Brighton.

When the police arrived, the two guys were holding street signs and one had a wrench in his pocket. When the guy said that they didn't have to hand over the wrench to the police, the cops arrested them and took the wrench away.

Oh, and the police used the wrench to re-attach one of two removed signs.


Image of signs by Birger Hoppe provided through a Creative Commons license.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Tax-Exempt Bonds and the Purchase of Land from the Archdiocese

Boston College completed the final portion of the purchase of the St. John's Seminary lands and buildings (except for St. John's Hall) from the Archdiocese of Boston in August 2007 for $65 million.

Where did the actual cash for that transaction come from?

At Tuesday night's meeting of the BC Task Force, while discussing a broader issue of the credit crunch and how it might apply to the 10-year construction plan BC has proposed, I made a statement that BC was given authority in August 2007 to issue $177 million in tax-exempt bonds, some of which was to go to the purchase of that property from the Archdiocese. I didn't think it was a controversial statement.

BC's Director of Public Affairs, Jack Dunn, strongly disagreed, saying that "the notion that BC used public money to purchase the archdiocese land is inaccurate."

In so doing, Dunn made a statement in direct contradiction with one from the Massachusetts Development Finance Agency ("MassDevelopment").

The press release put out by MassDevelopment on August 13, 2007, announcing that the agency was granting approval for BC to issue $176,980,000 in tax-exempt bonds, was clear in stating that BC would be using the money to purchase the remaining portion of the archdiocese land:
The school will use proceeds from a tax-exempt bond to finance several construction projects and purchase 18 acres of land and buildings from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s former Brighton headquarters. Projects include the construction of three new academic buildings, a recreation complex and student center on the school’s Chestnut Hill campus.
Sounds rather declarative to me.

What's more, the press release, issued on MassDevelopment letterhead, listed two contacts for further information: Alicia Tildsley of MassDevelopment; and Jack Dunn of BC. Dunn's name was right on the top of the release.

The difference between Dunn's statement and the MassDevelopment press release raises the question: Did BC actually spend the money from the bonds in the way that MassDevelopment last year thought they would spend it?


Image of tax-exempt bonds by Paul Levy at the Running a Hospital blog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

City Planner Floats a Trial Balloon on BC Master Plan: Just Give Them Pretty Much Everything

Boston's Chief City Planner, Kairos Shen, ventured out to Brighton for the first time to meet with neighborhood residents on the topic of Boston College's Institutional Master Plan.

The university and neighborhood are locked in a battle over a proposed undergraduate housing plan which would put dormitories with 500 students on the former St. John's Seminary land (BC's new "Brighton Campus") -- as well as convert the newly-purchased apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue into an undergraduate, off-campus dormitory. In a written letter, the BC Task Force, a Mayoral-appointed community group advising the BRA, called for revisions in BC's proposals to relocate the Brighton Dorms onto BC's main campus.

Shen proposed a possible solution to the master plan approval process -- which was akin to floating a trial balloon with neighborhood residents -- with the intention of breaking the logjam.

Shen was so smooth and polished, it took two hours for the residents to figure out that he was proposing basically to give BC every single thing they proposed in their master plan. Well, everything except for 350 of the 500 beds of housing on the Brighton Campus -- but those 350 might still end up exactly where BC wants them.

For the most part, residents didn't seem to like what they heard, with comments that became increasingly concerned as the meeting went on and they realized what was in Shen's proposal.

Shen promised to attend next week's meeting of the BC Task Force. I suspect he will hear an increasingly animated and negative crowd unless he shows up with a modified proposal that better addresses the Brighton Dorms and 2000 Comm Ave.


Shen's Trial Balloon: A Phased Master Plan

Shen said that his mandate from Mayor Thomas Menino was to "see if there are certain elements of this [master] plan that can be advanced."

He broke up the master plan into projects which were mostly non-confrontational and could potentially be approved in the first phase of the master plan (although with modest modifications). More controversial projects would be put off into a second (or subsequent) phase, which would like entail one or more IMP amendments being proposed during the 10-year time period.

He listed those projects that he thought could go forward: parking expansion of Beacon Street Garage (next to football stadium); Shea Field Dorms; More Hall Dorms; Recreation Center; Brighton Fields (baseball and softball stadiums and intramural field); approval of a dormitory at 2000 Comm Ave; and Brighton Fields Garage (which may need modification to "minimize impact on the landscape").

On the hot-button issue of the Brighton Dorms on the St. John's Seminary site, Shen said "we feel that needs to be taken off the table." The room broke into applause.

Not so fast.

