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Fairmount Line, transit-oriented development welcomed in Codman Square

Posted by Cara Bayles  June 7, 2011 07:34 PM

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(By Cara Bayles for Boston.com)

Gail Latimore speaks to a crowd at the Talbot Avenue Station groundbreaking ceremony.

State and local officials broke ground today on the $15.9 million Talbot Commuter Rail Station in the Codman Square area of Dorchester. The crowd then migrated down the street, for a ribbon cutting for an affordable housing project whose residents will use the transit.

Together, backers hope the two projects and others will spark a continued revival of the neighborhoods along what they call the Fairmount Corridor.

The Talbot Avenue Station is the third of four commuter rail stations under construction as part of the Fairmount Commuter Rail Line Rehabilitation Project. It brings more options to Mattapan and Southern Dorchester, portions of the city that are largely served by buses.

Governor Deval Patrick, US Representative Michael Capuano, and Mayor Thomas M. Menino were among the officias on hand for the groundbreaking. As a commuter rail passed overhead, lawmakers jokingly waved and shouted for it to stop, pointing at a pile of shovels placed symbolically in the dirt where the new station will go.

State Representative Russell Holmes said that growing up in Mattapan, he was accustomed to seeing the commuter rail blow by his neighborhood on its way to Hyde Park.

"It's time for us to have a one-seat ride to get downtown," he told the crowd at the groundbreaking.

Gail Latimore, executive director at the Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, called the Fairmont/Indigo Line "an economic umbilical cord" for the region, before heading down the street to wield novelty scissors and officially open the Levedo Building, 24 units of affordable housing designed with the future station in mind.

Flanked by the mayor, the governor and other prominent politicians at the groundbreaking, Latimore announced the NDC's efforts to draw private and public investors to a transit-oriented development fund, which would make more buildings like the Levedo possible.

Neighborhood development corporations like Codman Square have already bought up many publicly-owned parcels, which can be purchased for as little as $1, but bringing affordable housing to privately-owned lots requires more of an initial investment to buy the often-blighted properties.

By way of example, Latimore said that her organization is trying to improve the streetscape on New England Avenue.

"With the resources we have now, that will take five to ten years," she said after the ceremony. "With this fund, we could cut that time in half."

Latimore has already rounded up a group of interested private investors, but they are reluctant to contribute an estimate $7 million in low-cost loans without investments from government entities.

Angela Brown, director of programs at the Hyams Foundation, said that her board was "contemplating" making a loan as part of a capital pool with other investors.

"We would want to share in the potential positive impact and the risk," she said. "Whenever you make a loan like this, there is some risk."

Rep. Holmes said after the ceremony that lawmakers were looking into legislation or supplemental resources to get the development fund about $2 million.

"The city, state and federal officials are definitely with us on this. There are limited resources," Latimore said, "but we are very hopeful."

E-mail Cara Bayles at carabayles@gmail.com.

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