Stacking cars at The Stacks
Massachusetts DOT unveils parking plan
Officials of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) hosted a meeting with South End residents on Tuesday, May 8 at Project Place, 1145 Washington Street, to present its proposal to redevelop the I-93 viaduct, commonly known as the Stacks. Neighbors of the area expressed their questions, fears and hopes regarding the troubled area. About 35 people attended, including State Representative Aaron Michlewitz and his legislative aide, Maria Puopolo; Elizabeth Cahill and Doug Rudisch of Old Dover Neighborhood Association’s (ODNA) Safety and Security Committee, and other South Enders eager to see a safer, more productive use of the area. Numerous comments from neighbors of the Stacks revealed a pervasive fear of the drug-related activity and violence that have plagued the space, and the need for better lighting resounded.
The meeting began with presentations by DOT’s John Romano, Municipal Liaison, and William Tuttle, Deputy Director of the Office of Real Estate and Asset Development, as well as Geoffrey Morrison-Logan of Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc., which provided feasibility and design input on the plan. The proposal would provide about 485 parking spaces, and its estimated cost is $2 million to $3 million. Doug Rudisch of ODNA’s Safety and Security Committee pointed out that at that total cost, the average for each of the parking spaces is much less than the going rate of $40,000 to $50,000 or more for parking spaces in the neighborhood. Romano said that the impetus for the plan came directly from DOT Secretary Richard Davey. "We didn’t say, ’Hey, let’s put parking there;’ this idea came up through input from the neighborhood and on the walk-through," Bruno explained, referring to a recent tour of the viaduct guided by DOT officials with Rep. Michlewitz, representatives of neighborhood groups and other concerned individuals.
Several individuals advocated for resident parking in the Stacks, but it was pointed out that such use may not be feasible due to a moratorium on building transient parking for weekday use. Romano brought up other uses such as dedicated, paid parking for use by employees and visitors to institutions such as Boston Medical Center or the Pine Street Inn, and that those users could authorize valet use of their lots for cafes and other businesses on nights and weekends. Cahill made the point that additional parking in the vicinity would benefit SoWa activities such as First Friday.
The prospect of increased parking was well-received, but neighbors were more reticent about bus storage in the viaduct. Residents were concerned about the increased noise and traffic snarls that could accompany bus storage, while DOT officials had reservations about height clearances for buses in at least some of the viaduct parcel. Rep. Michlewitz observed that bus parking can become a hiding place for illicit activity if the area is not well secured. The possibility of fencing was raised, but Romano pointed out that in conversations with Lt. O’Leary of the State Police, DOT was informed that fencing poses a safety issue as it impedes chasing suspects with vehicles, while suspects on foot can cut holes in the fences for easy passage.
At least one lot in the middle of the overall area is too small to accommodate parking, according to Romano, which led to alternate-use proposals from meeting attendees. Duggan Hill, founder and Executive Director of Boston City Lights dance theater at 1154 Washington Street, suggested an alternate use for part of the space as a performance venue. "I’ve always looked at this area as a great amphitheater. To have something artistic for the community would be wonderful," Hill said. Romano responded, "That’s a great idea, but it’s a conversation for a later time. We are trying to get this [project] up and running as soon as possible." An attendee who identified himself as an architect suggested that lighting could be aesthetically pleasing and could offer a "transformative environment." Tuttle responded that the initial lighting would be basic. "We are going to be pragmatic just to get it open, but some creative things may be able to happen in the coming years as things change. We’re not sure we are going to make our investment back."
Cahill called for some sort of element that would make the new development of the Stacks not just practical, but welcoming to the South End. She noted that "One section of the city has the Zakim Bridge as a grand entrance, another section has the Rose Kennedy Greenway, and we have bupkes. We would like an entranceway. We want Representative Michlewitz’s office and the city to support us in a ceremonial gateway to the South End and a connector to South Boston, and we want to use light. If we have Mass. DOT, the City of Boston and Aaron Michlewitz supporting us, there are grants we could try for," Cahill said.
Tuttle and Romano made clear that the meeting was held to get ideas and opinion from the neighbors of the Stacks, but DOT will finalize its plans to get the project completed by the end of the current construction season and open the area for use by the end of the year.