The audience applause was short-lived when Shen then back-tracked to say that "we feel like the 150 [beds in the Comm Ave dorm] has the potential of being more approve-able... with the right kind [of design]... but the 350 [beds at the interior site] we don't believe" can be approved. The 150 bed dormitory, sited on a granite out-cropping on the southern side of the seminary land site, was only off-the-table for about ten seconds.

As the meeting wore on, it was increasingly clear that Shen was floating a series of different ideas on the two dorms (one 150 and the other 350 beds), trying to see which, if any, of the trial balloons would take flight:
  • "I believe this [scoping determination] needs to be expanded to deal with these last 350" beds, meaning that alternative siting would be considered.
  • The idea would be to test some of the ideas about dorm location and design using testable metrics on buildings constructing in the first phase of the plan. The results would indicate where the 350 beds would go.
  • Shen admitted that BC might well come back in several years and re-propose putting the 350 beds at the exact same site, anyway.
  • He hypothesized that conditions might change within a few years, much as they changed when 2000 Comm Ave hit the real estate market, to create a game-changer that could provide an alternate site.

Giving BC the Whole "Enchilada"

Shen's trial balloon gives BC everything they proposed in their IMP -- all the various dorms, conversion of 2000 Comm Ave, the recreation center, the athletics fields and stadiums -- everything except for 350 of the 500 dormitory beds on the Brighton Campus, although those beds could very well make their way back onto the exact same site. (BC's proposal was already, after all, to construct those 350 beds in years 8-10 of the IMP, so the dorms could even end up constructed at the same site on the same proposed timeline.)

There appeared to be a cognitive dissonance between Shen's trial balloon and his claim that "you're not being asked to eat the whole enchilada."

It's no wonder that Thomas Keady, Jr., Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs at BC, said at the end of the meeting that "we found this meeting positive and headed in the right direction."

Leland Webster, a supporter of BC's proposal to construct dorms on the Brighton Campus as part of a 100% housing solution, didn't take to Shen's solution. "[The] 150 [bed] plan includes the possibility that 350 [students] could be left [living] in the neighborhood," Webster said. "[In the] final anaysis, it's got to be 100%."

While I don't normally quote myself at such meetings, many people applauded in apparent agreement with my comments:
BC's master plan inherently has a domino effect between athletics facilities, the recreation center, and undergraduate housing. Furthermore, [the solution to 500 beds on the Brighton Campus] may require additional stories on the More Hall site... the Mods site... a [new] building on the other side of the Mods site that they are not proposing to develop... more stories on the Shea Field site... revisiting renovating (or replacing on-site) Edmonds Hall.

All of these are relatively inseparable. They are part of the solution to the 500 beds on the seminary land. So I don't see why you can separate them now and hope to come back to find a solution -- because you are structurally creating a situation where there is going to be no other location for those [500] beds...

[I have heard] a lot of people [say] about this idea of the 150-bed [dorm]... that it is a bad idea because it is a toe-hold and more [dorms] will follow [in the seminary] in the future. And that is one of the reasons that people have been so opposed to even the smallest [dormitory] on the site...

I think you are violating your own... city planning principles here by taking a piecemeal approach to what is fundamentally a master plan process to last for ten years. And I think that it's going to make everyone here come back a year from now, three years from now, five years from now, eight years from now, and fight the exact same battles again and again. I think that you should solve the [undergraduate] housing problem, and solve it now.
Maria Rodriguez expressed the same sentiment: "Does [this proposal] mean that we will have to mobilize again" in five years?

A resident asked if Shen could produce a written document that the neighborhood could study in order to evaluate, and Shen said he would create one.


A Fast-Track?

The trial balloon was not only Shen's way of trying to free the review process from the logjam, but also to fast-track city approval of it.

He let drop that they could conceivably go to the BRA Board on September 25th to ask for an October 16th public hearing and decision on the master plan.

Several comments were made that this sounded like a rushed process. From what I heard spoken Tuesday night there was no widespread acceptance of Shen's trial balloon, so his ambitious timetable appears unworkable.


Meeting With Everyone Except the Neighborhood... Until Tonight

Tuesday night's meeting took place only four days -- only two working days -- after the close of the public comment period on BC's revised IMP filing with the city. The BC Task Force's comment letter was likewise dated Friday.

Shen was asked several times if the city considered all the public comments, particularly the task force's letter, in arriving tonight's proposal he presented. At first Shen pointed out that "many of the elements in the [task force's] letter were what we were already considering."

