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Saturday, January 28, 2023

BPDA designates developer for Roxbury P-3 site; looks askance at MBTA designs on Widett Circle

The BPDA board was busy this week, giving the green light to multiple large projects while looking askance at the MBTA’s plan to grab Widett Circle for use as a train yard.

Widett Circle is a 24-acre area on the South Boston-Dorchester line that long has been eyed for assorted development — but now the T says it’s going to swoop in and buy it for a train yard for up to $55 million.

An element of the site, which is currently split between New Boston Food Market Corporation and the former Americold Cold Storage, was before the BPDA not for the T’s purchase, but for the food market corporation to extract itself from the whole situation.

That didn’t seem to sit well with at least one of the BPDA board members, as Theodore Landsmark took issue with seemingly making it easier for the T to do something boring with the long-treasured spot that just a few years ago was envisioned as a site for dense multi-use development.

“If we vote to approve this, we will in effect be opening the door for the MBTA to use this as a storage yard for subway cars. This is a big deal of a change,” Landsmark said. He added later, “There’s an expectation that a once lively employment-generating area doesn’t just become a storage yard.”

The company’s lawyer pushed back, saying this has nothing to do with a T deal, saying this is just the market corporation getting out of the way.

“It opens the door with the city for a dialogue directly with the MBTA and the city,” New Boston Food Market Corporation’s attorney told the board, who Zen-ly continued, “One door closes and another door opens.”

The BPDA administration, which answers to the board, supported the move to cut ties with the company, and the board eventually voted to do so, after several more back-and-forth questions between members and the company. Landsmark was the only “nay” vote after other inquisitive members seemed satisfied by BPDA Arthur Jemison’s explanation that the fact that the BPDA still owns the ways in and out of the yard means they’ll be at the table for whatever happens.

“We still have all the leverage we need before any train storage could be constructed,” Jemison said.

Also at the meeting, the board signed off on a preliminary green light for what it calls the P-3 parcel, the giant plot of land across from the police headquarters in Roxbury. The project from HYM and My City at Peace, if eventually given final approval in its current form, would include 144 affordable homeownership units, and 164 affordable rental units, more than 700,000 square feet of life science space, 45,000 square feet of retail, a 10,000-square-foot life-science training center and  the future home of King Boston, the group behind that funky Martin Luther King Jr. sculpture unveiled this week downtown.

This spot has been targeted for heavy development over the years, but it’s fallen through in previous attempts with different people in charge.

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