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Ideas offered for the MBTA's Cleveland Circle property

Posted by Tom Coakley  October 29, 2009 09:00 AM

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By Andreae Downs Globe Correspondent

A group of land-use professionals Wednesday night presented what they said were a “range of what’s possible” in Cleveland Circle if Brookline, Boston and the MBTA work together with private landholders.

What presenters from the Urban Land Institute showed were not “plans,” they said, but a series of ideas that could either inspire cooperation between the various jurisdictions or be shelved.

The ideas have grown out of a number of sessions between planning and development professionals and people who would be affected by the possible development. The sessions came after the institute was invited by the MBTA to look at the property.

Residents and municipal officials, whom the team interviewed as part of the process, expressed a preference for mixed-use, transit-oriented development, with some small retail or a hotel along with homeownership opportunities.

They told interviewers they did not want anything higher than five stories or anything that would add noise or traffic. The MBTA would like to enhance the C and D Line stations on the property and perhaps add a sheltered connection between the two.

The suggestions all but ruled out building a platform atop the train works for the development. Such a deck would cost $400 a square foot and anything built on top of it would have to be 8-16 stories high just to break even, said Daniel St. Clair, a vice chairman at the Urban Land Institute, who moderated the presentation.

Also, MBTA officials told the institute team that the T could not halt or reconfigure train operations for construction.

If the T can reconfigure some of its functions, however, then some areas could host buildings—perhaps even low-rise apartment blocks, the group said.

The non-profit, member-based institute started evaluating possibilities for the Cleveland Circle site earlier this month..

The property includes two stations, train car storage, light maintenance and connections between the D, C and B Green lines.

“They asked us, ‘What could benefit the neighborhood?’” said St. Clair.

“Our job is to show the sponsor what is possible within the big picture,” explained Michelle Landers, manager of the group’s Boston office.

A volunteer team of about a dozen construction, transportation, planning and development professionals took two days to interview stake-holders and work up some general parameters for the Cleveland Circle site.

Their report, which will be published at http://boston.uli.org in about six weeks, will outline several possible options, St. Clair said.

One hurdle in development is coordination between the municipalities and the transit authority, St. Clair said.

The other key to getting anything built in the busy intersection—which St. Clair said is at or over capacity now—is including the rest of the circle in any plans. Improving car-traffic flow, making the circle safe for pedestrians, adding more definition to the outside of the circle (once a rotary), will be needed, according to the volunteer group. More land will also be needed.

At the moment, the former Circle Cinema property, the Applebee’s and 1955 Beacon are all on the market, St. Clair said.

Audience members jumped in with objections, all of which St. Clair said would affect what actually got built.

“We are here to envision what could be built,” he said. “The question remains what wants to be built.”

Andreae Downs can be reached at andreaedowns@yahoo.com.

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