"I'm a little troubled that [4 days later] we're being asked to consider compromise," said Daina Selvig. What follows now "must be a much more robust and open" process than the one that appears to have transpired.

"There has not been sufficient consideration" of the public comments and task force's letter, said Sandy Furman.

But Shen went on to describe all the people with whom he had been working behind the scenes. He had met not just city officials from various departments and repeatedly mentioned the Mayor, but Shen also appears to have met with every BC official from stem-to-stern -- including a meeting with the President of BC, Fr. William Leahy, S. J., that Mayor Thomas Menino also attended.

Yet this was Shen's first meeting with Brighton residents. And, he admitted, he had not met once with the task force.


City Planner in Peculiar Role as Deal-Making Politician

Shen is a highly-respected city planner who was recently glowingly profiled in the Boston Globe Magazine piece titled, "The Shaper of Things to Come":
In a world where developers, architects, community activists, and politicians almost never agree on details, Shen has managed to earn a reputation as an intelligent, thoughtful, creative visionary with a knack for crafting compromise where once dwelled only conflict, animosity, and great gnashing of teeth.
His considerable polish and smooth presentation was on vivid display Tuesday night. Said one attendee afterwards, "[Chen's] a lot better politician than a lot of the guys in the back [of the room] here."

If you thought that city planners were dry and boring, then Shen will change your view.

While he took questions Tuesday night, most of the time was devoted to his presentation of the trial balloon. Issues of planning principles were mentioned here and there, but the presentation really was a strong sales pitch from someone who could easily run for elected office.

Mayor Menino has previously and repeatedly expressed his opposition to all 500 beds in both dorms, so this dance proposing approval of the 150-bed dormitory was a political two-step. He sent one of his best salesmen to pitch the idea, but it's not an easy sell. But Shen did have everybody going there, if just for an hour or so. It will be harder to understand how the Mayor will explain his potential flip-flop on this controversial neighborhood issue.

What's the difference between two dorms and a 150-bed dorm plus maybe 350-bed dorm? Lipstick.


Next meeting of the BC Task Force: Tuesday, September 16th, at 6:30 pm at the Brighton Marine Health Center.


Image of Oneonta Gorge, Logjam by Squash713, of balloon by OpenThreads, of enchilada by hackett, and of steamroller by Tellstar_Logistics, all provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

BC Task Force Letter to BRA: Need for "Substantial Modifications" in BC Master Plan

The BC Task Force released their letter dated September 5, 2008 addressed to the Boston Redevelopment Authority on Boston College's revised Institutional Master Plan. You can find it at the AllstonBrighton2006 (AB2006) Google Group.

The Boston Globe's boston.com reports on the letter:
A community task force reviewing Boston College's proposed expansion is urging city officials to seek "substantial modifications" to the plan and require a 10-year moratorium on expansion into the Allston-Brighton neighborhood.

In a strongly worded 17-page letter received Monday, the Allston-Brighton advisory group cited a range of concerns about the $1 billion campaign's impact on the neighborhood. It voiced opposition to the university's plan to build dormitories for 500 undergraduates on its Brighton campus, the former headquarters of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.

Instead, it urged the college to house those students on the college's main Chestnut Hill campus and called for a 10-year moratorium on expansion to "safeguard Allston-Brighton's residential character." The panel asked city officials to deny the college a permit to convert a high-rise apartment complex near its campus on Commonwealth Avenue into a dormitory unless it accepted the conditions.
The letter also calls for:
  • Not closing the current route of St. Thomas More Road regardless of whether or not a new spur road is constructed along the Evergreen Cemetery;
  • No athletic field lights on the multipurpose field;
  • No use of field lights for intramural use on the Brighton Campus (former St. John's Seminary land);
  • Strictly limit the use of those fields (i.e., limit the hours from the proposed master plan);
  • Not install artificial turf on those fields;
  • Decrease the number of spaces on the parking garage adjacent to it, siting the parking instead along both sides of Commonwealth Avenue;
  • Not use Foster Street for part of the shuttle bus route; and
  • Conservation easements to protect open space along Lake Street and the orchard (which BC refers to as "buffer" space) to protect against future development.

UPDATE: The final Globe story is here.

Image of fabulous lettering by Caro Wallis provided through a Creative Commons license.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Boston Chief City Planner to Meet With Residents Over BC Master Plan

Kairos Shen, the Chief City Planner of Boston and the Director of Planning at the Boston Redevelopment Authority, will be meeting with Brighton residents in order to discuss the path forward for Boston College's master plan following the close of the public comment period last Friday. Shen was named to the chief planner position in January 2008.

