(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
The future of the South Bay Shopping Center is still up in the air, but residents in the surrounding communities want to make sure that if the mall is ever to expand their concerns and comments are taken into account.
A group of more than fifty residents filled the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 on Massachusetts Avenue Saturday for a community charrette, a citizen planning session that usually revolves around a major development.
The charrette was organized after a conceptual expansion plan generated by Samuels and Associates, the developers that built the mall in the 1990s, was discussed at a 2011 meeting of the McCormack Civic Association.
The Dorchester Reporter reported that the drawings showed the expansion of the mall from West Howell Street towards Enterprise Street and the properties that abut Boston Street. The drawings proposed constructing two structures on the expanded site to host a BJ’s Wholesale Club and Lowe’s.
Currently though the properties in the conceptual site are owned by a number of different parties including Verizon, the Aggregate Cement company, and the Pipefitters.
A representative for Samuels and Associates told Boston.com Monday that at the moment the group has no expansion plans.
"The plans the community are looking at are something we did years ago," said Diana Pisciotta, a spokesperson for Samuels and Associates. "[The expansion] is something we are not pursuing. It's possible that at some point we may look to expand, but we have no real plans at the moment."
Though plans are in no way definite the group, Citizens Connect to South Bay, a hodgepodge of local neighborhood organizations, property owners, and business groups, hammered out a preliminary community vision Saturday for what they’d like to see in an expansion and what they wouldn’t support.
“We’re trying to figure out what is smart growth for the community,” said Erik Miller, a designer and architect working with residents to develop a plan.
Breaking up into small groups, residents first addressed the potential impacts to the neighborhood if the mall were to expand.
Traffic was the biggest concern mentioned by those in attendance, with many saying Boston Street can’t handle any more cars.
“Right now it’s very congested, we’re trying to avoid any outlets onto Boston Street,” said Joe Chaisson, a member of the Columbia/Savin Hill Civic Association. “What we want to do is have most of traffic come off of Massachusetts Avenue.”
Others also voiced opposition to more asphalt and sprawling parking lots in the area.
“I’m concerned about empty asphalt. I want to see green,” said Jeff Cumming, a Dorchester resident. “My concern is it’s going to heat up the neighborhood.”
Some also pushed for mixed-use development, saying a traditional strip-mall brings very little benefit to local businesses or the neighborhood.
“We want something more than just a destination, we want something more than a mall,” said Peter Sasso, president of the Melville Park Neighborhood Association.
“If there is nothing there for us we’re not going to go there,” said Pat O’Neill, the president of the Ashmont Adams Neighborhood Association.
At the end of the first round of group discussions it was clear that the big concerns were traffic and community impact.
But while a good portion of the meeting was devoted to concerns, a chuck was also set aside for community visions. Allowing residents to dream about what would like to see the expanded site used for, many pushed for mixed use development with space for restaurants, green space, and even a dog park.
“People come for things; we need to add a little life to the area,” said Joel Miller, the founder of the Newmarket Business Association. “There needs to be a blending. Have space for both small business and large ones. Opportunities need to be created for local entrepreneurs.”
Other suggestions that came out of Saturday’s charrette included the addition of a new street off of Boston Street to buffer the community, more parks and green space, and the planting of more pear trees.
“We wanted to be proactive,” said Desmond Rohan, a member of the McCormack Civic Association’s executive board. “We want to get the community involved, we want to get some ideas.”
Two more meetings have been set to future gather community comments. The next two meetings will be held Apr. 6 and May 4 at the Plumbers and Gasfitters Local 12 located at 1230 Massachusetts Ave. Both meetings will run from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. More information about Citizens Connect to South Bay can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
[Correction: The second meeting, originally scheduled for Apr. 27, has been rescheduled for May 4.]