In an email announcing the meeting, BRA Project Manager John Fitzgerald noted that the meeting will cover the "issues that all of [the community's] comment letters have produced, specifically on [undergraduate] housing." (I previously posted on several petitions submitted as part of the public comment period.)

Shen was recently profiled by the Boston Globe Magazine as the "Shaper of Things to Come."

The article notes that Mayor Thomas Menino relies heavily on Shen's input in judging development projects:
It is conventional wisdom that Menino wields the power over which projects get built, how they get built, and which get, well, not "rejected" so much as endlessly tied up until they just fade away. Menino, however, credits Shen with guiding his thinking on these issues...

"I rely on him because I have total trust in his creativity and his judgment," [said Menino]. That, Menino adds, is why he named him chief planner, giving him the responsibility for determining where the city is going, what it needs, where it needs it, and how it's going to get there.
Shen was involved a bit with the review process of Harvard University's Science Complex, now under construction in North Allston, by attending a few meetings -- but is becoming much more involved with Harvard's master planning process. This will be his first public meeting with Brighton residents on the BC review process.


BRA Meeting on BC Master Plan With Kairos Shen
Tuesday, September 9th
6:30 - 8:30 pm
Brighton Marine Health Center, 3rd Floor
77 Warren Street, Brighton

500 Residents Petition BRA and Mayor on BC Master Plan

A petition with 438 signatures regarding Boston College's Institutional Master Plan was hand-delivered to Mayor Thomas Menino's office and sent to the Boston Redevelopment Authority last week; several additional sheets of signatures were delivered later, upping the signature count to roughly 500. Several other petitions were also circulating in the neighborhood -- including one organized by condo owners at a Commonwealth Avenue apartment building, and apparently another one (which I haven't seen) from the Jewish Orthodox community -- supporting many of the same points.

The petitions were submitted as part of the public comment period that closed last Friday on the revised IMP that BC filed with the BRA in June 2008. The number of signatures expressing opposition to key elements of BC's master plan will likely raise eyebrows in Brighton -- and in City Hall, too.

The main petition read:
"I support Boston College housing 100% of its students. I do not agree with BC's proposed plan to house students on the Brighton Campus and in a 575 bed off-campus dormitory at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue.

I support low impact athletic use on the lower Brighton Campus. I oppose the construction of a 1500 seat stadium on the Brighton Campus due to its impact on the neighborhood in terms of noise and additional traffic.

I oppose the reconfiguration of the traffic patterns as proposed by Boston College without further study by an independent traffic consultant as requested by residents and Task Force members."
I have seen many other public comment letters sent separately which make many or all of the same points, suggesting that the number of Brighton residents supporting these positions is significantly higher than the roughly 500 on these petitions.

Inspecting the petition, I see that most signers are abutters or living within a few blocks of Boston College-owned property in Brighton, particularly the Brighton Campus (former St. John's Seminary land). Examples from some streets mostly having large numbers of off-campus student apartments:
  • 17 residents of Kirkwood Road;
  • 31 residents of Radnor Road;
  • 12 residents of Lane Park;
  • 14 residents of Lake Street; and
  • four residents of Glenmont Road.
By comparison, during the previous round of public comments in February 2008 on BC's IMP Notification Form, 454 people or organizations wrote or signed petitions in opposition of the Brighton Dorms:
  • Six elected officials;
  • The BRA's BC Task Force;
  • Seven organizations and civic groups;
  • 61 individual comment letters; and
  • 379 signatures to petitions.
There were 186 people or organizations who wrote or signed petitions in February 2008 asking for BC to house all of its undergraduates on their main campus, so the new petitions substantially increases the number on this issue.

Comparing both sets of petitions (February vs. September 2008) shows that there is a substantial number of signers on only one or the other, indicating that the total number of Brighton residents who have signed their name to these positions on undergraduate housing is significantly higher than 500.

It takes little analysis to figure out that a significant fraction of the people in owner-occupied residential property in Brighton have signed onto these petitions. Voting trends usually find higher turnout among such long-term residents than the so-called "transient" population, so I wouldn't be surprised if a number of elected officials in City Hall are taking careful note of these numbers.


Image of The Interactive Museum of News by afagen provided through a Creative Commons license.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mayor Menino Unveils City's First, er... Fourth Bike Lanes

Mayor Thomas Menino held a press conference outside Boston University's College of Communication on Commonwealth Avenue to announce: the near-completion of Boston's first bike lanes; progress on the installation of 250 bicycle racks around the city; and that the city is now calling for a bike sharing program like the one in Paris, France.

"I'm proud to announce the first bike lane in Boston," said Mayor Menino. It is part of a "program to make Boston a world-class bicycling city," he continued.

Grumbling from city bike advocates said that the Comm Ave stripes are actually the city's third or fourth set of bike lanes, not their first. I'm not sure why they were grumbling, since the others, I believe, were also created during Menino's tenure as Mayor.

Grumbling from UniversalHub and the Boston Phoenix is that Councilor-At-Large John Connolly is being snubbed ("wifi-ed") on the bike sharing idea -- another example, according to David Bernstein, of Mayor Menino adopting other people's ideas as his own. Hats off to Bernstein who predicted on July 15th that Mayor Menino would do just that with the bike sharing concept.


New Bicycle Lanes

The new bike lanes are being rolled out ten months after Mayor Menino announced his new initiative to improve bicycling infrastructure in Boston. The Mayor had announced plans for these lanes in his State-of-the-City speech in February 2008. The lanes have been designed and laid out as part of the Comm Ave rebuild project, while painting of the lanes is incomplete but in progress.

At least a couple of bicyclists at the press conference took interest in the Mayor's wheels: he arrived on four, not two, in his black Chevy Tahoe hybrid suburban assault vehicle.

At right is a all-to-common image for those of us who use Cambridge's bike lanes: a car parked in them. (Look behind all the yellow bicycle police.) Only this time it's the Mayor's vehicle in the bike lane.

The other bike lanes in Boston are apparently (I haven't visited all of them):
  1. Ruggles Street near Northeastern University (see comments);
  2. Dorchester, near the South Bay Shopping Center (only around a half-block long!); and
  3. Perkins Street in Jamaica Plain [see Google Street View image at right].
According to one bike advocate, the Perkins Street lanes were installed on a state-owned street with city input into the design.

The latest lanes, however, are a significant and substantial addition to Commonwealth Avenue, a major thoroughfare, where it passes alongside Boston University.

Much credit was bestowed on the Livable Streets Alliance (nee Boston Bicycle Coalition) for their advocacy of this particular project. Phil Goff, a member of the Board of Directors, noted that this project came with a price. "The City of Boston did something unheard of: remove a lane of traffic" to make way for a bike lane. He looks forward to "one day seeing people of all kinds riding on the bike lanes" from Chestnut Hill to downtown.


More Lanes Coming Soon

Vineet Gupta, Director of Planning at the Boston Transportation Department, said that the city is currently working on several additional bike lane projects. Lanes on the American Legion Highway in Roslindale are likely to be rolled out next, and design work is underway for lanes on Boylston Street in the Fenway and Columbus Road in the South End. It sounds to me like a couple of miles per year might be the rate of bike lane rollout.

A reader comment at the "Boston Biker" blog said that a Northeastern University civil engineering student design has been created to extend bike lanes to continue from the public garden all the way to Allston. If those lanes would be installed, they would represent a major accomplishment.

Gupta further acknowledged that, in the past few years, there has been a "sea change in the way we think about roadway design" regarding bicycles, accompanied by a "cultural" shift in the way the public views the importance of such lanes. Mayor Menino told the assembled crowd that when he goes around the city, he hears about cycling issues more than most any other issue.


Bicycle Rack Installation In Progress

Mayor Menino also announced that the city was in the process of installing 250 new bicycle racks across the city. According the his office's press release: notes that the location of the racks were chosen "per resident recommendations" and by working with "several City departments and local business owners."

In Allston-Brighton there appears to be one that will be installed near the D-14 police station, two in Union Square in Allston, one in Allston Village, one near Boston University, one near the Weeks Memorial Footbridge, and two near the Brighton Mills shopping area. (I couldn't determine exact locations due to the limited resolution of the map.)


Overheard, Or Not

Last summer, the Mayor himself took up the sport of bicycling. He challenged today's crowd to see who was the first one to ride their bike this morning. Answer: he was, at 5:00 am, while everyone else was still trying to "get sand out of their ears."

Nicole Freedman, Director of Bicycle Programs for the City of Boston, took the oneupsmanship one step further, challenging the Boston Police Department bicycle cops assembled behind her to a bike race. Their stone faces told everyone they weren't about to accept the former Olympian's challenge.

No word on whether or not Brighton will get a bicycle lift installed on Parsons Street.

Media Circus On the Way to the Bike Lanes Press Conference...

On my way to Mayor Thomas Menino's press conference about the new Commonwealth Avenue bike lanes, I passed by Boston Police's Brighton station D-14... and saw lots of TV trucks stationed outside along with media types milling about.

Huh?

There were lots of police vehicles around -- including many motorcycles -- and the parking lot alongside the station was partially blocked off. I could hear at least one helicopter overhead.

Since it was less than half an hour before the bike lane event, I assumed that Mayor Menino was visiting station D-14 first, particularly since today is the official day of the National Night Out celebration. I thought: No biggie. Don't stop to take a photo of the circus. Just pedal on.

I was wrong on pretty much all counts.

The D-14 media swarm was surrounding Clark Rockefeller (aka "???") who kidnapped his daughter a week-and-a-half ago and was caught Saturday in Baltimore, Maryland. After landing at Logan Airport, he was brought to D-14 station. The Boston Globe has the details:
After landing at Logan at 9:45 a.m., [Clark] Rockefeller was taken to the Boston Police station in Brighton. Television news helicopters hovered overhead as he arrived in a motorcade that included two cruisers and a motorcycle escort. Rockefeller sat in the back seat with a scruffy beard and stared straight ahead as motorcycle police pushed photographers away from the car.

Rockefeller's defense attorney, Stephen Hrones, met with his client for 30 minutes today and described him as calm and collected to reporters waiting for his arraignment later this afternoon in Boston Municipal Court. When asked about the kidnapping charge, the attorney said that his client had every right to be with his daughter.

Rockefeller was brought to Brighton for booking and processing because the D-4 station normally having jurisdiction over the location of the kidnapping -- Marlborough Street in the Back Bay -- is undergoing renovations, according to Jake Wark, Director of Public Affairs at the Suffolk County District Attorney's office. Brighton's D-14 station completed its own renovations earlier this year, and hence was ready for fingerprinting and all that. After his entourage visited beautiful Brighton, Rockefeller returned downtown to the Boston Municipal Court for his afternoon arraignment.

I have been mostly avoiding the Rockefeller kidnapping story in the past week-and-a-half, thinking of it as yet another story over-hyped by the media. It's easy to imagine why, since the seven-year-old daughter is so photogenic. Little did I know that the story would bring the media circus and helicopter spectacle out to Brighton Center.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Air Force Band of Liberty Concert at Chandler Pond Thursday 7/24

Last summer the Air Force Band of Liberty's wind ensemble played an outdoor concert at Chandler Pond to an enthusiastic crowd:
Following the opening number, the Air Force Band had a well-timed fly-over. Not by a Stealth Fighter or the Blue Angles, but a flock of Canada Geese headed towards Chandler's shores to make their 1-pound daily deposit.
It was a great family event, and they even provided the DEET.

This year will have an encore event: on Thursday, July 24th, the Air Force's jazz band will be playing an outdoor concert at the same venue at 7:00 pm. The site is on the western edge of the pond in the open, grassy field -- Gallagher Park.

BYO lawn chairs, blankets, and picnics.

Party at D-14 Station

Party. D-14 police station.

No, I don't mean where you end up if you have a loud party.

The police officers at Allston-Brighton station D-14 are hosting a community party at their renovated station as part of the National Night Out celebrations:
Boston Police National Night Out Celebrations
Police Districts to Host “Open House”

As part of the Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit’s National Night Out celebration, each of the 11 Boston Police Districts will be hosting neighborhood celebrations. These events provide an opportunity for community members and police personnel to mingle, exchange ideas and form new relationships. Attendees will enjoy complimentary food, family friendly entertainment and activities.

Saturday, July 26th
Boston Police District D-14 (Allston-Brighton) 10:00 am - 2:00 pm at 301 Washington Street.
Come and see the station's new handicapped-access ramp out front. Chew the fat about who had the worst office in the trailers during the renovations. Enjoy the landscaping out front. Watch the emergency room construction across the street at St. Elizabeth's Medical Center.

And please: no more theater jokes.

Headed in Reverse on Construction Management Plans

In what is hopefully not a bad omen for Boston College's proposed ten-year, $1 billion capital construction project, questions surfaced in the last week over the city approval process for renovations underway at the library on BC's new Brighton Campus.

How did neighborhood residents sense something was going awry? A week or two ago a construction truck drove down one-way Lake Street, the driver probably realized his mistake, and then he backed up several hundred feet in order to get to an entrance into the Brighton Campus -- the former St. John's Seminary land purchased by BC in 2004-7.

At the October 16, 2007 meeting of the BC Task Force at which the library renovations were discussed, I had mentioned that construction vehicles ought to enter the Brighton Campus only through the Commonwealth Avenue entrance. A logical extension is that no construction trucks should travel down Lake Street or Foster Street -- particularly since the latter has a posted 2.5 ton weight limit banning heavy trucks. BC officials seemed to nod in agreement.

After seeing the truck go in reverse up Lake Street, several residents thought that there ought to be a construction management plan (CMP) for the renovation work -- and that it ought to say that there would be no truck traffic on Lake Street. Queries to BC and the BRA caused city workers to scramble for a few days to figure out what was going on -- and if the city's processes regarding the construction work were being followed.

The BRA requires large development projects to negotiate a signed CMP with the Boston Transportation Department after BRA Board approval but before construction begins. The problem: there wasn't a CMP on file for the library renovations.

In the end, everything appeared to be OK: BC told the BRA that renovation work on the library only started after the city issued a building permit on June 18th; and the BRA determined that a CMP was not required for the renovation work because the BRA had issued a "notice of exemption" for the work on May 14th.

And BC officials apparently told their contractors in no uncertain terms what entrance they should be using.


Update on BC's IMP Amendment

The renovation work on the library provided an opportunity to get an update on BC's institutional master plan amendment first filed in October 2007.

The revised IMPA of April 2008 requested approval of temporary occupancy of Bishop Peterson Hall as the offices and classrooms for the new School of Theology and Ministry, along with renovations of the library and St. William's Hall. After the renovations of St. William's Hall are complete, the STM would move there permanently. (St. William's Hall was already approved as the site for the STM in the 2006 IMPA, so BC returned to this previous plan.) The Bishop Peterson Hall kitchens will be permanently used jointly by STM seminarians and the diocesan seminarians at St. John's Seminary. (The former rector of St. John's Seminary won't be happy!)

The "notice of exemption" of May 14, 2008 was issued by the BRA because the library renovations, with the exception of a handicapped access ramp, were entirely interior to the building. While the library renovations are still formally part of the IMPA, the notice meant that BC could proceed with them without waiting for approval of the IMPA itself.

The public comment period for the IMPA closed on June 6, 2008 without any letters received, according to BRA project manager John Fitzgerald.

Since that date, BC and the BRA appear to have been too busy with other issues to follow-up on the IMPA. Even though Article 80 review dictates that a BRA Board vote should follow soon after the close of the public comment period, it has not yet taken place. Nor has the Zoning Commission taken it up.

Fitzgerald offered his assurances that, when the St. William's renovations are approved, the BRA will make sure that a construction management plan is signed with BTD prior to the start of any construction work.

And that no more trucks would be backing up on Lake Street.


Image of a dump truck by cindy47452 provided through a Creative Commons license.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A-B TAB Op-Ed: Time to Step Back and Slow Down Master Plan Review

The Allston-Brighton TAB last week published an op-ed I wrote arguing that BC and the city of Boston should slow down their master plan review process, particularly in the light of recent comments by Mayor Thomas Menino:
With the tensions having risen between BC on the one hand and the residents and mayor on the other, now would be a good time for BC to: postpone its planning process for a few extra months; go back to the drawing table to improve its plan; engage with the city and community in an iterative process to modify it; and, in the end, produce a consensus plan that accommodates the needs of everyone, not just BC.
One particular way in which the city ought to consider requiring further review is that the purchase of the apartment building at 2000 Commonwealth Avenue -- and subsequent proposal to convert to an undergraduate dormitory -- were not part of the original institutional master plan notification form of December 2007.

In reading the 409 pages of public comments I was unable to find a single case where a letter writer requested BC to purchase off-campus buildings, nor did I find a case where a letter writer used terminology such as "university-controlled housing" or "university-owned housing" when calling for BC to house all their undergraduate students (the term "on-campus" was the typical language used in the letters).

The issue of an off-campus undergraduate dormitory was not raised in the IMPNF and, as a result, the public comments did not consider that possibility.

The Boston Redevelopment Authority has therefore not issued any kind of scoping determination on BC's proposal for an undergraduate dormitory at 2000 Comm Ave. Now would be the time to do so.

Landmarks Commission to Hold Hearing on Demolition by BC of Foster Street Houses

The Boston Landmarks Commission will be holding a hearing on Tuesday, July 22nd regarding a request by Boston College to demolish three houses at 188, 192, and 196 Foster Street.

Thomas Keady, Jr., BC's Vice President for Governmental and Community Affairs, told the now-defunct BostonNOW newspaper last year, "Those three houses will be coming down."

The three houses are located on the corner of the five-acre lot bought by BC from the Archdiocese of Boston. (One house and its comparatively small lot was purchased from a private seller in 2006.) BC has proposed to demolish all three to make way for a 75-bed Jesuit seminarian and theology graduate student housing complex as part of the re-affiliation of the Weston Jesuit School of Theology with BC. The three buildings date to the time period 1870 - 1885.

BC submitted their demolition request to the city, and the BLC will hold this hearing in order to determine whether or not to invoke a 90-day demolition delay under the Article 85 process.


Alternatives to Demolition

Despite arguments presented at this blog as to how BC could incorporate these three houses into their new construction, rather than demolish them, BC has shown no inclination to consider the alternatives. No assessment of the feasibility of renovation or preservation of the buildings was presented in their revised IMP. (By comparison, last year the university extensively renovated three houses bought recently on Wade Street.)

Harvard University, on the other hand, followed such an alternative path 25 years ago with their University Place development -- preserving two houses by incorporating them into their new development to positive reviews from the community.

The Massachusetts Historical Commission in January called for BC to explore alternatives to demolition:
Rehabilitation alternatives should include additions to the existing houses and/or compatible, adjacent new construction. Feasible alternatives that would preserve and protect the historic properties should be adopted and implemented.
The houses "display elements of Victorian eclectic style and are fine examples of this period and type of construction," according to the MHC letter. All three houses are identified in the appendix of BC's IMPNF as listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In their revised institutional master plan, BC has disputed the architectural significance of the three houses (DPIR 11-5 to 11-6), disagreeing with the MHC's letter:
This opinion is not substantiated with an explanation as to how these buildings are representative of any style or construction, not does it address subsequent changes to 192 and 196 Foster Street which seriously detract from their integrity.
The MHC and BC dispute whether or not the three houses lie within the "Upper Foster Street Area," which is part of the MHC's Inventory of Historic and Archeological Assets and is an area that the MHC said "meets the criteria for listing in the National Register of Historic Places," or the "Foster Street Area," an area that the MHC has not commented on regarding its eligibility for the register.

The Foster Street houses were built by Horace W. Baxter on the southern end of his Baxter Estate, according to an email provided by Brighton historian Bill Marchione. The property traces its prior lineage back to Reverend John Foster, "Brighton’s first resident minister (and namesake of the street), and his wife Hannah Webster Foster, the first native born American female novelist," according to Marchione. Mrs. Charles Eldredge (aka "Fanny Fern") -- "the most popular female writer/ journalist of her day" and author of the novel Ruth Hall -- also lived on the estate.

The Foster Rock is located on the opposite end of the five-acre site from the houses. BC's proposed development would not modify the granite outcropping.


How Can the Public Comment?

The BLC hearing will be at City Hall on Tuesday, July 22nd at 6:25 pm in Room 900.

Verbal public comments will be allowed at the meeting, and written public comments are accepted in advance of the meeting. Written public comments are only accepted by mail. In order for the public comments to be considered at Tuesday's meetings, they must be received before 3:00 pm on 7/22:
Gary L. Russell, Staff Architect
Boston Landmarks Commission
City Hall, Room 805
Boston, MA 02201
617-635-3850
In documents provided by Russell, he notes that consideration of demolition delay by the BLC involves assessing whether or not the building is "preferably preserved" based on:
  • the building's historic, architectural, and urban design significance;
  • whether the building is one of the last remaining examples of its kind in the neighborhood, the City, or the region; and
  • the building's condition.
If the BLC votes for a 90-day demolition delay, then they subsequently discuss if there are feasible alternatives to demolition based on:
  • the outcome of the community meeting held prior to the hearing.
  • the cost of stabilizing, repairing, rehabilitating, or re-using the building;
  • any definite plans for the re-use of the property if the proposed demolition is carried out, and the effects such plans would have on the architectural, social, aesthetic, historic, and urban design character of the surrounding area, as well as on the economy of the area of the City as a whole;
  • any conditions the Applicant proposes to accept for the redevelopment of the site that would mitigate the loss of the building;
  • the availability of other sites for the Applicant's intended purpose or use.
In evaluating alternatives to demolition, the BLC may consider such possibilities as the incorporation of the building into the future development of the site.


BLC Hearing on Proposed Development at 332 Chestnut Hill Avenue

Also on the agenda for the July 22nd meeting is a design review meeting regarding the proposed demolition of the gas station at 332 Chestnut Hill Avenue and construction of a five-story residential building with retail on the first floor. The design review application will be considered at 3:30-4:00 pm, and then discussed by the BLC and voted on at 5:30 pm.


Note that the July 22nd meeting of the BC Task Force was postponed to July 29th in order to allow people to attend the BLC hearing.